YOLO: Culinary Adventures, Bibimbap

A couple weeks ago, I was watching bootleg Good Eats episodes on YouTube when I stumbled upon an episode of “Best Thing I Ever Ate” with Alton Brown in it. I had just finished dinner, and was watching videos procrastinating to avoid doing homework when I was suddenly overcome with hunger.

My new-found infatuation was Bibimbap, a Korean amalgam of rice, meat and veggies. Although I never did go seek it out at the time (the eating on North Campus isn’t the greatest), that video stuck with me. Not only did it look delicious, but Alton Brown is a better pitchman than Billy Mays.

When I moved in with a a coworker over the summer to work on a research project, I found myself in the heart of Ann Arbor.  Between my adopted home and my place of work on Central Campus lay downtown Ann Arbor and it’s numerous restaurants. Some of them were korean. The cogs started turning in my head. After a bit of research between Yelp and Google, I set my cross hairs on Kang’s Korean Restaurant. Today, I pulled the trigger.

The restaurant itself is a fairly simple, with a a dining area adjacent to the kitchen. The proximity makes waiting for your food a tedious task, as smells are free to roam the premises. Kang’s serves two versions of Bibimbap, regular and “hot stone,” the latter coming in a bowl described by the dish. The difference is about $0.50, and it’s a distinction that is worth every penny. I splurged for the hot stone bibimbap.

On a good day, you’ll have your meal within 10 minutes of ordering, and when it arrives, it comes with all the goodies you could want. The main attraction is a healthy sized portion of bibimbap, flanked by bottles of chili pepper paste and sesame oil. On the side are small bowls of miso soup and kimchi. The kimchi is on par with most restaurants, and the miso soup is a bit weak, but I found it helpful in quelling a certain burning sensation later on.

The first order of business is to liberally apply the sweet chili paste, as well as a dash of sesame oil to taste. Then you mix everything together. I felt compelled to tear open the fried egg on top and let the yolk mix in with the rice. The baked stone bowl keeps everything steaming hot for about 5 full minutes, so you can take your time. When I was done mixing, I added more chili pepper paste…

Note the crispy rice crust in the lower-right quadrant. That's what sets this variation apart from the other.

The taste can most easily be described as: the best fried rice you have ever eaten. You have still-crunchy cucumber strips, savory korean beef bits, perfectly cooked rice, slathered in a sweet, spicy sauce that is nowhere near as heavy and oppressive as the kind of sauce you’d dip “Chinese” sweet and sour chicken in (I use quotes, because I consider that a product of American influence… like Broccoli Chicken <-- not real Chinese food). When you get to the bottom, you'll find that the heat from the stone bowl has left scabs of browned rice. Scrape them off and enjoy, they're pure flavor. I left Kang's physically stuffed, but mentally wanting more. I suppose that can be considered a positive impression. Overall, I'd give the place a 4.5/5 rating. For a little more effort they could have nailed the miso soup, and over the years inflation has moved the price of the dish up slightly. Hot Stone Bibimbap stands at about $9.50 after tax which is by no means a bad price, but it's slightly beyond what I would consider a regular lunch splurge (it's also not exactly "fast food"). TLDR: Bibimbap is a great dish, and you should liberally use Korean chili pepper paste with it. Kang’s is a decent baseline for Korean fare.

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