Devan Grimsrud

Managing Editor at Kitchen Stories

instagram.com/devan.grimsrud/

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Kimbap (or gimbap) are Korean seaweed rice rolls. They’re colorful, seaweed-wrapped rounds of delight; like tiny mosaics, they’re pieces of art you can eat with your hands. I didn’t grow up eating them from the cooler on a cross-country road trip, but that won’t stop me from doing so in the future—and I’m here to convince you of the same.

What is kimbap?

In Korean, gim means dried seaweed sheets and bap means rice. Kimbap is the dish that combines these two ingredients, by layering rice and various fillings onto the seaweed sheet before rolling it up and slicing into perfect (if not large, so open wide!) one-bite rounds. Many Koreans around the world turn to Kimbap for picnics since they’re easy to share, easy to pack, can be eaten with your hands, and make a satisfying meal on their own.

Besides the gim (use roasted seaweed sheets) and bap (typically short-grain white rice, but could also be medium grain, brown rice, or black “forbidden” rice), there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how to fill kimbap. Some popular ingredients include pickled radish (danmuji); meats like bulgogi, spam, ham, tuna, imitation crab, or even hot dogs; egg strips; spinach; carrots; kimchi; but this by no means covers everything. You can also put cheese, mayonnaise, fried chicken, herbs, or loads of fresh veg into your kimbap—the choice really is yours!

In addition to the endless variety of fillings you can experiment with, there are also various ways to wrap or fold kimbap. The most popular is the classic roll (see how it’s done here), but you can also follow the tortilla wrap TikTok trend and make folded kimbap, make triangle kimbap that come with their own plastic wrapping for easy transport, or even small filled balls of rice whose name translates to “ugly kimbap.”

Is kimbap the same thing as sushi?

While at first glance kimbap can look quite similar to Japanese sushi (makizushi, specifically), it is not the same thing. Kimbap uses rice seasoned with toasted sesame oil and salt, while sushi rice is seasoned with rice vinegar, salt, and some sugar for sweet, slightly acidic flavor. Kimbap fillings are typically cooked and can be easily made and served vegan, while sushi fillings rely mainly on raw seafood and are not as often made vegetarian or vegan. Kimbap has all the savory flavors packed inside and is therefore typically not served with anything, whereas sushi is often served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Finally, kimbap is something casual and often made at home or picked up from a convenience store for a quick lunch, it just doesn’t have the fine dining “prestige” that many sushi restaurants and sushi chefs do.

Why kimbap is the perfect picnic pack, plus the 6 kimbap-making tips you need to know

No matter which way you choose to wrap or roll your kimbap, there’s no denying that it’s a food that’s made to travel and eat with your hands. It makes a great alternative to a sandwich in that way, and thanks to the rice, kimbap is incredibly satisfying as a post-swim or -hike fuel. You can slice them up and pack them into a lunchbox or bag, or simply wrap the entire roll in plastic, aluminum, or beeswax-wrap to slice later or eat like a big kimbap-burrito. The slices are easy to share with friends and family and our recipe scales up easily.

Before you get to making your kimbap (I can tell you’re chomping at the bit!), here are a few helpful tips you should know:

1. Don’t overfill your rolls: This is key! It might be tempting to add lots of your fillings into your roll, but the seaweed sheet can really only handle so much. To test whether you’re filling it too full, gently start to roll it—the rice on the side closest to you should come in contact with the rice on the side farthest from you, if it doesn’t, remove some fillings!
2. Don’t be afraid to really press it hard: If you don’t press your roll together hard enough, it could fall apart. I learned this lesson many times over, so really don’t be afraid to give that roll a good hard press from all sides so it will stick together and slice into nice, tight rounds.
3. The trick to perfectly round kimbap? A bamboo mat: I tried (and tried) rolling the kimbap by hand or using a clean kitchen towel or piece of parchment paper to help. While the outcome was passable, it was harder to do and didn’t give me the nice round shape I wanted. Most Asian grocery stores have relatively cheap bamboo rolling mats and I would highly recommend getting one for this recipe. 
4. Drain your fillings well: While the rice provides a nice barrier between the fillings and seaweed, it’s still important not to have fillings with too much liquid. Drain them well or pat them dry to ensure the best outcome.
5. Use damp hands to spread the rice: Having trouble spreading the rice? If you’re using your hands, wet them to prevent sticking. If you’re using a rice spoon, dab a bit more sesame oil onto it.
6. Save some time and prep the kimbap fillings ahead: While kimbap itself is not a great prep-ahead item (the rice can dry out quickly if stored in the fridge for 12 or more hours), you can cheat it by prepping all your fillings a day or two ahead of time. The day you want to make and serve the kimbap, all you have to do is cook the rice, assemble, and slice! Let the rice cool a bit before rolling by transferring it (after it has had at least 10 min. to rest) to a large bowl or sheet pan, seasoning it, and letting it sit.

Make kimbap with Devan

Make kimbap with Devan

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