It all started in childhood with Nature’s Best Market in Downers Grove, IL. My mom would take me to that tiny family-run Greek grocery store and even then, I knew we were some place special. The produce section took up half the store and I encountered many fruits and vegetables for the first time in my young life. It was after trips there that I first savored the juice of lychee, crunched on jicama and sampled fresh-made tomatillo salsa. After the produce section, we navigated our way to the deli counter, where the man behind the counter sliced us off a block of fresh feta cheese. The whole goats hanging from the ceiling intimidated me, but the olive salad was worth the trip all by itself. On the way home, we would stop at a chain grocery store for peanut butter and paper towels., canned tuna and pasta sauce. Even to my young self, it was anticlimactic in comparison to the jam-packed riches we had just left behind.
Since that day, I have always sought out tiny ethnic grocery stores for my produce needs. My dream is to someday only go to Giant for toilet paper. Which is why when I visited Korean Korner last week, I knew I was in love. The produce is varied, the aisles wide enough for a cart to slide easily down, and the meat section is vast. If I knew what to do with a whole fish, I probably would have bought one of those in addition to some goat meat, beef and seasoned pork.
The pork had me most excited because it was one of two necessary-but-hard-to-find ingredients in bi bim bap, the other being kimchi. For those of you unaware, kimchi is a Korean standby — a pickled, spiced cabbage concoction. It is served as a side dish but is essential to the Korean dining experience. Once you acquire these two ingredients, bi bim bap is very easy to make. The only other ingredient that can be tricky to find at the regular grocery is bean sprouts, but I am sure that WF (I refuse to call that paycheck black hole by its full name) carries them. After you get that, the rest is all about seasoning and presentation.
Easy Bi Bim Bap (Serves 4):