How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

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Updated on June 5, 2024

Finding the ideal bite whilst on the move, one that’s both scrummy and fills you up, can be quite the quest. It was a bit of a struggle until I stumbled upon traditional Korean gimbap.

Brimming with rice, vegetables, and often either meat or fish cake sheets, all neatly wrapped in seaweed — it really is a complete meal for any time hunger strikes. In this blog post, I’m going to walk you through preparing traditional Korean gimbap with classic fillings like spinach, carrot, and egg.

Brace yourself for an uncomplicated homemade Korean gimbap recipe that’s about to seriously step up your meal prep!

What Is Korean Gimbap?

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Gimbap is a popular Korean rice dish wrapped in seaweed. Unlike sushi, gimbap uses various fillings such as ham, sausage, and vegetables.

I love making Korean seaweed rice rolls, better known as gimbap. It’s a traditional dish made by rolling up rice, vegetables, and other fillings in seaweed. The beauty of gimbap lies in its variety; you can choose from carrots, eggs, spinach, cucumber, beef, ham, fishcake, and more to include as fillings. Every bite is packed with flavour and texture, making it a perfect meal for picnics or outdoor events. It is also a very popular Korean street food, with its most popular variant being the Mayak gimbap, literally meaning “narcotic gimbap” because of its addictive small size.

My journey in preparing this delightful Korean seaweed roll taught me the importance of using specific ingredients like unseasoned seaweed, sesame oil, and sesame seeds to achieve that authentic taste. Gimbap isn’t just food; it’s an art. The process involves carefully arranging the fillings across the centre of the rice and precision in rolling them tightly within the seaweed. I find this part both challenging and therapeutic. Really, Korean gimbap is a versatile dish that allows endless options for creativity. Whether I’m enjoying it at home or sharing it with friends on a trip, it always brings joy and satisfaction.

Differences between Korean Gimbap and Japanese Sushi

Sushi and gimbap, though visually similar, are distinct culinary delights with unique origins and flavours. Sushi, a quintessential Japanese dish, centres around vinegared rice paired with raw fish, seafood, vegetables, and occasionally tropical fruits. The key ingredient, sushi rice (shari or sumeshi), is seasoned with a blend of vinegar, sugar, and salt, imparting a subtle tang that complements the fresh, delicate flavours of its fillings. Sushi’s presentation ranges from simple nigiri, slices of fish atop rice, to elaborate rolls (maki) wrapped in seaweed (nori) and adorned with various garnishes.

In contrast, gimbap hails from Korea and reflects a different cultural approach to similar ingredients. While it also uses rice and nori, gimbap’s rice is seasoned with sesame oil and salt, lending it a richer, nuttier flavour. The fillings in Korean gimbap are typically cooked or pickled, encompassing a variety of ingredients like seasoned vegetables, eggs, fish cake, and meats such as beef or ham. This results in a heartier and more diverse taste profile compared to sushi. Additionally, gimbap is often enjoyed as a convenient, portable snack or meal, frequently accompanied by kimchi or other side dishes, showcasing its versatility and the Korean emphasis on bold, robust flavours.

The preparation methods and cultural contexts of sushi and gimbap further underscore their differences. Sushi is often associated with the artistry of the chef, emphasising the freshness and quality of its ingredients, and is traditionally enjoyed with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Gimbap, however, is more about the harmony of its varied components, reflecting Korea’s penchant for creating balanced, satisfying meals that can be eaten on the go. Both dishes, though rooted in their respective traditions, offer a fascinating exploration of how different cultures can transform similar elements into distinctive culinary experiences.

Types of Korean Gimbap

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Each Korean enjoys a different type of gimbap. Each type of Korean gimbap offers a unique taste experience, reflecting the versatility and creativity of Korean cuisine. You will surely find your favourite mash-up of ingredients in one of the following types:

Classic Gimbap

The traditional version features the staple ingredients of rice, nori, carrots, spinach, pickled radish, egg, and imitation crab meat or fish cake. This version is balanced in flavour, showcasing a variety of textures and tastes. The combination of sweet, savoury, and tangy elements creates a harmonious and satisfying bite.

Vegetable Gimbap

A vegetarian option that omits meat and seafood, focusing on a variety of seasoned vegetables like carrots, spinach, cucumbers, and pickled radish. This type is often lighter and highlights the natural flavours and textures of fresh produce. It’s a great option for those seeking a plant-based meal that is still filling and flavourful.

Beef Gimbap

Incorporates marinated and cooked beef, often bulgogi, which provides a rich, savoury flavour. The beef is typically sweetened with a soy-based marinade, adding depth to the gimbap. This variation is hearty and particularly satisfying, making it a favourite for those who enjoy a meaty bite.

Tuna Gimbap

Uses canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise, offering a creamy and slightly tangy filling. This version is popular for its distinct taste and texture, providing a contrast to the other ingredients. The mayonnaise adds a smooth and rich element that pairs well with the fresh vegetables.

Kimchi Gimbap

Adds a spicy kick with the inclusion of kimchi, Korea’s famous fermented cabbage. This type highlights the bold and robust flavours of Korean cuisine, as the kimchi’s spiciness and tanginess complement the other ingredients. It’s a favourite among those who enjoy spicy foods and the distinctive taste of fermented products.

Cheese Gimbap

Modern variations might include cheese, providing a creamy texture and mild flavour that melds with the other ingredients. Cheese gimbap is a fusion twist that adds a Western element to the traditional Korean dish, making it appealing to a broader audience.

You can definitely mix and match between the ingredients used in these different types. For example, some use canned tuna and kimchi together while also adding commonly used vegetables like cucumbers and danmuji (pickled yellow radish). Some people also like to use chicken bulgogi or just shredded chicken with a bit of gochujang to add a kick. The world is your oyster when it comes to making your own gimbap, so get as creative as you want!

Ingredients Used in Classic Korean Gimbap

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Since we are talking about classic Korean gimbap today, let’s discuss the common ingredients you can use to make some delicious rolls.

Short-Grain White Rice

Short-grain white rice is the backbone of Korean gimbap. Known for its sticky texture, it is essential for keeping the roll intact. Unlike the vinegared rice used in sushi, gimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil and salt. The sesame oil imparts a nutty aroma and a rich flavour, which complements the other ingredients perfectly. The slight stickiness of the rice ensures that the ingredients stay together when the roll is sliced, making it easy to eat with chopsticks or by hand.

Nori (Seaweed) Sheets

Nori sheets are indispensable in Korean gimbap. These thin, dried seaweed sheets wrap around the rice and fillings, providing a slightly salty and umami-rich taste. Nori is packed with essential nutrients, including iodine, vitamin C, and calcium, contributing to the health benefits of gimbap. The initial crisp texture of nori contrasts nicely with the softer components inside, although it becomes more pliable as it absorbs moisture from the rice and fillings.


Carrots are typically julienned into thin strips and lightly sautéed. This method of preparation brings out their natural sweetness while maintaining a bit of crunch, adding a delightful textural contrast to the gimbap. The bright orange colour of carrots also enhances the visual appeal of the roll, making it more appetising. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, fibre, and vitamins, contributing to the nutritional value of the dish.


Spinach is blanched quickly to soften it while preserving its vibrant green colour and nutrients. After blanching, the spinach is squeezed to remove excess water and then seasoned with sesame oil and salt. This treatment enhances its flavour, making it a tender and earthy addition to the gimbap. Spinach is high in iron, vitamins A and C, and other essential nutrients, making it a healthy ingredient choice.

Pickled Radish (Danmuji)

Danmuji is a bright yellow, pickled radish that provides a crunchy texture and a sweet-tangy flavour. Its distinct taste and colour are iconic in gimbap. The pickling process gives danmuji a unique flavour profile that balances the richer and milder ingredients in the roll. It also adds a refreshing crunch, making each bite of gimbap more enjoyable. Danmuji is often made from daikon radish, which is low in calories but high in vitamin C and fibre.


Fresh cucumber strips are included for their crispness and refreshing flavour. The mild taste of cucumber helps to balance the more intense flavours of the other ingredients. Cucumbers are rich in water content, which adds a hydrating element to the gimbap. They are also a good source of vitamins K and C, as well as several antioxidants.

Egg Omelet

The egg omelette in Korean gimbap is made by whisking eggs and cooking them into a thin sheet. This sheet is then sliced into strips and used as a filling. The omelette adds a soft texture, mild flavour, and a yellow hue to the gimbap. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and various vitamins and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to the roll.

Imitation Crab Meat

Imitation crab meat, also known as surimi, is commonly used in gimbap for its slightly sweet and savoury taste. It mimics the texture and flavour of real crab meat but is made from white fish paste, typically pollock. Surimi is pre-cooked and ready to eat, making it a convenient choice for Korean gimbap. It adds a seafood flavour without the need for fresh fish, which can be more expensive and less accessible.

Fish Cake

Fish cake slices are another common ingredient in Korean gimbap. They are made from ground fish mixed with starch and other seasonings, then shaped and cooked. Fish cakes offer a chewy texture and umami flavour, adding depth to the gimbap. They are often sautéed briefly to enhance their taste before being included in the roll. Fish cakes are a source of protein and various nutrients, depending on the specific ingredients used in their preparation.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are often sprinkled on top of the rice or mixed into the fillings. They add a subtle crunch and a nutty flavour, enhancing both the taste and the visual appeal of the gimbap. Sesame seeds are rich in healthy fats, protein, fibre, and several essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. They also contain antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.

Steps to Prepare Classic Korean Gimbap

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Let’s prepare this classic Korean gimbap together, step by step.

1. Prepare the Rice

Begin by thoroughly rinsing the short-grain white rice under cold water until the water runs clear. This step removes excess starch, which helps to prevent the rice from becoming overly sticky. Once rinsed, cook the rice according to the package instructions or using a rice cooker for the best results.

When the rice is perfectly cooked, let it cool slightly to a warm temperature, ensuring it’s not too hot to handle. At this stage, mix in sesame oil and a pinch of salt. The sesame oil imparts a rich, nutty flavour and aromatic quality, while the salt enhances the overall taste of the rice, setting a flavourful base for the gimbap.

2. Prepare the Fillings

Each filling for the gimbap requires specific preparation to bring out its best flavour and texture. Start with the carrots by peeling and cutting them into thin julienne strips. Lightly sauté the carrots in a pan with a small amount of oil until they are tender but retain a slight crunch. For the spinach, blanch it quickly in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then immediately transfer it to ice water to halt the cooking process. After cooling, squeeze out any excess water and season the spinach with sesame oil and a pinch of salt.

Slice the pickled radish (danmuji) into long, thin strips. Cut the cucumber into similar strips, optionally removing the seeds if they are too watery. Prepare the egg omelette by whisking the eggs and cooking them in a non-stick pan to form a thin sheet, which is then sliced into strips. The imitation crab meat should be cut into strips if not already pre-cut. Lastly, slice the fish cake into thin pieces and briefly sauté them in a pan to enhance their flavour.

3. Assemble the Gimbap

Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a bamboo sushi mat to start assembling the gimbap. Spread a thin, even layer of the seasoned rice over the nori, ensuring that you leave about 1 inch of the top edge free of rice. This bare edge will help seal the roll.

Arrange the prepared fillings horizontally across the middle of the rice, distributing them evenly to ensure that each bite of gimbap has a balanced mix of flavours and textures. Using the bamboo mat, begin to roll the gimbap tightly away from you, applying gentle pressure to shape and compress the roll. The mat helps maintain the roll’s form and ensures that the ingredients stay together.

4. Slice and Serve

Once you have rolled the gimbap, brush the outside with a small amount of sesame oil. This not only adds flavour but also gives the roll a glossy, appetising finish. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the gimbap into bite-sized pieces. To ensure clean cuts and prevent the rice from sticking to the knife, wipe the blade with a damp cloth between each slice.

Finally, sprinkle sesame seeds on top of each piece to add a subtle crunch and enhance the visual appeal of the gimbap. Serve the gimbap immediately for the best taste and texture, though it can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for a few hours if necessary. Korean gimbap is at its most flavourful when enjoyed fresh, making it a delightful and convenient meal option for various occasions.

Tips for Making Perfect Korean Gimbap

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Want to produce the most perfect rolls of Korean gimbap? My journey with making gimbap has been filled with trials, errors, and countless rolls that didn’t quite meet the mark. Through perseverance and a lot of practice, I’ve discovered the nuances that make all the difference. From rice that was too mushy to rolls that fell apart at the slightest touch, each mistake was a lesson learned. Now, having refined my technique, I’m excited to share these tried-and-true tips to help you avoid the pitfalls and achieve gimbap perfection.

Use the Right Rice

Choosing the right type of rice can make all the difference. From my experience, short-grain white rice is ideal for Korean gimbap because of its sticky texture, which keeps the roll intact. When cooking, use slightly less water than usual to ensure the grains are firm rather than mushy. After cooking, allow the rice to cool slightly before mixing in sesame oil and salt. This small addition enhances the flavour and makes the rice easier to handle.

Season the Rice Properly

The secret to delicious Korean gimbap is in the seasoning of the rice. Through trial and error, I’ve found that sesame oil and salt add a perfect nutty flavour and an appetising gloss to the rice. Be careful not to overdo it; a light touch is enough to complement the other ingredients without overwhelming them.

Prepare Ingredients in Advance

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that preparation is key. Having all your fillings ready before you start assembling the gimbap can save you a lot of hassle. Julienning the carrots, slicing the pickled radish and cucumber, blanching and seasoning the spinach, and preparing the egg omelette and fish cake should all be done beforehand. This ensures a smooth assembly process and a consistent, neatly packed roll.

Keep Ingredients Dry

One tip that has consistently worked for me is ensuring that all ingredients are as dry as possible before rolling. Excess moisture from the fillings can make the nori soggy and cause the roll to fall apart. After blanching the spinach, I always squeeze out all the water, and I pat the cucumber strips dry with a paper towel. Dry ingredients help maintain the integrity of the gimbap.

Roll Tightly and Evenly

Using a bamboo mat has been a game-changer for me in achieving a tightly rolled gimbap. Start rolling from the end closest to you, applying gentle but firm pressure to keep the roll compact. Ensure that the fillings stay centred and do not spill out. A tight roll not only looks better but also makes the gimbap easier to cut and eat.

Use a Sharp Knife

When slicing gimbap, a sharp knife is essential. In my experience, a dull knife can crush the roll, making it difficult to achieve clean, even slices. Wiping the blade with a damp cloth between cuts prevents the rice from sticking and ensures neat pieces. A serrated knife can also be useful for cutting through the nori without tearing it.

Apply Sesame Oil for a Glossy Finish

After rolling the gimbap, I like to brush the outside with sesame oil. This not only enhances the flavour but also gives the roll a beautiful, shiny finish. The sesame oil also helps prevent the nori from becoming too dry and brittle, making the gimbap more enjoyable to eat.

Experiment with Fillings

Don’t be afraid to get creative with the fillings. While the classic Korean gimbap ingredients are great, experimenting with different proteins like chicken, beef, or tofu and adding various vegetables such as bell peppers, avocado, or even kimchi can be very rewarding. Personalising your gimbap with unique fillings makes the process more enjoyable and the results more tailored to your taste.

Serve Fresh for the Best Taste

From my experience, gimbap is best enjoyed fresh, when the nori is still crisp and the flavours are most vibrant. If you need to store it, keep the rolls at room temperature or in the refrigerator for a few hours, but be aware that the nori may become chewier. To maintain its shape and freshness, wrap the gimbap tightly in plastic wrap if you plan to serve it later.

Practice Patience and Precision

Making perfect gimbap takes practice. Be patient with the process, and don’t rush through the steps. Precision in cutting the ingredients and careful rolling will improve over time. The more you make gimbap, the better you will become at achieving the perfect balance of flavours and textures in each roll.

Gimbap Serving and Storage Suggestions

How to Prepare Traditional Korean Gimbap

Korean gimbap, with its vibrant colours and enticing flavours, is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. Serving gimbap can be an exciting experience, whether for a casual lunch, a picnic, or a festive gathering. To ensure you get the most out of your gimbap, here are some serving and storage suggestions that will make your culinary creation even more enjoyable.

Serving Gimbap: Fresh is Best

Korean gimbap is at its absolute best when enjoyed fresh. The crisp nori contrasts beautifully with the soft, seasoned rice and the medley of flavourful fillings. When you serve gimbap immediately after preparation, you preserve this delightful texture and taste. Arrange the slices on a platter in a neat, eye-catching pattern, perhaps with a sprinkle of sesame seeds for added flair. If you want to add a bit of extra charm, garnish the platter with a few sprigs of fresh parsley or a small dish of soy sauce mixed with a touch of wasabi or pickled ginger on the side. This not only enhances the presentation but also offers a complementary flavour boost.

Ideal Pairings

While Korean gimbap is a complete meal on its own, pairing it with side dishes can elevate the dining experience. Consider serving it with a bowl of hot, savoury miso soup or a refreshing cucumber salad dressed in rice vinegar. Pickled vegetables, like kimchi or pickled daikon, add a tangy contrast that complements the rich flavours of the gimbap. For a heartier meal, include some Korean-style fried chicken or tempura vegetables. These combinations create a well-rounded feast that delights the senses.

Storing Gimbap: Keeping It Fresh

If you need to prepare gimbap in advance or have leftovers, proper storage is key to maintaining its quality. Wrap the rolls tightly in plastic wrap to prevent the rice from drying out and to keep the nori from becoming too soft. Place the wrapped rolls in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator. While gimbap can be stored this way for up to a day, it’s best enjoyed within a few hours of preparation to maintain its optimal texture and flavour.

Reviving Stored Korean Gimbap

When you’re ready to serve stored Korean gimbap, take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes beforehand to allow it to come to room temperature. This helps restore some of the flavours and makes the texture more pleasant. If the nori has become a bit chewy, you can lightly toast the slices in a dry pan for a few seconds on each side to bring back some crispness. Be careful not to overheat, as this can dry out the rice.

Creative Uses for Leftover Gimbap

Should you find yourself with leftover gimbap that’s past its prime for eating as is, don’t fret. You can transform these leftovers into a delightful dish known as “gimbap jeon.” Simply dip the gimbap slices in a beaten egg mixture and fry them until golden brown. This gives the gimbap a new, crispy exterior while warming the insides, offering a delicious twist on the traditional preparation. It’s a creative way to ensure no roll goes to waste and adds a delightful variation to your gimbap repertoire.

Summary of Our Korean Gimbap Recipe

Here is a summary of our recipe. The following ingredients should be enough for 4-6 people, but you can double or triple the recipe as you want:


  • 2 cups of short-grain white rice
  • 3-4 sheets of nori (seaweed)
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 2 cups of fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup of pickled radish (danmuji), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, julienned
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of imitation crab meat, shredded
  • 4-6 slices of fish cake
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil (for seasoning the rice and brushing on the rolls)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish


  1. Cook the rice and season it with sesame oil and salt.
  2. Prepare the fillings by julienning and sautéing the carrots, blanching and seasoning the spinach, slicing the pickled radish and cucumber, cooking the egg omelette, and preparing the imitation crab meat and fish cake.
  3. Lay a sheet of nori on a bamboo sushi mat, spread rice over it, and arrange the fillings horizontally across the middle.
  4. Roll the gimbap tightly using the bamboo mat, then slice it into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Optionally, brush the outside of the rolls with sesame oil and sprinkle sesame seeds on top for added flavour and visual appeal.

After mastering the traditional Korean gimbap, explore endless variations in fillings and techniques to make this classic dish your own. To enjoy the convenience of a tasty, on-the-go meal or contribute to an outdoor event, prepare gimbap ahead of time.


1. Can I use other types of rice to make Korean gimbap?

While short-grain white rice is traditional for making gimbap, you can experiment with other types of rice, such as brown rice or sushi rice. Just keep in mind that the texture and stickiness may vary, affecting the final result.

2. Can I make Korean gimbap ahead of time?

Yes, you can prepare gimbap ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. However, for the best taste and texture, it’s recommended to enjoy gimbap fresh on the same day it’s made.

3. Can I customise the fillings in Korean gimbap?

Absolutely! One of the beauties of gimbap is its versatility. You can customise the fillings according to your preferences and dietary restrictions. Popular fillings include vegetables, cooked proteins like beef or chicken, and even kimchi.

4. How do I prevent the rice from sticking to my hands when making gimbap?

To prevent the rice from sticking to your hands when preparing Korean gimbap, lightly wet your fingers with water or rub a bit of sesame oil on your hands before handling the rice. This will make it easier to spread the rice evenly on the nori sheets.

5. Can I freeze Korean gimbap for later use?

While it’s possible to freeze Korean gimbap, the texture may change slightly upon thawing, especially the nori, which can become soggy. If you do freeze gimbap, wrap each roll tightly in plastic wrap and store them in an airtight container. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating or serving.

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