Picture it: a hearty helping of warm, tender-yet-toothsome rice studded with delicious bits of meat, vegetables, and egg, sparked by a savory sauce that just coats each grain and compels you to take another bite, and then another, and on until it’s all gone. From that description, you could easily envision a Chinese takeout container of glistening fried rice, or a bowl of steamy Korean bibimbap. The two dishes do share many similarities, but the differences are what make them so wonderful, each in their own right.
Obviously, they come from different countries; fried rice has Chinese origins, while bibimbap is a classic example of Korean food. But bibimbap isn’t just Korean fried rice—that would be bokkeumbap, which is prepared similarly to traditional Chinese fried rice (but often with the important addition of kimchi).
While fried rice and bibimbap are both based on the same starch, fried rice is best made with day-old grains that have had a chance to dry out a bit, whereas bibimbap uses freshly cooked rice, for a softer and moister finished dish.
Both fried rice and bibimbap are wonderful ways to use up leftover bits of food from previous meals, and both are commonly said to have been invented for that specific purpose—but bibimbap may actually have resulted from a “jesa” ceremony honoring deceased ancestors. As part of the ritual, people would make offerings of various dishes—meat, rice, and vegetables—which they would then mix together and eat during the ceremony. Another possible origin story says bibimbap was a communal meal created when everyone participating in planting or harvesting a crop brought a little food that was all mixed together and shared out equally. Or, it may have started as a snack on lunar new year, when it seemed like a good idea to get rid of all the leftover edible odds and ends from the previous year.
Whatever their specific origins, there are numerous regional variations of both fried rice and bibimbap. Still, they both usually contain some form of protein (beef is most common in bibimbap, while pork is often the main meat in fried rice). Each dish features vegetables too, although bibimbap usually has a wider variety of them, and rather than being stir-fried with the rice itself, they are prepared separately and individually. While we’re used to seeing fried rice with just a few veggies, usually onions, peas, and carrots, maybe bean sprouts, it can include any number of other veggies. Bibimbap is just as flexible, but often contains spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, zucchini, cucumbers, seaweed, and/or carrot, along with less familiar produce like bracken fern (also known as fernbrake or gosari), and bellflower root.
While fried rice arrives on your plate with everything already jumbled together, bibimbap is served as a bowl of rice topped with distinct, separate components—each vegetable in its own pile, like an edible color wheel (with any protein also in a distinct portion)—but they’re all meant to be stirred together (not for nothing does bibimbap literally translate to “mixed rice”), which is when it really resembles its distant Chinese culinary cousin.
The seasoning in fried rice is often very simple and rather subtle: soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil. Bibimbap, on the other hand, is usually flavored with punchy gochujang, a hot-sweet-salty-and-savory Korean paste of chili and fermented soybeans, and possibly one of the most addictive substances on earth.
And then there’s the egg. Normally, fried rice contains shreds or curds of scrambled egg, but bibimbap is most often seen with a fried egg on top of the bowl. Sometimes, though, the egg is raw, and you mix it into the hot ingredients just before you start eating.
As for the cooking method, fried rice is usually (and ideally) made in a wok, while bibimbap recipes commonly call for skillets (plus a rice cooker or separate pot for the carb portion of the meal), but a notable exception is the ever-popular dolsot bibimbap, named for the stone bowls or pots in which it’s cooked and served. The hot stone vessels help form a golden, crisp crust on the bottom layer of rice that’s especially delectable, akin to the prized socarrat in properly made paella.
Any way you make it, serve it, or eat it, warm rice with lots of tasty bits nestled like hidden treasure among the sauce-slicked grains is always welcome, and there’s no way it won’t be delicious—so try one of these fried rice or bibimbap recipes, and then branch out to make your own variations.
This is a fairly fast and easy version of bibimbap since most of the vegetables are left raw (as is the egg), but you can switch it up however you like, with other veggies, cooked egg, and other proteins—although, if you’ve never tried bulgogi, the classic thinly sliced, marinated, and grilled Korean beef preparation, you definitely should. Get the recipe.
Our take on bibimbap uses healthy brown rice and quick-cooking ground pork, plus sauteed mushrooms and spinach, and raw carrots and bean sprouts—and of course, a fried egg. Feel free to douse it liberally with gochujang, thinned out with a little vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil (and maybe a touch of brown sugar) for a saucier condiment. Get our Brown Rice Pork Bibimbap recipe.
Some forms of bibimbap contain raw meat or raw seafood (like this one with raw salmon and raw egg), but if that sounds like a bit too much, try easy broiled salmon as the protein element in the bowl. Get the recipe.
For a vegetarian version of bibimbap, load it up with sticky marinated tofu. While bibimbap isn’t really bibimbap without rice, this version swaps out the grains for sweet potato noodles. If you’d rather stick closer to tradition, just use sauteed sweet potato noodles or roasted cubes of sweet potato as one of the vegetable components and keep the rice as the base for it all. Get the recipe.
This fried rice takes inspiration from Korean food in the form of pungent kimchi and gochujang. Shrimp and eggs make it a full meal, though if you wish there were more veggies, serve roasted or sauteed broccoli on top. Get our Kimchi and Shrimp Fried Rice recipe.
The classic Chinese takeout favorite is definitely worth making at home, although it’s admittedly a bit harder than simply placing an order. Sourcing (or making your own) Chinese barbecued pork really makes it sing. Get the recipe.
Many other Asian and Southeast Asian countries have their own variations on fried rice (nasi goreng in Indonesia, chāhan in Japan). This one is a staple of Thai menus, and uses jasmine rice and fish sauce in addition to juicy pineapple and rich, crunchy cashews. Get the recipe.
Another Thai favorite, crab fried rice is fairly delicate, yet here it’s perked up with chile oil. The best thing about making it at home is that you can pack it with as much sweet crab meat as you want—and while that can get expensive, it’s still a better deal than ordering the dish out. Get the recipe.
Totally unorthodox, making fried rice in a slow cooker is nonetheless a great, easy way to get dinner on the table, and much healthier than the oil-heavy stir fries you often get when you decide on delivery. Get our Slow Cooker Fried Rice recipe.
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