Korea is a small country, but its cuisine has a remarkable depth, variety, and thoughtfulness about it, a fact seen in one its most well-known dishes, bibimbap. The bibimbap that most people experience—the one with rice mixed with vegetables, meat, and gochujang—is but just one type.
Coastal communities like Tongyeong use seafood as the main protein. Other types, like the one coming from Jinju, use yukhwe (beef tartare). And still others forgo gochujang, instead using doenjang (fermented soybean paste) or ganjang (soy sauce).
But if you were to ask a Korean person where you could find the best bibimbap in Korea, chances are they will say to go to Jeonju. The Jeonju bibimbap was part of the Korean royal cuisine and is an elaborate dish that features over thirty components!
Bibimbap is also a thoughtful dish. While today, you can find “Chipotle-ized” versions where you can throw in whatever ingredients you want and haphazardly mix it all together (and tbh, I have no issues with doing that), traditionally the dish needed to have ingredients of five colors, known as “obangsaek” in Korean. Each of these colors (white, black, blue/green, yellow, red) are symbolic of the philosophies of the time.
Nowadays, bibimbap is a dish that is often served to foreign dignitaries visiting the Korean president. Having a dish where the different, individual ingredients are all mixed into a harmonious whole is symbolic of the desire to work cooperatively with other countries.
Bibimbap is a delicious dish but its regional, historic, and cultural background also makes it a fascinating and beautiful one.