Kimbap, Korean seaweed rice rolls and Billy Jean

by Beyond Kimchee on June 21, 2011 · 39 comments


“Thou shall not judge others.”
This is one valuable lesson I learned earlier in my life.
Have you ever been surprised by someone who has an amazing talent that you never thought he/she would have? It came to a such surprise that you couldn’t believe your eyes?

I was in middle school, provably 8th grade.
There was an interesting girl in my class. Her name was Mi-gyoung.
So quiet and shy, she hardly ever talk to anyone. She was an all-A student in every academic subjects. Wearing a thick glasses with messy hair, she looked just like one of those nerdy-smarty kid in many movies. She was always alone. Many, including myself, thought she was a boring person.

But, one incident changed everything.
One sunny autumn day, we had a school-wide picnic at the near mountain. Everyone brought Kimbap as their lunch (Kimbap is the official picnic food in Korea). We sat together on the grass and ate our lovely Kimbap that our mothers made early in the morning, enjoying each others company.  Mi-gyoung ate her lunch by herself sitting away from us.

After lunch, it was the talent show time. Some girls did singing, some did dancing or cracked some jokes. But nothing was more eye opening than when Mi-gyoung suddenly raised her hand and volunteered(?) to share her talent.
Her request was granted by the teachers and she came up to the center stage on the grass. She pulled out a cassette tape, a hat, and a glove from her backpack.  She removed her eyeglasses and put a cassette tape in a boom box that someone brought (FYI, I grow up in a boom box generation in the 80th).
There was a song, “Billy Jean”‘ by Michael Jackson. She started dancing. The moon walk, the crotch holding motion, the facial expression w/ lip sync…, she did everything just like MJ…, even better. We were all shocked, even the teachers. That thick glass wearing shy girl was dancing like a pro. Who knew that she had so much passion inside of her?
Of course on the next day, she woke up to be the most popular girl at school. And everybody was practicing the moon walk, even the teachers…

I think of Mi-gyoung many times especially when I make Kimbap; the food we had the day when she showed her real side.  I realized that day that one can never judge or underestimate potential of the others.

I am going to share my mother’s Kimbap recipe for that memory. Her Kimbap taste different than most other Korean Kimbap. She adapted Japanese sushi rice method. You will see what I mean by looking through the tutorial.


First, rice! Short grain rice, of course.
Rinse several times until you get clear water. You will need a little less water than usual. Add dried sea kelp (kombu) and let them soak in the water for 30 minutes. Remove the sea kelp when the rice start to initial boil.

You can use rice cooker but I like to use cast iron pot. When the rice starts boil reduce heat to low and cover with a heavy lid, simmer for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 more minutes. The steam in the pot will do the marvelous job cooking.

Meanwhile prepare the vinegar mixture by mixing 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 4 Tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp salt. Make sure all the sugar and salt have dissolved in vinegar.

The rice is done!  ♪♫ You are so beautiful… to me! ♪♫


While rice is still hot pour the vinegar mixture to the rice in a big bowl. Wooden bowl is the best if you have. Do not mix harshly. You don’t want to smash them. Just use cutting motion with tip of the rice scoop.

I added some sesame seeds. Toss them gently. The rice is done, cover with damp towel and let them cool completely.

Meanwhile get the filling ready.
I invited 6 guys to be my guests. Spinach, imitation crab, pickled radish, carrot, eggs, fish cakes.
For the seaweed, choose plain roasted seaweeds without any flavor added.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water, drain and squeeze out excess water. Season with salt and sesame oil, set aside.


Cut your beautiful carrots into 3/8″ thick strips.  Steam them until nice and tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Fry eggs and slice into strips as well.

This is fish cake. slice into 3/8″ strips.

Fry them with some soy sauce and sugar.

Slice the pickled radish the same way you did with carrot. Make sure you rinse the radish out of package before slicing.

Slice imitation crab meats into similar sized strips as well. Place everything in a large plate for easy access. You also must have a bamboo roll.


Get a bowl of water near you. Why? In case you get thirsty…, just kidding!
Your finger will need water.

Place a piece of seaweed shiny side down, longer side toward you. Put about 2/3 cup of rice spreading evenly covering about 2/3 of seaweed. You will want to dip your finger as you do this job so the rice won’t stick on you. But limit the dipping to a minimum.

Now build your kingdom, artistically! Leave about 1″ at front edge and 2″ in the back of rice.

The fun part has began! Lift up the front side of bamboo roll and carefully roll over the filling to cover, tightly pressing down the edge with your fingers. This will secure the fillings to be in place.

Pull the front side of bamboo roll away from you with right hand a little by little, tightening with your left fingers as you rolling.

Keep pulling and tightening as you sing along “♪ Billy Jean is not my lover… ♫”


At the end, wrap it around and gently squeeze to secure.


Unwrap! Ta-da! I call this “black beauty”.
Now give yourself a good moonwalk at this point.

Drizzle sesame oil on your hand and rub around the surface of the Kimbap. This will add shine and glory to these guys! Slice each Kimbap into whatever size you desire.

Put the whole slice in your mouth and savor all the flavor mingling on your tongue.
The sweet, the sour, the salty, and the love you put in…

And sing along the song of my choice, even better if you can moonwalk.

… ♪♫
Billy Jean is not my lover
She just a girl who claims that I am the one
But the Kid is not my son…

Michael Jackson, the king of pop…
Thank you Mi-gyoung
Wherever you are…, my dear friend.

Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls
Korean seaweed rice rolls (Kimbap)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10 logs
  • 3 cups short grain sushi rice
  • 3½ cups water
  • 1 large piece dried sea kelp (aka; dishima or kombu)
  • ⅓ cup rice vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, optional
  • 1-2 carrots, sliced into ⅜" strips
  • 3 eggs, beaten with pinch salt
  • 1 pickled radish, sliced into long ⅜" strips
  • 1 bunch spinach, blanched
  • 1 sheet flat fish cake, cut into ⅜" strips
  • 4 long imitation crab strips, cut into make 3 strips each
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp sugar
  • salt
  • 10 sheets dry roasted seaweed
  • sesame oil for rubbing
  1. Rinse rice several times until you get the clear water. Drain and add given amount of water and sea kelp, let it soak for 30 minutes. Remove the sea kelp and cook the rice in a rice cooker.
  2. In a small mixing bowl whisk rice vinegar, sugar and salt until sugar and and salt dissolve completely.
  3. When the rice is ready, transfer into large wooden or glass bowl, add the vinegar mixture and toss thoroughly together with cutting motion. Do not smash the rice. Sprinkle sesame seeds if you like. Cover the rice with damp towel and set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
  5. Steam the carrot strips until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Fry the beaten eggs in a skillet with a little oil. Cut into ⅜" strips. Fry the fish cake strips with soy sauce and sugar for 2 minutes. Cut pickled radish into strips. Season the blanched spinach with a little salt and sesame oil. Cut the imitation crab meat into strips.
  6. Prepare a bowl with water on the side. Spread a sheet of seaweed over the bamboo sushi roll, put about ½ cup or more of seasoned rice and spread evenly over about ⅔ of seaweed. You want to dip your fingers in the water so the rice won't stick. Minimize the dipping if possible.
  7. Place the fillings one at a time over the rice toward you leaving 1" in the front and 2" in the back of rice. Lift up the front side of seaweed and carefully and quickly roll over the filling to cover the fillings. Gently squeeze the edge over the bamboo roll. Lift up the edge of bamboo roll and pull away from you to roll up the seaweed a little by little and squeeze the edges as you roll. AT the end wrap the entire seaweed roll with bamboo roll and gently squeeze to secure. When all the seaweed rolls are completed into logs, put a little bit of sesame oil on your palm and rub the surface of the seaweed logs. Ths will gives nice shine yet protect them from getting dry.
  8. Slice the each logs about ½" thick slices and enjoy the fruit of your labor.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal June 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

Oh, this is bringing back so many lunchtime memories! I'm half-Korean and grew up in the States, and sometimes my mom would pack kimbap for my lunch, which I loved, except when some other kids teased me for my "weird" food!


cindy ensley June 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm

kimbap always reminds me of being a kid. we always had it for road trips and picnics too, i really should make some! 


Rowena June 22, 2011 at 6:24 am

I like how you are so precise with your step-by-step food pics (never would have thought about cooking rice in a cast iron pot), but that memory about Mi-gyoung is too precious!  You're not only a fantastic cook, but also a great storyteller.


Cookinggallery June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Your kimbap looks so mouthwatering…! Everytime I a visit a blog and somebody makes kimbap or sushi, I always think, 'I need to make this tomorrow!' ;). The story of that old classmate of yours is so funny, but often quiet people have got surprising talents. And the surprise is often doubled, because they tend to be so introvert and quiet ;).


beyondkimchee June 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Thanks Rowena.


beyondkimchee June 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Hope you can make Kimbap soon. Yes, I agree that the surprise is doubled because it exceeds the expectation you had. Thanks.


Kerstin Bates June 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I'm so excited to try this recipe. It looks delicious and it's one of my favorite things! Is there a dipping sauce you usually make with it?


beyondkimchee June 27, 2011 at 7:01 pm

I don't use dipping sauce. It is just good to eat without it. However, I often make simple miso soup to go with though.


Lori July 20, 2011 at 2:51 am

ohh, this brings me back to my days living in seoul! i miss kimbap! I have a question. I live in Cairo now, and their rice is short grain so I think it will be fine…IF I can't find (or afford at the expensive import stores) rice vinegar, what do I do???



beyondkimchee July 21, 2011 at 2:22 am

Hi Lori
rice vinegar is the best option but if you can't find one, sub with sherry
wine vinegar or white vinegar. Use a little less amount since rice vinegar
is milder than the other kinds.
Hope you enjoy your stay in Egypt.



Siuzi August 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Wow.  Looks fabulous, I am going to give this a try.


Mcey January 21, 2012 at 1:30 am

Hi there! I made this recipe the other day and now I've been asked to repeat it again, but for double the people! Can you simply double the rice and vinegar portions? Or should it be to some other ratio? thanks!


beyondkimchee January 21, 2012 at 6:55 am

Yes. If you are doubling the amount of rice, you can double the vinegar seasoning mixture as well. You've must made them very well last time. They like to put you to work! Have fun making them!


michelle February 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Yum I love whenever my mom makes this! Hopefully I can make it for myself now.


Heide July 6, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Wow, this looks delicious. I must try it sometime soon. I love sushi of all forms and although there is no raw fish here, it looks delicious. I am not sure where I would find the fish cake, but I am sure I can substitute.


dandelion July 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm

May I ask, why must we put kelp into the rice in water?


Holly July 31, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Hi, the rice seasoning in this kimbap recipe is closed to the Japanese sushi rice which my family often use. Sea kelp adds nice flavor. You can omit the kelp if you prefer without it.


Linda September 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Our family loves making and eating kimbap! We play around with the fillings – sometimes adding different things like avocado, cucumber or kimchee. But I don’t like that there is saccharine in the pickled radish. The radish is really an essential flavor that is needed and the kimbap tastes bland without it. So my question: is there a way to make the pickled radish at home, so that I can keep the saccharine out?

Also – I loved your story about your childhood friend. Now everytime I make kimbap for my daughter’s lunch I hum Billy Jean to myself and smile!


Holly September 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

Hi Linda

Yes, you can make pickled radish at home. Get a Korean or daikon radish and and slice into long strips (the size you desire for making kimbap). Sprinkle 1/4 cup of coarse salt per radish and let it soak for 1 hour. Drain the liquid that has been extracted from the radish.
In a pot combine 1 cup vinegar + 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup sugar together and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and pour over the radish. Let it sit in the room temperature for 4 hours, then keep in the fridge for 3-4 days and your radish will be ready to serve. Store them in the fridge for as long as you want.
It is nice that your family enjoy making Kimbap. It is a great family activity, isn’t it?


Samantha @ food flavor fascination October 20, 2012 at 1:54 am

Hi! I loved reading this post! Thank you! Great stories that made me laugh! I was inspired to make Kimbap and blogged about it at
I love how you called the Kimbap “Black Beauty.” It reminded me of some memories.
I’ll have to try making the pickled radish too.


Holly October 20, 2012 at 9:38 am

Thanks Samantha. You did a great job with your kimbap.I enjoyed reading your post.


Lalnunfela nohro November 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I love your recipe.. And i really enjoy your story.


^^ January 10, 2013 at 7:01 am

김밥에 김치하고 함께 먹어도 너~~~~~~~~무 맛있어요^^


Holly January 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

캬! 맛있죠 그렇게 먹으면…


Rachael April 14, 2013 at 4:24 am

I made these for my family and they turned out great! Thank you for this recipe!


Hannah July 15, 2013 at 9:17 pm

How would the rice cooking change if I want to use brown short grain rice instead?


Danielle August 9, 2013 at 12:46 am

Wow!! you my friend are just simply AMAZING!! I love the humor you bring to the table so to speak =) I just wanted to say that the recipe you have listed is the best one I have came across so far *and my search is done now since I found you* Thank-you for being so awesome!


Yoyo September 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm

How to keep the rice rolls fresh if made them a day before?


Holly September 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm

You can’t. You need to consume on the day you made. They don’t keep well in the fridge.


Kim October 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I realy like your blog. This is the first time I see this blog. Yes, i like the way you show how to roll the kimbap. Thank you for sharing.


Jessica P November 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Hello, Holly! I’ve been reading your various recipes as I prepare for a big Korean lunch tomorrow with guests! I’m trying your cola braised Korean chicken + my other usual panchans. :) I’ve made kimpop from another recipe, and they were good, but something was not quite right. I never steamed my carrots (!!) and I never rinsed the radish (!!!) which may be the missing steps. Thank you for the details that help a non-Korean wanna be chef!

Question: is there a specific way to cut the kim-pop? I’ve tried using different knives, but have trouble with my seaweed tearing or the kim-pop tearing apart while I try to separate them. Am I not pressing the roll tight enough? Any input is appreciated!!!

Thanks from your Padawan Learner,
Jessica :)


Holly November 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Hi Jessica

Sharpen your knife before cutting. Avoid serrated knife. Instead of pushing down motion, use jigsaw motion to cut through the seaweed layer. Also try not to cut each slice too thin, at least 1/2″ thick slices unless you have a very sharp knife. I usually wipe my knife with a damp cloth (or wet paper towel) per each kimbap roll before you cut to remove the stickiness from the rice in the previous roll. Basically you wipe off the sticky residue from your knife every roll you cut.

Coat your kimbap roll with a little sesame oil or other oil by using your hand or brush, just to bring a little shine. It also help strengthen the seaweed.
Hope all these tip will help. Tearing happens sometimes but I like it because the torn piece can go into my mouth immediately. :)


Liz Robinson January 1, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Thank you so much for your blog! My husband is half Korean, and my mother-in-law has taught me to cook a lot of Korean food. Your recipes are authentic and delicious :) My mother-in-law doesn’t have her recipes written down, and whenever I refer to this blog when I have a question, it turns out just like hers! YAY! Thank you! Do you have a recipe for kongnamul soup?


Holly January 1, 2014 at 9:15 pm

I posted Beef and Bean Sprout Soup yesterday. Hope you get to try it. There are may versions of Kongnamul soup. I will remember to post as much as I can.


MojoJoy March 30, 2014 at 5:44 am

Thank you Ms.Holly for a visually beautiful guide on how to make a kimbap! I’m really thankful for your detailed instructions which is easy to follow. And I have just read your introduction in the ABOUT page, aw, it so sweet of you Ma’am, to create this blog as a gift for your children.. May God bless you more Madamme and your family ’cause you deserve it!

P.S. What camera did you use Ma’am? You’re pictures are all good. ^v^


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