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KOREAN CUISINE: THE BEST I’VE EXPERIENCED :
DOENJANG BIBIMBAP
DOENJANG BIBIMBAP: Eating Hearty on a Budget

When I was a student attending the Korean Language Education Center at Sogang University, I ate out very often. That’s because cooking at home was an immense task in those days. The best place to get a quick and affordable meal, of course, was the oncampus dining hall, where I often ate both lunch and dinner.
Whenever I felt like indulging in a tasty meal offcampus, however, I’d seek out a small alley near Sinchon Station. The restaurant with my favorite Korean meal is on a basement floor. Every time I walk in, the place gives off a unique vibe. A look at the ceiling reveals paper lanterns made with hanji or Korean paper, and although the interior is in the style of a traditional house, or hanok, that allows you to sit on the floor, various sofas placed here and there provide a slightly Western atmosphere. The wooden walls are endowed with hanji windows, at which I would often stare while eating in peace.
Their menu consisted of nothing special, but my favorite meal there was doenjang bibimbap, a variation of the classic dish that incorporates doenjang, a soybean paste that’s both flavorful and nutritious. For those who have never tried bibimbap, it’s a dish of seasoned or cooked vegetables served over rice, usually with red-pepper paste and a fried egg. Unlike traditional bibimbap, doenjang bibimbap doesn’t use the usual red-pepper paste; it comes with its own special sauce instead. The sauce is made by blending doenjang and tofu into a wholesome, savory taste. The dish is mild on the stomach and easy to digest. It seems to ease my digestive tract every time it’s not feeling well. Along with the main dish, of course, are numerous side dishes, and a complimentary cup of tea or coffee is provided after your meal. After filling your belly, you can relax on one of the sofas and chat with your friends. The best part, though, was the price: just KRW 6,000 (less than USD 6) for the perfect student meal. Why cook in cramped student quarters when you can enjoy a delicious bowl of doenjang bibimbap for such a bargain!
Throughout my time in Korea, bibimbap has been my food of choice whenever I need something easy on the digestive tract, and doenjang bibimbap is by far my favorite variation. Since it doesn’t contain any meat, I recommend it for any vegetarians visiting or living in Korea. Actually, I’d recommend it to anybody, as it’s truly a dish to die for. Even as I write these very words, my mouth is starting to water.

Frédéric Barthassat
2014-2015 KF Korean Language Fellow

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