Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

Search This Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl

Today, we got our Bibimbap on. Here's a link that should help you pronounce it properly. It sounds like it starts with a "p," and apparently the middle syllable is stressed.

Bibimbap is a Korean word that means simply "mixed meal." So basically, we've got rice, some sort of Korean barbeque-esque meat, some carrot-like vegetables, a bit of seaweed or kelp or kale or something, and a mysterious egg-like substance. It's quite an authentic recreation of a visit to a real Korean BBQ house. You'll recognize one or two of the items, and the rest of the foods...well, you might have some vague notion of what they could be, but unless you're dining with a bilingual Korean person, you're pretty much flying blind. You kind of just get in the habit of sticking stuff in your mouth and hoping for the best. It's kinda fun. Until you get a bite of something nasty. But then you can always go back to the meats. Korean BBQ meats are pretty universally tasty, in my opinion.

To my delight (but probably to the dismay of many others) there was no kimchi in this meal. I'm not sure which amazes me more: the fact that people actually enjoy fermented cabbage dishes, or the fact that more than one culture on our planet came up with the same idea. "Hey guys, let's throw this yucky vegetable in a barrel, let it rot for a while, and see if something yummy comes out!" Kimchi is kinda like Korean sauerkraut. It's spicier than sauerkraut, to be sure, but just as nasty.

Thankfully, the Bibimbap Bowl does feature some Korean beef. Absolutely delicious. It has an amazing tender texture and lots of flavor. Too bad there's only a couple bites of it in the bowl. In fact, that's my biggest complaint about this dish. I really wanted to give this a very high score, but I simply can't praise it as much as I would like to because of the lack of its best constituent part.

The second best part of the bowl? The sauce. It's red, spicy, and flavorful, and to me it tastes authentically Korean. I've only had Korean BBQ a handful of times in my life, but from what I remember, the best sauces are quite similar to the stuff included in Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl.

The other 4 ingredients are also pretty yummy, especially when coated with the aforementioned red sauce, but they're not quite as special as the beef. They're all reminiscent of things I've had in a Korean restaurant, and not one of them is gross or too strange to be eaten. I broke out some leftover chopsticks we had from our recent visit to Pei Wei. It helped to make the experience even more Asian.

In summary, my score can't be too high because of the lack of meat in the dish, but maybe that's just my typical American overenthusiasm for beef talking. I'm sure Koreans, health-conscious as they generally are, don't eat that much beef on a regular basis, but my visits to Korean BBQ spots would tell me different. Although, those restaurants I've been to are probably just catering to their "Viva-America" clientele. Conversely, I can't score this dish too low, either, since my natural inclination is to compare this Bibimbap Bowl with entrees I've had from relatively high-class Korean restaurants and homemade dishes. It didn't even occur to me to compare this to anything I've ever had from any other grocery store. And therein lies Trader Joe's genius: many of their foods, this product included, simply transcend the offerings of other grocery stores.

Let's go with a 3.5. Sonia was also annoyed by the lack of meat, but overall, she was truly impressed as well. She gives it a 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.


  1. I assume TJ recreated it as much as they could. Bibimbap isn't supposed to have kimchi in it because that would always be a side/small plate. And the egg - well bibimbap normally has an egg cracked into it while the rice and meat are hot and the eater mixes the raw egg into the bowl so that it gets cooked by the residual heat. Since they couldn't put a raw egg in the package, the next best thing was cooking it into an omelette and cutting it into strips.

    1. well... there is no specific ingredients for Bibimbap. In Korea, we usually make Bibimbap with left-over side dishes or whatever we want to mix with. SO, it could have kimchi in it. (I put chopped kimchi or fried kimchi) I know that you are served Bibimbap with very formal(?) way, but Bibimbap is generally for finishing up left-over side dishes.

  2. Hi Nathan, Just came across your site after searching for a description of the Bibimbap bowl. I saw it while shopping last week and was intrigued. I'll be sure to pick it up next time. Sounds delicious!

    So happy to have found your site. My husband and I are now doing most of our shopping at Trader Joe's. I just read him your paragraph about kimchi...think we'll be checking out your blog while preparing our grocery lists!

  3. They were sampling this last night in SFV/Riverside. REALLY tasty, with a nice kick to it that didn't linger and ruin the overall flavor.

  4. Thanks Sara! We're glad you're enjoying the blog. :)

  5. Nice review. I have to correct something though. =) Bibimbap is "mixed rice", not "mixed meal". You can basically mix anything with rice to make bibimbap. Bap (밥) means rice. In Korean households, they usually take leftovers, make the sauce, fry an egg (over easy, at least that's how we eat it, but if you're eating it hot, a raw egg is another option), mix everything in a bowl, and viola, bibimbap. Awesome use of leftovers.

    The "seaweed or kelp or kale or something" is probably spinach, if they're using the common ingredients.

    Will pick up some high rated items next time I visit TJ. Great blog. Keep it up!

  6. I had this for the first time tonight - I was pleasantly surprised by it. The sauce they include is pretty tasty, but I added a bit more shredded carrot, a little sesame oil and some sesame seeds and it was even better. Bibimbap usually comes with egg so I'm thinking that would be an easy way to add more protein and flavor.

  7. Oh, dear, I thought this was a real disappointment. Well, not exactly a disappointment--how can you make a frozen bibimbap? It's certainly edible; it's just ... not bibimbap. Not even remotely. I couldn't taste any sesame oil, which is essential (I added some too, like a.), and other things were missing (though, as mentioned, kimchi shouldn't be in there anyway).

    As a frozen entree, it was above average, and the tiny portion of beef was pretty tasty. But it tastes no more like bibimbap than a Big Mac does. The worst thing about this is that people may eat it, think that's what bibimbap tastes like, and never order the real thing.

    Though it did kind of make me want to go get a stone-pot bibimbap. Fortunately, that's easy around here.

  8. I agree with Wintersweet... I saw this and got so excited because I love and grew up eating bibimbap. The flavors are off, but that is to be expected in frozen foods. My annoyance with this meal is its lack of mix in's. I feel like I paid 3.49 for some white rice. The veggie/meat portions are quite sad.

  9. I tried it for the first time last week and was pleasantly surprised. I also thought it could have done with a more generous inclusion of veggies (and meat), but found the flavors of everything to be pretty accurate and very tasty. I also make bibimbap at home, and this was quite close.

    The fun part about "real" bibimbap is that it is so customizable for personal tastes - if you try this one and feel something is missing, by all means, add it in! Another poster pointed out that the name roughly translates to "mixed rice," so it's not really possible to get it wrong. Just mix in what you like.

    One thing I have to point out, though, is that what looks like egg on the box turned out to be bean sprouts (which are part of the namul/나물 used in the real thing). The greens are indeed spinach, not kale or seaweed.

  10. Hello Nathan,

    Today I learned that Trader Joe's is carrying this bibimbap bowl and was pleasantly surprised. I decided to look it up on the Internet and stumbled upon your blog entry. The green veggies would be spinach; Koreans don't use kale in bibimbap. It isn't seaweed either because it's usually crisp seaweed that's sprinkled over the dish.

    Also, I have to say that I took offense to your comment about kimchi being "nasty." I understand that most people don't like fermented cabbage dishes, but there's no reason to hate on another culture's dish that is included in nearly every meal. If you don't like it, then just say it isn't to your liking or preference of taste. But nasty? Come on now; that's just rude.

    I'm a Korean American and I appreciate the fairly positive feedback about this bibimbap bowl. However, I would appreciate it even more if you kept the "nasty" to yourself. I know I don't have to read your blog entry and you're exercising your right to freedom of speech or whatever, but I think it's just common courtesy to not say something is "nasty" about a foreign culture you couldn't possibly know all about. At least, that's how I was raised.

  11. Trader Joe's "Bibimbap Bowl" has become one of my favorite items for lunch at work. (Even a Scottish-American like myself can love it.)

    And I agree with Om about something: The only food that's "nasty" is food that's badly spoiled.