I met Cindy Oh over 10 years ago, when we shared an office at our first job after college. One day she invited me over for bibimbap. "Bibim-what?" I asked. She repeated the word. Still confused, I declined, explaining that I wasn't into that sort of thing, and that I had a boyfriend but appreciated the offer and hoped that we could still be friends. She laughed at my ignorance and explained that bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish that she makes for dinner parties.
Bibimbap consists of rice, bulgogi (marinated beef), sesame oil, vegetables, hot sauce and a fried egg. (You can prep the ingredients from scratch, but most of them can be purchased pre-prepared from an Asian market.) The dish is traditionally made in great quantities for large dinner parties, with the host readying bowls for each guest by hand, but Cindy prefers to serve it buffet-style, so diners can customize it to their taste. Once all ingredients are in the bowl, everything is mixed together. Doing so breaks the egg yolk and combines the flavors to create a delicious blend of contrasting tastes and textures. (In restaurants, you'll often see a version called teolseot, or dol sot bibimbap, served in a hot stone "pot" with a raw egg that then cooks against its sides.)
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Before the main dish, Cindy serves light appetizers, such as shumai (steamed dumplings) or homemade California rolls. Since bibimbap contains an entire meal in one dish, a side is unnecessary. Stiff drinks, however, are always on the menu: Though unorthodox by Korean standards, Cindy's signature cocktail is her version of a flirtini -- a strong combination of vodka, champagne and orange juice. Most evenings are topped off with decadent desserts, such as Cindy's melt-in-your-mouth tres leches cake.
Guests usually go home wishing they had worn an elastic waistband, but it's not just the cuisine (or super-strong drinks) that make it a party. As we laugh over late-night flirtinis, I'm always reminded that though I love the food, it's the company that keeps me coming back every time. Terri Sapienza
3 cups uncooked white rice
10 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1/3 cup toasted sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
Garlic salt to taste
1/2 pound bean sprouts
4 eggs fried sunny side up
A few capfuls (about 2 teaspoons) Sprite
4 tablespoons spicy red bean paste (kochujang, available in Asian markets)