With the opening of bibigo comes an entire Korean cultural movement intended as a part of global exportation of “Hanllyu“.
It started with the dubbing of Korean dramas, it followed with a push by Korean government to standardize kimchi product guidelines & increase export 2000. Now, with the help of CJ Foods, bibimbap is being touted as the golden child of Korea’s food hanllyu after Korea posted a 13% year-over-year gain of kimchi export in 2009. CJ Foodville is the retail restaurant divisions officially tasked with opening a multi-national restaurant opening that dwarves the operational scope of Pinkberry.
There’s a reason why this sounds a bit like a Con-Agra/GE biopic. CJ Holdings Group also has bio-pharma, media, entertainment and logistics division. What does this all mean in terms of the food being served from a sleek, petite, store front on one of the busiest urban university campuses sporting a disturbingly cut-throat restaurant scene? Delicious & instant success.
CJ Foodville spent all of 2009 testing a gochujiang recipe fit for a global market. What this means is even the whitest American girl from Idaho on a swim scholarship to UCLA will be able to tolerate (and hopefully enjoy) the mildly spiced red soy bean paste marketed as “Kohot”. The Westwood location is 1 of 5 bibigo restaurants to open this year. By 2013, CJ projects 139 shops, by 2014, 500. That better be the most universally loved gochujiang to ever come out of a Korean food factory.
Pardon this for reading like a PR shill. Much like Seasons 52, this media dinner was inspirational. Procuring local ingredients whenever possible to appease the corporate bean counter as well as the native palate, the “bibigo rice”, variably topped with chicken & bulgogi, is one of finer fast food served in America. Let’s not even pretend to believe Chinese fast food, served from steam tables, no matter how much I love Oriental Express, even remotely comes close to this in terms of comfort, clealiness and quality. Priced at $17, dolsot pots seem bit luxurious for cookware used to serve burnt rice at home. Here at bibigo, they charge nothing extra for dolsot bibimbap. Nil. While a cheap bowl of dolsot bibimbap is typically $8.50-ish in K-town, a good bowl that comes with any resemblance of meat usually runs $10+. Here, dolsot bibimbap with your choice of rice (white, black peal, sprouted brown & barley + white), a choice of protein (bulgogi, chicken, tofu) as well as choice of sauces (kohot — gochujiang, ssam sauce — mild soybean paste, green sesame & citron soy), runs $8.99. With counter ordering and grab-go soft drinks, UCLA students will never have to go to Ktown for overpriced bibimbap again.
Tony Bourdain once said “they do fast food just right” in Vietnam. What immediately came to my mind after experiencing this faux zen food boutique was that Bourdain can’t possibly wage war against this “American” fast food joint. Despite opening on a college strip known for lousy food, “authenticity’ isn’t a viable argument here; both sesame oil & kimchi served are imported from Korea. The kimchi is surprisingly good (by good, think extremely sour and not quite spicy enough for the capsaicin-chasing ex-pats), as was the seafood pajeon (pancake). They’ve received their ABC license, so yes, makkeoli,
your my favorite K-drink of ’em is being served.
And now: for a lil give away action –
Comment (or retweet) by September 27th for a chance at the big ass basket of CJ foods above. Yes, it’s like getting a bucket of food from Nestle, but you’ll be the first, and there is a T-SHIRT involved. If you’re in desperate need of a bottle of new gochujiang, never fear, it’s in here. Also included are bags of nori, steamed rice, and other condiments necessary to create your own proper bowl of bibimbap, dolsot excluded. To the future winner: local pickup ONLY