I love a good massage. To me it’s one of the most luxurious, special treats I can buy for myself. If I ever won the lottery the first thing I’d purchase would be my own personal masseuse. Seriously. So when my friend Shannon told me about a place called Spa World, I knew I had to check it out immediately. I didn’t quite realize what I was in for. All Shannon told me was “it’s really naked there but you get used to it.”
Spa World is like another universe. It’s located in the middle of an unassuming strip mall not far from the highway and looks like at one point it might have been a Kmart. It’s massive. You walk inside, pay an entry fee at the front desk and are handed what looks like an orange prison uniform. You’re given a special key that can be worn around your wrist and used to pay for services. Your shoes are exchanged for flip flops in a locker that cannot be opened again until you settle up your bill. That’s right, they hold your shoes hostage. You walk down a long dark hallway with your wrist key and prison uniform until you reach a fork where women go to the left and men go to the right. And once you’re in the women’s area, it is indeed very naked. There’s a locker room separated from a very large area that houses an assortment of hot tubs and pools of various temperatures. Before walking into the pool you can grab a hand towel (there are no full sized towels in Spa World). To the immediate left is a long row of showers. To the far right are five older Asian women in undergarments exfoliating naked women and then covering them with baby oil. I’m not kidding. You have to book this treatment a couple hours in advance.
This all sounds pretty weird, right? It is. It’s really weird. But you get used to all the boobs pretty quickly and let me say this- nothing makes me come to terms with my own body issues faster than being in a large bath house with 100 other naked women of various ages and sizes. It’s oddly liberating.
So what’s the point of the orange prison uniform? Well, that’s for the unisex area. After drying off from the hot tub with your hand towel, you put on your uniform and wander down another long hallway into a huge room that feels reminiscent of a basketball court. There are giant fans on the ceiling. Lots of lounge chairs. A few flat screen TVs. There’s a staircase leading up to the second floor where you can get massage and reflexology treatments that hurt like hell. And then there’s the restaurant.
This restaurant is the first place I tried dolsot bibimbap, a dish that I have become obsessed with. It’s a very simple meal- rice, beef, vegetables, egg and a delicious Korean chili paste called Gochujang. The dolsot is a hot stone pot that makes the rice crunchy and causes all of the flavors to waft upward with steam. Traditionally this dish is served with a raw egg which is then stirred into the other ingredients. The heat from the stone cooks the egg. But Spa World serves it with a sunny side up egg on top and that’s how I’ve decided to prepare it at home.
Please note- you do not need the dolsot to prepare this dish. All of the ingredients are actually cooked before placing them in the stone pot so you can just prepare this recipe and place the ingredients in a good old fashioned bowl. The only special ingredient you really do want is the Gochujang. It has a very unique flavor that makes this dish special and Sriracha won’t cut it. You can find Gochujang chili paste at Asian markets or you can order it online (I’ve included links at the bottom of this post).
Yields 2 servings
- 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- soy sauce
- toasted sesame oil
- 6-7 ounces stir fry beef
- pinch of sugar
- fresh ground black pepper
- vegetable oil (or any neutral flavored high heat oil)
- 1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
- 3 cups packed spinach
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 2/3 cup bean sprouts
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 2 eggs, preferably pasteurized
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- Gochujang chili paste
- Rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms in hot water until soft. Drain and then toss with 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce and 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil. Set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over high heat with just enough oil to coat the bottom. Toss the beef with 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of garlic, a pinch of sugar and some black pepper. Sauté the beef for 1-2 minutes (it will cook very fast), then toss with 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and set aside.
- Line up 3 bowls to hold the vegetables separately after they're cooked. Sauté the carrots for 30 seconds with a little more oil (if needed) and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic. Place the carrots in one of the reserved bowls. Sauté the zucchini for 30 seconds with 1/2 teaspoon garlic. Place the zucchini in the second reserved bowl and toss with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil. Turn the heat down to low. Wilt the spinach with 1 teaspoon garlic, 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil. Place in the third bowl.
- If using dolsot bowls, cover the insides liberally with oil (if using regular bowls, skip to the next step). Divide the rice evenly between the two bowls and then place small mounds of the beef, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, spinach and bean sprouts on top of the rice. Top with toasted sesame seeds. Place the bowls on the stove over high heat and allow them to get hot. Once the rice begins to make a crackling noise, allow it to cook for 5 minutes.
- If using a regular bowl, divide the rice evenly between the two bowls and then place small mounds of the beef, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, spinach and bean sprouts on top of the rice. Top with toasted sesame seeds.
- Cook the egg sunny side up on a lightly oil skillet and place on top of the beef and vegetables.
- Serve with Gochujang.
All of these amounts should be viewed as a guide, not set in stone. You can use less rice, more vegetables, etc. Many bibimbap recipes also include daikon radish. I've omitted it here but you can add it using the same method I've described for the carrots and zucchini.
Tools I Used
More Asian Recipes
Savory Simple – Asian Beef Noodle Salad
Savory Simple – Noodles with Tofu Stir-Fry
Savory Simple – Sweet and Spicy Asian Tofu
Just One Cookbook – Honey Soy Sauce Chicken
Rasa Malaysia – Tom Kha Gai Recipe (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)
Damn Delicious – Mongolian Beef