On my quest to find the best kimbap in Seoul, this week I tried the intriguingly named Robot Kimbap chain to see if it can beat my favourite kimbap shop so far – Kim Seon Saeng. With so many premium kimbap shops around, the unique selling point of Robot Kimbap has to be that they use brown rice rather than white. And they use low salt and fat and so can market themselves to be the healthy option.
There are many Robot Kimbap shops around Seoul but I went to a branch in Gangnam since I was working in the area. There was a menu outside on a board which I liked because it always takes me ages to decide what I want and I could peruse the menu at my leisure – which I wouldn’t do inside since the shop was so small and cramped. (There was no English menu though). And since I arrived at 1pm and it was rather busy I decided to take my kimbap home on the train – so by the time I got home to eat my lunch I was very hungry indeed. 😮 Here we are waiting for the underground:
Unlike Korean white rice, brown rice is not glutinous, so it has to be mixed with sticky brown rice to stop it falling apart in the kimbap. According to the Robot Kimbap website, each kimbap is made with 5 nutritious ingredients so that we can be as strong as robots!
There are 3 kimbaps that are classified as ‘best’ on the Robot Kimbap website and they are – tuna and wasabi mayonnaise 생와사비참치마요김밥, spicy pork 매콤제육김밥 and Alaska cream cheese kimbap알래스카크림치즈김밥. The almond, walnut and anchovy cream cheese kimbap 아몬드호두멸치크림치즈김밥 is also a ‘hit’.
The menu is pretty big and has lots of Korean style kimbap such as Robot Galbi kimbap, but the chain also follows the current trend of creating fusion kimbap using ingredients from other countries such as ‘Alaska cheese’ or ‘German sausage.’ But I chose the anchovy and nut kimbap, grilled chicken kimbap, and the vegetarian option – fried tofu and vegetable kimbap.
The basic ingredients for all the kimbaps are burdock, cucumber, carrot, radish (tanmuji), sesame leaves, egg, and of course seaweed (kim). According to the website 100% brown rice is used, and there are no artificial additives in the radish -(I like this point as bright yellow radish is a pet peeve for me). The radish was a nice natural colour here.
My criteria when I look at kimbap now is 1) is the rice a good consistency? Not hard or overcooked and mushy. 2) Is there a generous amount of filling compared to rice? (I don’t like too much rice) 3) Are the vegetables finely sliced (not chunky) and seasoned well? (not too salty or sweet or suspicioiusly brightly coloured) 4) Do the flavours and textures work well together?
ALMOND , WALNUT, AND ANCHOVY KIMBAP, 4,000 won
The almond walnut anchovy kimbap 아몬드호두멸치 (above) was the most expensive of the 3 I bought at 4,000 won. The rice was a nice chewy texture and there was a generous amount of filling. So that was good. The veggies were sliced thinly and I liked the small piece of sesame leaf added for an extra aromatic kick. The cucumber was refreshing, the carrot crunchy, and the burdock lightly seasoned. The anchovy mixed with nuts, veg, and unsweetened egg combined to give a good mix of textures. It was a lot to chew!
So I was satisfied with everything for this kimbap except that I did find the anchovy filling slightly dry – perhaps that’s why they introduced another version with cream cheese. But on the whole I enjoyed the roll. Still, I prefer the spicier, more moist version of this anchovy and nut combo at Lee Kimbap in Apgujong – although Robot Kimbap’s brown rice is better.
ROBOT HEALTHY KIMBAP 2,500 won
For my second kimbap I went for the vegetarian option. This is the Robot Healthy Kimbap! (로봇건강한줄) It includes the same basic ingredients as the anchovy kimbap just with yubu – fried slices of tofu – replacing the anchovies and nuts. The brown rice is mixed with soy beans for a change too.
It was a simple refreshing kimbap with no particularly overly strong flavours. If I were vegetarian I would happily choose this – at least you don’t need to ask to have the ham taken out, which is usually the case when ordering a ‘vegetable kimbap’. It’s well done and relatively cheap, but it’s not the most exciting roll on the menu. I would have liked a bit of fresh chilli in there – but that’s just me.
GRILLED CHICKEN KIMBAP, 3,900 won
For my final choice, I ordered the grilled chicken breast salad kimbap 구운닭가슴샐러드 3,900 won. I ordered this partly out of interest as I’ve never had a chicken kimbap before. It looked a bit plain and I didn’t expect it to be particularly good as chicken can be rather hit and miss – bland and dry. But I was surprised as this turned out to be my favourite kimbap out of the three!
The chicken had a really good smoky flavour and the vegetables went well together giving the kimbap a very tasty flavour. I’d definitely get it again.
Kimbap shops also sell bunshik dishes (분식 bunshik – literally means ‘flour-based foods’) so there were various noodle and other dishes on the menu such as toppoki and instant ramen – although instant ramen with a slice of plastic cheese does not sound healthy to me! Having said that, several customers in the shop were eating some noodle dishes that looked pretty tempting…
I wish all the kimbap shops did a brown rice version of their kimbaps. But that is not to be. Brown rice is still the exception rather than the norm. The Robot kimbap filled me up for much longer than a regular kimbap would and the rolls definitely tasted ‘healthy’ and I could tell that they were made with lower amounts of salt (which is good since I definitely eat too much salt )
So is it the best kimbap? Well, I have to put Robot Kimbap into my top two (along with Kim Seon Saeng) purely because of the brown rice. And their (real) vegetarian option. After trying their rolls, I still want to go back and try other ones, which is a good sign too, isn’t it?