Korean Rice Rolls (Gimbap/Kimbap 김밥)

kor_makiGiven my growing interest and experience in Korean cooking, the gimbap – making adventure was inevitable. Especially since last year, when I saw beautiful colourful rice rolls in Tokyo’s Korean district. Unfortunately, I was no longer hungry (easy to understand after a BBQ dinner…) and didn’t have time to go back there before my return to Europe. Finally, after long months, I made my first attempt, which was much more satisfactory in terms of taste than in its aesthetic results. I hope you will believe me that clumsy-looking rice rolls can also make a fully enjoyable meal.

For those who have never had much more famous Japanese rice rolls (maki sushi), their basic ingredients are seaweed sheets (nori) and vinegared rice. The filling varies, but it usually includes one or more of such ingredients as fish, seafood, cucumber, pickled radish or avocado. For me the main difference between maki sushi and Korean gimbap/kimbap is the rice seasoning : here vinegar is also added to the rice (at least in my both cookery books), but a tiny amount only and the sesame oil’s presence dominates the final taste. The gimbap filling is usually richer and very colourful. It often contains beef, pickled radish, sliced omelette, cooked spinach and, for example, carrot.The sesame-scented rice is so delicious, you want to finish it on its own while mixing… so beware! (I kept on “tasting” it throughout the whole rolls preparation process.)

If I had to choose between Japanese and Korean rolls, I must say I prefer the vinegared maki sushi ,but mainly because I associate rice rolls with a very light, refreshing meal and vinegared rice gives more easily this impression. Gimbap is heartier and maybe less sophisticated… but there is something more casual, joyful and playful about Korean rolls… so I’m sure I will be making them from time to time. (And the taste of rice mixed with sesame oil was a revelation). Up to you to choose which ones you prefer!

I have combined here two slightly different recipes from The Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song and Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, both fantastic, though completely different cookbooks, the former being rather for beginners and the latter one of the biggest jewels in my kitchen library. Apart from using two sources, I have modified the filling substantially, namely adding raw cucumber and leek and skipping some ingredients (I did leave however the “flagship” beef and omelette), so can only I hope I still have the right to call these rolls “gimbap” in spite of all the changes… As in the case of maki sushi, I have used here a lower rice vs filling ratio than in the original recipe (see the TIPS below).

TIPS: Since I am able to devour lots of rice rolls (maki sushi or gimbap), I reduce the rice amount in order to make them lighter and low-calorie. As you see on the photo above, the filling takes here more space than the rice. If you prefer a standard, not lightened version, increase the rice amount (500 g or about 17,5 oz instead of 300 g or about 10,5 oz).

When you buy seaweed (nori) sheets, pay attention to their transparency and colour. I was told in Japan that darker and less transparent nori means better quality (of course there are more sophisticated criteria to judge the quality once the nori is dark and opaque enough to be considered good quality, but I found the above tip a good way to discard low-quality products).

Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, the author of Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, advises serving gimbap with vinegared soy sauce (check her book for the recipe) and hot yellow mustard. I have served them with soy sauce mixed with sesame oil and vinegar only. 

Special equipment:

rice cooker (unless you know how to cook the rice in a “normal” pan)

maki rolling mat 

a brush

Preparation: 20 minutes (+ 1 hour for rice rinsing, cooking, seasoning and cooling)

Ingredients (serves 4 as the main course):

5 nori seaweed sheets

300g (about 10,5 oz) short grain (Japanese or Korean) rice (or 500g/about 17,5 oz if you prefer “standard”  rolls)

Rice mixture:

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 flat teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice wine (I have used sake)

1 long cucumber, cut into strips

(1 long thin leek)

2 eggs

1 big carrot, cut into strips (in the recipe it’s stir-fried, but I preferred to use it raw)

oil (for the omelette frying)

100 g ground beef ; the recipe calls either for finely chopped beef or for thin beef strips (at Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s), so you can chop it or cut into thin strips too

Beef marinade:

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 crushed or grated garlic cloves

(chilli flakes)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

sesame oil

a small bowl of water 

Steam the rice.

In the meantime mix the marinade with the beef and put aside for ten minutes.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, season with salt and fry a flat omelette.
Cut the omelette into thin strips and put them aside.

Put the hot rice into a bowl and add the rice mixture ingredients. Stir well and leave to cool down.

When the rice has cooled down to the room temperature (it can’t be completely cold, otherwise it won’t be sticky enough), put a nori sheet vertically on the rolling mat, shiny side down.

Fry the beef and let it cool down.

With fingers dipped in a bowl of water spread 1/5th of the rice evenly, leaving a 1 cm gap on the top, far edge.

Arrange the filling ingredients on the rice, in a horizontal line, close to the bottom edge.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and with sesame oil.

Roll the gimbap starting from the bottom edge, gently pressing after each turn.

Brush with water the upper edge before doing the last turn (it will help to seal the roll).

Press gently the roll and put it aside.

In order to obtain more or less similarly sized pieces, cut the roll first in two parts, then put them in a row and cut them in two parts, etc.

(It is easier to cut the rolls with a moist knife blade.)

Arrange them on a plate and serve.



24 Replies to “Korean Rice Rolls (Gimbap/Kimbap 김밥)”

  1. I find the vinegar in Japanese sushi rice gives it just enough of a tang to let me eat more without feeling as overwhelmed so I’m a bit hesitant about the addition of the richer sesame oil to the mixture. The marinaded beef though is quite interesting. Since I can’t get sushi/sashimi grade fish locally I’ve been sticking with shrimp and fake crab legs as my protein. so a new ingredient is a welcome addition. Although tamago and crispy bacon IS one of the fillings I’ve experimented with. 🙂

    1. Thank you, A_Boleyn. You might not remember, but I have already experimented with beef in maki sushi (I posted it a long time ago). The Korean marinade makes it however a different filling of course. (By the way, I also love bacon in maki!).

      1. I HAD forgotten your previous use of beef in a maki roll. But I’ve read a lot of sushi recipes over the years, in your blog, and especially the FIRST sushi blog that I ever subscribed to, “Sushi Day”. I don’t know if you ever read it, but it’s where I first got my inspiration to make sushi.


        So much great sushi eating yet to experience. And Korean dishes to attempt. I HAVE opened the container of gochujang but only to use a bit of it in some spicky duck miso soup.

        1. We all post so many recipes, I would never expect you to remember everything! (The beef maki were posted a long long time ago and the photograph is really bad). I didn’t know this blog. Thank you for the link.
          I’m sure you will find many other use ideas of gochujang. It’s so versatile… Have fun!

  2. Your rolls are absolutely perfect and I can look at this recipe and know that they would taste as good as they look! I do love rolls like this but since I don’t have the seaweed, I have another idea that might yield the same flavor. I have some leftover flank steak in the fridge made with pretty much the same marinade that you have here. I bet taking all of these ingredients, including the seasoned rice, and turning it into a rice bowl would make a great dinner for us this week. Thanks for the dinner idea Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. You are very kind… I know the filling should be closer to the centre 😉 but I know myself and I could wait years before they were neater. Besides, I was very impatient to post my discovery! I hope you will like your rice bowl with marinated beef.

  3. I love, love sushi and like you I can eat tons of it. The funny thing is that my son loves it too! I am too intimidated though to make my own. Yours look perfect!

    1. Thanks a lot, Katerina. I am sure your maki sushi would be perfectly shaped and equal. You should try making with your son. I have heard that children of all ages love making maki.

  4. Beautiful rolls! Sushi is something that I yet have to make…I see my mom making but never had a courage to do it…now seeing your give me inspiration to try it…thanks Sissi.
    Have a wonderful week 😀

    1. Thank you, Nipponnin. You are very sweet, but I’m sure that as a Japanese cook, your rolls -whether Korean or Japanese – would make me ashamed of mine.

    1. Thank you so much, Squishy Monster. They must look awful for a Korean cook, but they did taste great.

  5. Sissi, you make awesome rolls!!!! Considering how many rolls of sushi I made in the past, I have only tried kimbap once. Shame on me. My kids like Japanese sushi rolls more, and now when I think about it, I wonder if it’s the sushi rice. Very nicely rolled, Sissi.

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. I will never make perfectly equal and well-shaped rolls, but it doesn’t stop me from experimenting, as you see 😉 Japanese ones are much lighter, I think, but these were a nice change.

  6. Your rice rolls are always a work of art to me Sissi. I admit that I buy my fair share and at home, I tend to make sushi bowls (Chirashi Sushi) I even toss in the chopped nori ;-). I find it easier – and faster – for my clumsy hands. But you enticing recipes always give me hope! I have to work at cutting beef into thin strips – this is another thing I am not very adept at 🙁 but it’s so tasty and versatile when it’s really thin. (p.s. you just reminded me I need to add sesame oil to my shopping list — restocking our new kitchen!) xx.

    1. Kelly, you are so sweet and kind… They are far from what they should look like, but they were really too good to abandon the idea of posting about them. Chirashi sushi is indeed a quicker option! I must say however that rolling doesn’t take so much time… (You and clumsy hands??? that’s something new to me!). It must be so much fun arranging stuff in a new empty kitchen…

  7. I prefer a higher filling ratio in sushi. Know honestly, I havn’t tried gimbap before but I think I get the idea of a leighter meal. Generally speaking Korean food is quite new too but I adore japanese food for example and obviously sushi so I guess I would enjoy each and every single bite of your gimbap. Happy weekend to you!

    1. Thanks a lot, Helene. I’m glad you prefer more filling too. If you like sushi maki, you would certainly find these good too.

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