Kimbap is a Korean specialty based on cooked rice. The rice rolls are held together by purple kelp, which is also described by the Korean term gim. Therefore, it is not surprising that the dish is not only known as kimbap, but rather as gimbap in Korea. Thus, the name is composed of the purpurtang gim as well as the term bap, which refers to the cooked rice. In presentation, gimbap is reminiscent of the Japanese sushi dish norimaki, which historically is also considered the inspiration for kimbap, according to some views. However, kimbap is an independent Korean dish with a long tradition that has its own unique variations.
The origins of Kimbap
Historically, the origins of kimbap are not entirely clear. The most common theory, as mentioned above, is that kimbap evolved from Japanese norimaki. This probably happened during the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945, during which time Korean cuisine opened up to a wide variety of international influences, including Japanese bento and sushi varieties. In this respect, the idea that kimbap emerged from this makes sense. According to this theory, kimbap quickly developed its own identity, embracing Korean culinary characteristics.
Alternatively, there is also the notion that kimbap developed independently from the Korean tradition of rice dishes, bap, and established itself independent of Japanese influences. Thus, the Korean historical dish bokssam is said to have been an influence. Which of the theories is true remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that kimbap is now a completely independent rice dish that is culinarily distinct from Japanese sushi.
Differences to Sushi
Only at first glance, kimbap may seem to some to be a variation of sushi. But kimbap has its own unique tradition – and its own unique variations. While the traditional Norimaki of Japan usually comes along puristically, the Kimbap sets gladly on a colorful variant of ingredients, thereby even the rice can be colored and thus in the coloring be prominent. The rice of a kimbap is also often refined with sesame seeds – and generally well seasoned. This is traditionally considered a no-go in Japanese sushi.
Also, the kimbap is not as elementary on fish as the Japanese sushi. Thus, the ingredients of a kimbap can also be supplemented with vegetable varieties, herbs or meat. Kimbap usually relies on pre-cooked rather than raw ingredients. Kimbap is therefore not a mere variant of Japanese sushi, but a varied alternative with its own unique flavors.
Variants of Kimbap
In keeping with its name, the basic ingredients of kimbap are seaweed leaves (gim) and cooked glutinous rice (bap). Apart from that, a kimbap can contain a wide variety of ingredients – and thus represents a richly varied Asian dish as an alternative to sushi. The variations of the dish can be made according to one’s own taste; typically for Korea, kimchi is also served with kimbap. In such a combination, the dish is also considered comparably healthy. This is not only due to the kimchi, but also to the algae variant gim, which contains less iodine than comparable types of algae – and to ingredients such as sesame seeds and the vegetables usually included.
But what are the special variants of kimbap? There can already be differences in the rice. In addition to the traditional white glutinous rice, dark rice varieties (brown or black rice) can also be used, and the rice can also be colored with special ingredients. Sesame seeds and sesame oil are often used – but they are not obligatory. Kimbap can be distinguished from sushi by unusual ingredients such as cheese, ham, shrimp, spinach or bulgogi. Here, the kimbap relies on a traditional bamboo roller for its production, not unlike Japanese sushi.
As with many popular national dishes, distinct variations of the dish have developed depending on the region of Korea. For example, in the region historically of the same name, Chungmu-gimbap could emerge for its thin rolls with bare rice as the filling and kimchi as a garnish. Alternatively, there is the mayak-gimbap from the Gwangjang market in Seoul, which is best known for its vegetable fillings: usually carrots, yellow radish and spinach can be discovered inside. In South Korea, samgak-gimbap, reminiscent of Japanese onigiri, has evolved. International cuisine has long since discovered kimbap for itself. This is also due to the fact that the dish presents itself as extremely versatile and, at least on this level, is a serious competitor to sushi. According to some theories, the California Roll is also considered a famous variant, which some believe was established by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles.
Summary overview of Kimbap
Whether kimbap developed from Japanese influences or entirely on its own in Korea: What is clear is that it is a distinct Korean dish that emancipated itself from sushi. In Korea itself, the dish is called gimbap, which refers to the ingredients seaweed leaves (gim) and boiled rice (bap). Today, there are many different variations of kimbap, and international cuisine has also adapted the Korean specialty with its own variations.