Kimbap is the Korean version of sushi, but does not command the type of respect that sushi does, either inside or outside Korea. This is probably because the typical kimbap ingredients are run-of-the-mill — things like ground beef, spinach, egg, carrot, cucumber, radish, tuna, kimchi and (fake) crabmeat. Inside Korea, Kimbap is cheap food — a grab-and-go snack suited for picnics and road trips, among other scenarios. Korean convenience stores sell ready-made kimbap, often for as little as the equivalent of $1 per roll. You can also buy kimbap directly on the street from food vendors.

Outside Korea it seems that few people know about kimbap. It’s not offered in most Korean restaurants, I guess because it’s considered cheap, street food. That said, kimbap is delicious in its own way and distinct from sushi in both flavor and preparation. I have a special fondness for it and I eat it nearly every day when I visit Korea.

Kimbap (Korean Sushi) — 김밥

Makes 8-10 rolls with 8 pieces in each roll


  • 3 c. uncooked white, sticky rice
  • ½ lb. ground beef
  • 5 oz. spinach
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 dehydrated shiitake mushrooms*
  • 1 large carrot
  • 8-10 sheets seaweed**

For rice seasoning:

  • 5 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar (NOTE: I omitted this to cut down on sugar, but it can be incorporated if you want your kimbap to have a sweeter taste.)
  • 2 tsp. Mirin (Japanese cooking wine) or sherry***

For meat seasoning:

  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce****
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (NOTE: I omitted this to cut down on sugar, but it can be incorporated if you want your kimbap to have a sweeter taste.)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper

For mushroom seasoning:

  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce**
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (NOTE: I omitted this to cut down on sugar, but it can be incorporated if you want your kimbap to have a sweeter taste.)

*You can buy these mushrooms in Asian grocery stores and rehydrate them by soaking them in hot water for 15-20 minutes. If the mushrooms are still not soft after soaking, simmer them in a pot for 10 more minutes. (See photo above.)

**It’s important to buy the right type of seaweed, both in terms of size and consistency (texture/thickness). Look for packaging that says, “Laver for Kimbap” (or Gimbap) or that has photos of kimbap on it. (See photo above.)

***You can find Mirin at Asian grocery stores or online at for about $8.

****To make this recipe gluten free, I used San-J Organic Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce (available at Whole Foods or for $6.69 + shipping on


  • Cook rice according to instructions in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid or in a rice cooker.
  • While rice is cooking, prepare rice seasoning.
  • As soon as rice is done, mix hot rice with seasoning ingredients in a large shallow bowl, tossing lightly with a wooden spoon to separate grains. Cool seasoned rice 15-20 minutes.
  • Mix ground beef with meat seasoning ingredients and stir fry. Drain fat and excess juice from meat.
  • Soften mushrooms in hot water. Slice mushrooms and simmer them in mushroom seasoning ingredients, reserving cooking liquid for later use.
  • Slice carrot into long, thin matchstick strips. Cook in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and drain.
  • Cook spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds. Add reserved mushroom cooking liquid to spinach and drain.
  • Add 1 tsp. of salt to beaten eggs. Pour egg into a lightly-oiled skillet and fry slowly on both sides, making a thin, crepe-like egg pancake.
  • Slice egg pancake into long strips.
  • OPTIONAL: To prevent the seaweed from getting chewy after it is rolled, you can lightly toast the seaweed sheets on a hot skillet using no oil.

To assemble rolls:

  • Divide seasoned rice into 8 equal parts.
  • Lay one sheet of seaweed on a bamboo rolling mat.*****
  • Spread one portion of rice evenly over seaweed, leaving a 1-inch space at both ends.
  • Arrange some of each ingredient – carrot, egg, beef, spinach and mushrooms – in the center of the rice layer.
  • Roll by lifting the end of the seaweed sheet nearest you and rolling it towards the other end (while holding the filling ingredients with your fingers.)
  • Seal the seaweed ends with vinegar or water. Slice rolls into ¾-inch slices.
  • Each roll makes about 8 pieces, excluding the irregular end pieces.
  • Serve with soy sauce.

*****The recipe recommends using a bamboo mat like this to roll your kimbap. I didn’t have a mat, so I just used my hands. My kimbap came out a bit squashed and not as tightly rolled as it could have been, but was still delicious.

[Recipe from “Korean Cooking”, an out-of-print cookbook created by the Korean Institute of Minnesota.]