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What is kimbap? An illustrated guide to making Korean seaweed rice rolls

Whether stuffed with vegetables, sweet crab stick, ham or Spam, every Korean and Korean American family has their own unique way of making it.
While sushi and kimbap do have similarities, kimbap has an identity all its own.
While sushi and kimbap do have similarities, kimbap has an identity all its own.Caroline Choe

I grew up often hearing people call kimbap “Korean-style sushi.” Truthfully, it always kind of made my skin crawl hearing it because there is no raw fish in kimbap (also, a random bit of trivia: raw fish is an unfortunate food allergy I have).

Though, of course, these members of the seaweed roll family have similarities, kimbap has an identity all its own. Whether stuffed with vegetables, sweet crab stick, ham or Spam, every Korean and Korean American family has their own unique way of making it. Whether my dad would roll it up at the table for me as a kid or I would grab it for lunch as an adult on-the-go at H Mart, kimbap is truly is one of my most treasured comfort foods.

Caroline Choe

The first time I made it on my own, I was so nervous, even though I’d done it with my family for my whole life. I used seaweed that tore too easily; my rice was over-oiled; my rice was dried out; I made beautiful rolls that turned out looking like flat toy ties once they were sliced. It was seriously like the gods were poking fun at me for lacking confidence in something I was so familiar with.

But that’s the joy of the homemade kimbap experience: finding the right ingredients and practicing until those delicious mistakes yield beautiful results.

Kimbap ingredients

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Prepare the ingredients

Prepare the rice: In a large bowl, season the rice (while it’s still warm, to better absorb flavor) with the kosher salt and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil.

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Marinate and cook the meat: In another bowl, combine the 1/2 pound of sliced rib-eye, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix well (best done by hand!). Cook meat over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked. Set aside to cool.

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Note: Don’t forget to season your vegetables and egg strips with a pinch of salt, too!

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Assemble the kimbap

Place a sheet of the dried seaweed (gim) on a bamboo mat with the shiny side down.

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Gradually and carefully spread about 1 cup of the rice over the gim, covering about 2/3 of the sheet, and leaving about 2 inches to the top of the sheet.

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Place one strip of your egg omelet, yellow radish, cucumber, a small line of the shredded carrots and an equal amount of spinach in the center of the rice. Use both hands to carefully roll the bottom of the gim over the fillings, and gently continue rolling until the seaweed is completely rolled up.

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Take the mat and cover the roll and squeeze firmly — but not too tight! This will help secure the roll without tearing the seaweed.

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If you find that a small flap of the seaweed isn’t fully secured after rolling, gently wet your fingertip with a little water and moisten the edge of the flap and complete the rolling.

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Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Using a knife, carefully slice the rolls into 1/2-inch pieces.

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Serve immediately or pack it in an airtight container (great for picnics!) — and most of all, enjoy!

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Note: Try to eat it sooner rather than later, because it'll dry out in the fridge (but it'll still be edible).

Get the full recipe here:

Kimbap (Gimbap)

Kimbap (Gimbap)

Caroline Choe