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Sushi vs. kimbap | Differences in flavor, preparation, varieties

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  February 16, 2022

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Even those of us who’ve never really explored Japanese cuisine are familiar with sushi. This snack has become so integrated into American culture that we may take it for granted as ethnic food!

But there’s a good chance that people who are familiar with sushi have no idea what kimbap is.

sushi vs kimbap

Yes, it’s quite similar to sushi. In fact, many consider it Korean sushi!

The most important differences between sushi and kimbap are the preparation of the rice (with vinegar for sushi and sesame oil for kimbap) and the ingredients, where sushi most often has raw ingredients in it and kimbap has preserved ones.

Read on to find out more about kimbap and the differences compared to sushi. Also, find out what you can expect if you decide to order it!

To get a quick overview of the 2, check out sweetandtastyTV’s video:

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What is kimbap?

Like sushi, kimbap has 2 main ingredients.

The first is cooked rice or “bap”. The second is a dried seaweed sheet or “kim”, hence the name “kimbap”.

The people of Korea enjoy kimbap as a light lunch. It’s often served with a yellow pickled radish called danmuji.

Its small size makes it portable. So it’s a terrific home-packed meal or take-out food.

Japanese sushi vs. kimbap: Differences

So far, kimbap sounds pretty similar to sushi, but there are some key differences.

Different rice

The first lies in the preparation of the rice.

Sushi uses rice seasoned with vinegar while kimbap uses rice mixed with sesame oil. This results in sweeter-tasting rice.

Kimbap may also use black or brown rice whereas the rice used in sushi is almost always white.

Different fillings

The fillings also set kimbap and sushi apart.

While sushi uses mostly raw fish, kimbap uses preserved ingredients. Canned tuna, grilled bulgogi, ham and cheese, and kimchi are some of the fillings that are commonly used.

Different social status

The social status of kimbap and sushi also sets them apart.

While both are eaten with chopsticks, kimbap is often eaten with hands as well. As such, sushi is often considered a luxury food that’s reserved for formal occasions while kimbap is more casual in nature.

Find out more ways in which Japanese cuisine differs from Korean: The difference between Japanese and Korean food | Use of spices.

Sushi vs. kimbap: Preparation

The ways you prepare kimbap and sushi are different too. Here’s a rundown of how each one’s made!

How kimbap is made

A device called a gimbal is used to wrap the kimbap.

First, the seaweed sheets are toasted over low heat. Then the desired ingredients are added.

Typically, a thin layer of rice is added first, followed by the meats and vegetables. Then the gimbal is used to roll the food into a cylindrical shape.

How sushi is made

There are several ways to roll sushi but it’s typically done by laying a sheet of seaweed on top of a bamboo mat called a makisu.

The ingredients are layered on top and the sheet is rolled to compress the sushi into a rounded figure.

Sushi vs. kimbap: Origin

One of the most obvious differences between sushi and kimbap is that sushi originated in Japan while kimbap originated in Korea. No one is certain how kimbap originated.

Some say it was derived from an old tradition of Koreans eating cooked rice wrapped in seaweed. Others say it’s a spinoff on a specific type of Japanese sushi called norimaki.

Sushi originated in Southeast Asia when people began placing fish in fermented rice to increase its shelf life. People realized this produced a pleasing taste and it became a dish in its own right.

Also read: this is how kimbap differs from onigiri

Different kimbap varieties

Kimbap comes with a variety of fillings, but there are 3 main types of the dish:

  • Chungmu kimbap: This features thinner rolls and a filling of rice only. It’s typically served with squid salad and radish kimchi.
  • Mayak kimbap: These are smaller in size than other types of kimbap. Fillings include carrots, spinach, and radishes. The roll is usually topped with sesame seeds and served with a pungent mustard and soy sauce for dipping.
  • Samgak kimbap: This type of sushi has a triangular shape and it’s similar to Japanese onigiri. It’s a common snack in Korean households. Its main fillings are rice and tuna.

Different sushi varieties

There are many varieties of sushi, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Nigiri: Nigiri is sushi rice topped with raw fish instead of wrapped in it.
  • Maki: Maki has a raw fish center that’s surrounded by rice and rolled in seaweed.
  • Uramaki: Almost the opposite of maki, uramaki has a fish center wrapped in seaweed with rice on the outside.
  • Temaki: This is hand-rolled sushi served in a cone shape.
  • Sashimi: Sashimi is raw fish that isn’t combined with rice or seaweed. Although sashimi isn’t technically sushi, it’s served at sushi restaurants and is considered a similar cuisine.

Kimbap vs sushi: Both are delicious

Kimbap and sushi are delicious Asian foods that are very similar but if you haven’t tried one or both, you may be missing out!

Will you be making it a priority to eat kimbap the next time you decide on Asian cuisine?

Looking for some more inspiration? Read about 43 of the best, most delicious & unusual Asian food to Try!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.