Gimbap is the Korean version of a makizushi roll. A poor man's sushi some call it. It's like a sushi roll except someone took out all the ingredients and replaced them with sadness. Or at least, I used to think that.
[no picture of your standard gimbap because every time I've eaten this filth I'm too enraged to take a picture of it]
The basic gimbap is rolled with rice, ham, sweet egg, yellow radish, carrot, and cucumber. Some places will also use brown mountain root, perilla leaf, and imitation crabmeat. It's rolled in unseasoned laver seaweed, brushed with sesame oil,sliced up and then it's good to go. Koreans eat this stuff on the go all the time, as it's fast, filling, and only costs around 1.3k. It is the definitive value meal, the king of the Korean dollar menu.
And it's pretty bad. That yellow radish just fucks everything up. I don't like California rolls, but at least the ingredients in those are discrete. The yellow radish in Gimbap leaks its pissy juice into everything and the roll just ends up tasting like crunchy urine. It is worse than the worst California roll I've ever had.
I gave chamchi (tuna) gimbap a try, and even sogogi (beef) gimbap. No luck. Filling, for certain, but not tasty at all. I was surprised at how bad the ground beef one was, but I shouldn't have been- Gimbap Nara just tosses some ugly cold crumbs of beef into the roll and adds mayo.
It wasn't until a few weeks later that by chance, I tried chamchi gimbap again. I took my friend to a little gimbap and noodle shop in my neighborhood, and she ordered one. They served it with a side of yooksu, a spicy broth. At first glance, the gimbap had a lot more girth than I was used to. I took a bite, and holy shit was it good. I immediately took another one.
I haven't eaten BBQ in weeks. Instead I eat tuna gimbap every day. It goes great with kim chi and pork bone broth. I never would have thought that I'd be eating gimbap this frequently. I'm averse to white rice for health reasons, and BBQ is so damn good and cheap and free of processed grains, but chamchi gimbap is so quick, so cheap, so filling, and so damn tasty that I don't think I'll be able to resist it until I get sick of eating it every day. Yeah, it's got me stuck in a loop.
If you get it to go, you can also beef it up in the kitchen like so:
I've tried some other gimbaps like dengcho (jalapeno) gimbap but the tuna is my favorite. I don't think you could ever bring me to try cheese gimbap or kimchi gimbap.
I don't expect anyone to come to my neck of the words just for Gimbap. It's still just gimbap; the best gimbap in the world isn't worth traveling more than ten minutes for.
The best advice I can give is to stay away from Gimbap Nara and Gimbap Chungook (Heaven). Those chains are like the Arby's of Korea, but I do give them props for being able to make almost anything (Imagine if McDonald's had shit like gnocchi and lobster bisque on their menu. You'd be a fool to try it, but still it'd be kind of cool).
In the last two years, a Gimbap chain called 고봉민 김밥 (Gobongmin gimbap) has exploded in popularity. This restaurant originated around my parts actually, in Hwamyong. I don't know if franchises have spread outside of Busan, and frankly I don't care about the Seoulites and the rest of you heathens.
There's one in Gwangan by exit 3, on the left if you're facing the beach.
There's one in Deokcheon, on the Gupo side of the main intersection.
They have a small selection, but their gimbap is very high quality. If you don't want the tuna, try the tonkasu (pork cutlet) gimbap. Other places don't even offer that.
They charge an extra 300 won because they know most gimbap sucks ass and theirs doesn't.