김밥 (Kimbap)

It’s just occurred to me (while staring hopelessly at the blank page, desperate for something to write about) that in my short and unofficial list of blog posts on various Korean foods, I’ve never written one about the food I eat at least two or three times a week.

Kimbap is a Korean staple, and I tend to see it as the equivalent of a sandwich. There are countless varieties, but generally speaking the ingredients involve some kind of meat and vegetables rolled up in white rice, which itself is rolled up in dried seaweed (“kim/gim”). The roll is then chopped into bite-sized pieces, like sushi. You can find kimbap just about anywhere you go. Dozens of flavours line the shelves of every convenience store. Street vendors and market people prepare it fresh at their carts and stalls. There are numerous diner-style eateries known as kimbap restaurants – although they generally serve other quick and easy fare like soups and fried rice dishes, kimbap is their speciality.

Kimbap has replaced the common sandwich for me. Not because I prefer it (both have their appeal!), but because the kind of sandwiches you find at the convenience stores and fast food hatches here are not to my taste. They look like Western sandwiches, but because Koreans like things to be sweet, there’s generally some kind of unpleasant, syrupy sauce lurking inside. I have yet to have a sandwich in Korea that didn’t taste sweet. I’ve even had a grilled cheese and ham breakfast sandwich that seemed to involve some kind of sugar. Not having much of a sweet tooth, this doesn’t appeal to me at all. It’s the Korean take on a Western food. With kimbap, on the other hand, they know what they’re doing. ;)

Kimbap is what all the children bring in their little picnic boxes when we have a school trip. Some kinds are nicer than others. The favourite of children seems to be cheese kimbap, and I have to confess it’s the favourite of this big kid, too! It has the advantage of being the only kind that actually improves from being carried around in the sunshine for a few hours, as the cheese melts through the other fillings, and the whole thing goes all gooey and delicious (unlike the other kinds, which completely lose their appeal after a few hours in a warm lunchbox, as far as I’m concerned). I’m also a big fan of chamchi (tuna) kimbap, either with kimchi or mayo.

I also recently discovered fried kimbap, which the cooking lady rustled up as a way of using the leftovers from a school picnic – they wouldn’t have been great to eat the next day as they were. Fried in a little sesame oil, though… yum! Again, the cheese one tastes amazing this way.

And then of course there’s triangle kimbap, a Japanese version which is mainly sold in convenience stores. The plus with these is that they use the light, crispy, toasted seaweed that I love, unlike ordinary kimbap which uses the heavier stuff. The minus is that the filling is really only contained in the middle of the triangle, meaning that you get several bites of just plain rice and seaweed around the corners. The packaging for triangle kimbap is cool, with the plastic wrapper actually going in between the rice and the seaweed, to stop it going soggy. You have to open it by following the 1-2-3 directions on the pack, et voila! The plastic slides out as if by magic, leaving you with your rice and filling wrapped neatly in a nice crispy-dry piece of seaweed.

Well, that wasn’t interesting at all. But honestly, I’m going out of my mind trying to come up with topics I haven’t already written about, so if you happen to have any questions whatsoever about life/experiences/foods/customs/teaching/whatever in Korea, please ask me and give me something new to write about. It cannot be possible that I have covered every aspect of this country in just under two years. :)


5 thoughts on “김밥 (Kimbap)

  1. Suzanne says:

    Dear Hayley,

    More! More! More food! More daily-life trivia. More about “this funny thing happened today”. Perhaps you don’t realise how fascinating stuff like this is to people who don’t live in Korea. Especially since your writing is immensely enjoyable.
    I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this, even though you might not get told as frequently as you wish or deserve.

    I’m sorry about being such a “lurker”, but I’m terribly squeamish about leaving great big muddy footprints all over the internet.

    On another note, don’t worry too much about a terrible teaching day, we all have them (or think we do).

    Please keep the blogposts coming, will you?


    • Wow, what a lovely comment! Thank you, Suzanne. I suppose that no, I don’t remember that things that seem ordinary and a bit mundane to me now might still be interesting or unusual to those who aren’t here experiencing them. It’s good to be reminded of that. Thank you for reading, and for commenting! Much appreciated.

  2. It should come as no surprise that I pretty much never tire of reading about food. And I agree with Suzanne that all of it is fascinating for those of us who haven’t lived in Korea. For example, I’m really intrigued by the fact that you have a preferred type of seaweed. Not something I’d ever considered.

    • Ha ha! That’s funny – it didn’t even occur to me that until I came here, the idea of having a preferred kind of seaweed would have seemed a little odd and unnecessary. Another example of how the little details have become part of everyday life! The dry, crispy seaweed is really nice, and I love watching the old women at the market toasting big sheets of it on massive flat pans – it produces a lot of smoke and smells delicious. The end product is salty and crunchy, and sounds like a slice of toast does when you bite into it. The other most common kind is dried but not roasted, so it has more of a chewy texture that doesn’t appeal to me quite as much. And then when you eat it in a soup, it’s slimy… sort of like lifting a piece out of the sea and chewing on it, I imagine!

      More food posts are a must, then. I wasn’t sure that they were all that interesting for anyone out there, but if just one or two enjoy them, that’s good enough for me!

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