It's rice with a variety of toppings (meat, veggies and a fried egg) on top. Usually the toppings are arranged artfully (like a good cobb salad). You add a little red pepper paste if you like and mix it up so the paste & egg yolk are distributed. I prefer the version known as Dopgol bibimbop, which is served in a small iron caldron. The rice on the sides gets crispy.
There was an interesting article in this month's "Saveur" on Korean food, with full description of this dish. It is a dish (like jop chae which is the yummy Korean version of lo mein made with transparent noodles) made to use up leftover bits of meat and pan chan in the Korean home kitchen.
re: Rachel Perlow
Actually the variant Rachel described is "Gopdol Bimbimbap" and is served in a stone bowl, not a cauldron.
The interesting thing about the variation is that because it is cooked and served in a stone bowl with raw egg yolk, the rice gets this nice cruncy consistency to it.
The saveur article is interesting and particular focuses on "Ktown" in Los Angeles. However I disagree with the author about Ktown having more Koreans than the NY metropolitan area though -- the combo of Queens, NY and Northern NJ alone probably is equal to or exceeds Ktown's population.
One of the things I learned in the article which surprised me was that apparently it is a faux pas to lift your rice bowl off the table as the Chinese and Japanese do, scooping the rice into your mouth with chopsticks. I've been doing this for a long time now and had no idea I was being rude.
re: Rachel Perlow
Rachel's description is pretty good. I think of the hot bean sauce as more than an optional add-on though - it, combined with the gumminess of the egg yolk, mixed all through the rice and vegetables gives the dish its distinctive quality. what a wonderful, tasty mess.
If you tend to have leftover rice around, and invest in some hot bean paste, its pretty easy to make at home - especially if you can stop by a korean grocery or salad bar and pick up some bean sprout salad,and spinach or watercress dressed in sesame oil, and maybe some shreds of cucumber scallions or whatever - just warm up a bowl of rice and top it with the vegetables, a good-sized dollop of the hot bean sauce and a fried egg (yolk still runny), mix like mad, and eat.
re: jen kalb
Guess what we had for dinner tonight? The leftovers from our (at home) Korean BBQ recreated as Bibimbop.
FYI - If you have a Korean Grocery near you here's some BBQ tips. Buy the presliced meat meat in the freezer section (prime or choice Ribeye), quickly brown in a HOT cast iron skillet in batches until just cooked, add jarred or homemade Korean BBQ sauce (in my market its in the same case with the presliced meat) after all the meat has been cooked and quickly mix it all together in the pan. Bring the cast iron skillet to the table (rest on a hot pad) and it will keep the meat warm while you wrap everything in lettuce while eating.
I buy most of the pan chan I serve too (can usually get the soy bean sprout salad, fish/meat/veggie pancakes, some brown marinated veggie the clerk said was Korean Fern?, kimchee, etc.), but the spinach is really easy to make. Defrost and squeeze all the water possible out of a package of chopped spinach, dress with a drizzle of sesame oil and a few grinds of kosher or sea salt, mix thoroughly and garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. If you want a Japanese style appetizer called Oshitoshi (sp?) add a little tehini and an optional touch of creamy peanut butter.