The first time I tried dolsot bibimbap (stone pot mixed rice) was at a Japanese/Korean restaurant at Indiana University called Ami. I loved how the vegetables, meat, and egg mixed with rice to create full flavors. I went back to Ami many times that year and often ordered dolsot bibimbap. That summer I went to San Francisco and ate bibimbap at a hard-to-find restaurant on a second-floor in Koreatown. It was amazing. Next fall I went back to Ami. Their bibimbap tasted terrible.
I’ve tried a lot of dolsot bibimbap since then, but nothing compares to the real thing. Last night, for my last meal before flying off to Seoul, I tried stone pot bibimbap at a Korean restaurant in a Korean ethnic neighborhood of Yantai, which is not far from the Korean Peninsula. The place was filled with the sounds of spoken Korean. The kim chi in the banchan (pre-meal snacks) was especially sour and crunchy. The main course was better than most bibimbap dishes in China.
But now I’m in Korea. The first thing I did when I got off the bus from the airport shuttle was to enter a restaurant and order dolsot bibimbap.
It came in a scalding hot bowl with dried seaweed on top and a real cracked raw egg inside. I mixed it up. Now that was real good dolsot bibimbap. The rice on the edges of the bowl was cooked till it was crunchy.
The banchan was also different. There were anchovies, potatoes, and gamja saelleodeu, a kind of potato salad that I had never tried before with apples and carrots.
The only thing that was worse was the price. At 8,000 won, a bowl of standard dolsot bibimbap, which is one of the cheaper dishes on the menu at Korean restaurants, cost about 48 Chinese yuan (US$7.20). At a Korean restaurant in China, bibimbap usually costs between 20 and 35 yuan.
The word “dolsot” means “stone pot,” referring to the hot dish it is served in, which causes the rice and vegetables to continue to cook as you eat it. Bibimbap can also be served cold, but I like it hot. When I get back to China and wherever else I go, I will continue to eat Korean food and enjoy it. But it’s a rare treat to be in-country and eat the most authentic of the food.
I will keep eating and traveling and blogging in Korea for the next two weeks. Follow me here.