My memories of bibim-guksu go back to any day of my childhood when I can picture my mom opening the refrigerator and realizing she hasn’t gone grocery shopping for several days. All that’s left is an array of half-eaten banchan (side dishes)—not enough to serve alone, but wasteful to toss. Luckily, bibim-guksu, or bibimbap, is the perfect meal when all you have is leftovers.
Most Korean foods are built on intuition and taste, rather than step-by-step instructions. Case and point: My mom could tell me about her delicious kimchi-jigae (kimchi stew) and the ingredients in it, but could never tell me how much kimchi, tofu, and red pepper paste made up its parts. Following her example, I will tell you that bibim-guksu is a traditional Korean cold noodle dish mixed with vegetables; forget measurements. It’s a dish that is easy to prepare and can be enjoyed for both lunch or dinner.
In Korean, guksu means noodles, bap means rice, and bibim means “to mix together.” Bibimbap consists of rice, Korean-barbecued meat, and vegetables. Bibim-guksu is very similar, but instead of rice, you use rice noodles or buckwheat noodles, and it is typically eaten without meat. (If adding, I recommend kalbi, thinly-sliced beef short rib.) The main difference is that bibimbap is meant to be eaten hot, while bibim-guksu is served chilled. I personally love both, but for the warmer months, bibim-guksu is perfect for experimentation with spring and summer vegetables. It can be spicy (or not), vegetarian (or not), but always salty and refreshing.
What makes this dish incredible is that it tastes well-planned out, but all you really have to do is mix noodles or rice with Korean Red Pepper Paste or soy sauce (staple sauces in a Korean kitchen), and throw in whatever vegetables you have available. Versatility makes these dishes supremely popular in Korean cuisine, for cooks and diners.
Spicy. Salty. Savory. Fermented-goodness. All in one bite. All in one bowl. This is Korean food—and it’s been hiding in your refrigerator all along! Here’s how to bring all this out of hiding, onto plates, and, ideally, to a table outdoors, under the warm sun.
Gather and Prep
You can really use anything in the fridge, which is one reason I love this dish so much. It’s versatile. That being said, though, for the ultimate oh-so-delicious, I-LOVE-KOREAN-FOOD experience, consider these toppings: a handful of kimchi (my favorite by far is Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi, sold at Whole Foods), raw cucumbers, sautéed zucchini, firm tofu (cut into cubes), scallions, and whatever greens you have. My husband and I love watercress or red lettuce for a subtle, bitter flavor that will balance out the salt and spice of the kimchi. It’s up to you what vegetables you want to keep raw versus cooked, but it’s nice to have a balance of both.
Some people like more noodles with fewer vegetables. I like mine with equal parts. Keep all raw vegetables in the refrigerator until it is time to mix it with noodles. You may keep the sautéed vegetables at room temperature.
Make the Sauce
The sauce is a simple one, but it has a lot going on when tossed in with vegetables and noodles. In a small bowl, mix in about 3 of tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of Korean red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar (a little goes along way). I would start with these measurements first and adjust by taste.
Cook the Noodles
Whatever noodles you choose to use, make sure to cook them al dente, according to the instructions on the packet. Rinse the noodles in cold water after cooking. If you choose to prepare traditional bibim noodles, buckwheat or soba (Japanese for buckwheat) is the way to go. I buy the ones that are from Japan and 100% buckwheat. They are usually found in the international section at supermarkets. Due to its grainy and chewy texture, soba holds the sauce together well. Not all noodles are meant to be served chilled, but this is an exception.
You want to use a large bowl that has a lot of room to mix the ingredients together. In the bowl, place your noodles first. Then add all prepped vegetables. Finally, add the bibim sauce in small amounts at a time. Start with one tablespoon, mixing well using a spoon. Make sure the vegetables, noodles, and sauce are well-incorporated. Taste, and if you need more spice, add another tablespoon and mix. I personally like to have a side of freshly sliced jalapeños for some extra spice. Enjoy!
I like to pack all the components in different containers: noodles, vegetables, and the soy sauce mix. This makes the noodles taste freshly-prepared every time I put them together again.