Kimbap is Korea’s most popular on-the-go meal! Learn how to make a classic version at home with this recipe with a step-by-step guide!
What is kimbap?
Kimbap (or gimbap, 김밥) is a Korean seaweed rice roll filled with a variety of delicious fillings. Gim (김) is a dried seaweed, and bap is rice. With various fillings, these rice rolls have an interesting combination of textures and flavors.
We all grew up on these rice rolls. Our school field trips, outdoor activities, and family road trips wouldn’t have been complete without them! Today, kimbap is the most popular grab-and-go meal in Korea. You can practically find it everywhere with so many variations.
The best one for me, however, is the classic kimbap my mother used to make for us on our field trip/picnic days. I love making these rice rolls at home. It takes some time to prepare individual fillings and rolling takes some practice, but the process is easy and fun.
Gim, rice, and some fillings are the three components of seaweed rice rolls. While kimbap fillings are highly versatile with infinite options, I’ve included the classic ingredients in this recipe:
- gim, 김 (dried seaweed, aka nori)
- rice (short/medium grain rice)
- danmuji, 단무지 (pickled radish) – typically yellow but I like white ones without food coloring if available
- beef – any tender cut of beef, bulgogi meat, or ground beef
- eomuk, 어묵 (fish cake)
- spinach – cucumber is a good substitute. See my Vegan Kimbap for preparing cucumbers.
- burdock root (우엉) – You can usually find packages of burdock root pre-prepared for kimbap usually next to pickled radishes (danmuji). Or, you can make your own, using my recipe.
You can adjust the number and the amount of the filling ingredients to your liking. Omit any ingredient(s) you don’t want or have, and/or add any ingredients you like.
Gim (dried seaweed)
You can find seaweed sheets made for kimbap (or sushi) at Korean/Asian markets or online. They are slightly thick to hold the rice and all the fillings and lightly roasted.
Rice for kimbap
You’ll need short grain rice. For healthier options, I sometimes mix in some brown rice or multigrain rice. Cook the rice slightly drier than normal by using a little less water. Then, lightly season it with sesame oil and salt for a nutty and savory note Korean kimbap is known for.
Each roll takes about 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked rice. For this recipe, I used 1.5 cups of raw rice for 4 rolls. If you cook 2 cups of rice, you can make 5 or 6 rolls.
Preparing filling ingredients
While it takes some time to prepare the filling ingredients, the process is simple. Lightly season each ingredient as all the ingredients, including the rice, will be seasoned. Picked radish and burdock roots are especially salty.
For vegan kimbap, omit beef, fish cake and eggs and add more vegetables, tofu, etc. Also see my Vegan Kimbap.
Variation – Woo Young Woo Kimbap
Woo Young Woo kimbap gained popularity on social media thanks to the Netflix Korean drama – Extraordinary Attorney Woo (summer 2022). Woo is a brilliant attorney with an autism spectrum disorder. She loves and eats kimbap for every meal. She says kimbap is trustable. There are no surprises in texture and taste as she can see all the ingredients at a glance.
So, what’s in Woo Young Woo kimbap? Ham, crab sticks, fish cake (eomuk), braised burdock root (ueong jorim), egg, spinach, and carrot. No beef! These are all very common kimbap ingredients. You can easily try this at home by omitting the beef from this recipe and adding some Korean ham (pan-fried) and crab sticks (imitation crabmeat).
How hard is the rolling process? It takes some practice, but it’s much easier with your second roll. Roll it tightly by putting firm, even pressure with your hands all over the roll. Start with a small amount of each filling if this is your first time.
Tips for making kimbap
- Freshly cooked rice is best for making kimbap. Keep it warm until ready to use.
- Season the rice after all the filling ingredients are ready. Mix the rice with sesame oil and salt while the rice is still hot/warm.
- Keep the filling ingredients as dry as possible by removing excess water.
- Lightly season each filling ingredient. Pickled radish and burdock roots are salty.
- Wet your fingers with water or sesame oil before spreading the rice onto the seaweed to prevent the rice from sticking to your hands. It helps to have a small bowl with water/sesame oil next to your rolling-station.
- Use a sharp knife for cutting your rolls. Make a clean slicing motion and make the full slice in one go. Clean the knife with a wet kitchen towel between cuttings as necessary.
- Store the sliced gimbap in an airtight container. Gimbap is best eaten on the day it’s made, but you can keep it in the fridge and reheat either in the microwave or in a pan. Sometimes, we dip refrigerated gimbap in egg batter and pan fry. A delicious way to revive gimbap!
READY TO ROLL?
More kimbap recipes
Kimbap (Seaweed rice rolls)Main Course, Snack
- 4 gim (김), dried seaweed aka nori
- cooking oil
For the rice
- 1.5 cups uncooked short grain rice (standard measuring cup not the cup that comes with a rice cooker) See note 1
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon) start with a little less
For the beef
- 8 ounces lean tender beef, cut into thin strips (or bulgogi meat or ground beef)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice wine (or mirin)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
For the vegetables
- 1 bunch spinach, about 8 ounces See note 3 for a substitute
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- salt to taste - about 1/4 teaspoon
- 2 medium carrots, julienned (or 1/2-inch thick long strips)
- 4 strips pre-cut pickled radish (danmuji, 단무지) strips, white or yellow if not pre-cut, cut into about 1/2-inch thick long strips
- 4 strips prepared burdock roots (ueong, 우엉) Or make braised burdock roots
For the egg
- 2 large eggs
For the fish cake
- 1 or 2 (if small) sheets fish cake - eomuk (어묵)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Cook the rice using a little less water than usual. (Freshly cooked rice is best for gimbap.) Keep it warm until all the filling ingredients are ready.
- Cut the beef into thin strips (about 1/2-inch thick). Mix well with the next 5 seasoning ingredients. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and prepare a cold water bath. Blanch the spinach, place immediately in cold water, then squeeze out excess water. Season with the sesame oil and salt.
- Crack and beat the eggs, in a bowl with a spoon or a fork. Stir in a pinch of salt. Heat a small non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Add the eggs to the pan. When the bottom is set but the top is still runny, flip it over 1/3 way and again to make a thick omelette. Transfer to a cutting board and let it cool. Cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick strips. (You can make a thin, round egg omelette and use 2 pieces per each roll, if it's easier for you.)
- Julienne the carrots. Heat a lightly oiled pan over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the carrots until softened. Lightly season with a pinch of salt. Transfer to a plate.
- Cut the fish cake lengthwise into about 3/4-inch thick strips. Heat the pan with cooking oil (about 1 teaspoon) over medium heat. Stir fry the fish cake with the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Stir-fry the beef over medium-high heat until cooked through, 2 - 3 minutes.
- Arrange all the ingredients together on a plate.
- While the rice is still hot/warm, add the sesame oil and salt. Mix well by lightly folding with a rice paddle or large spoon until evenly seasoned. Add more salt to taste if needed.
- Put a seaweed sheet, shiny side down and longer side towards you, on a cutting board or a bamboo mat if available. Spread about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of rice evenly over the seaweed, using a rice paddle or your fingers preferably. Leave about 1.5 inch space at the top.
- Lay the prepared ingredients on top of the rice, leaving some uncovered rice at the top for sealing.
- Lift the entire bottom edge with both hands and roll over the filling away from you, tucking in the filling with your fingers. Put firm pressure over the roll with the help of the bamboo mat (or aluminium foil), if using, to close everything in tightly. Then, continue to roll again, putting pressure evenly over the roll using both hands.
- Rub or brush the roll with a little bit of sesame oil for extra flavor and shiny look. Apply a little bit of sesame oil to a sharp knife. (This will keep rice from sticking to the knife. Repeat as necessary after each cut. Wipe the knife with a damp towel as needed.) Cut the roll into 1/2-inch thick bite sizes.
- Each roll takes about 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked rice. For this recipe, I used 1.5 cups of raw rice for 4 rolls. If you cook 2 cups of rice, you can make 5 or 6 rolls.
- You can adjust the number and the amount of the filling ingredients to your liking. Omit any ingredient(s) you don't want or have, and/or add any ingredients you like.
- Cucumber is great as a substitute for spinach or as an addition. See my Vegan Kimbap for preparing cucumbers.
This gimbap recipe was originally posted in May 2012. I’ve updated it here with more information, new photos and minor changes to the recipe.