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Korean Food and Cuisine


Korean Food and Cuisine

Although Korean cuisine is quite distinctive, it does have some features in common with other Oriental cultures. Since the korean food is considered by many to be quite healthy and since Koreans now live in many countries, Korean restaurants have been popping up all over the world. So, if you’d like to try it before coming to Korea you’re quite likely to get a chance to try it before coming. It’s worth noting also that their fermented foods, kimchi and doenjang soups (soybean paste), are believed to have disease prevention benefits. (Many locals believe that it is because they eat Kimchi that there were no SARS cases reported in Korea.).

The Korean meal is almost always accompanied by a big bowl of hot soup or stew, sticky rice and a variety (minimum 3) side dishes, usually different forms of  kimchi (pronounced kimchee). Korea is the only chopstick based Asian culture that also uses spoons - utensil sets come with a long handled round spoon and chopticks. The Korean chopstick is short and made of metal.

Kimchi: In order to preserve vegetables over the long winter, Koreans found a way to ferment their vegetables mainly napa (Chinese) cabbage, turnip, cucumbers and spring onions with a variety of  seasonings such as pepper and fish paste and fermenting them in clay kimchi pots buried in the soil. These days they have kimchi refrigerators but the basic family recipes remain the same. Kimchi is reputed to aid in the digestion of carbohydrates and in the prevention of geriatric diseases and even SARS. Koreans eat it at every meal and claim that they will have withdrawal symptoms if they have to go a day without it. 
Following are some of the main ingredients in Korean cuisine:

  1. Hot Pepper Paste (Gochujang) is a hot paste made from soybean powder fermented with boiled rice, flour and sticky rice powder and seasoned with salt and spicy peppers. It is this condiment that gives Korean food its distinctive flavour and it is one of the traditional staples in every kitchen. Each region has its own specific recipe and gochujang comes in many variations, among them sticky rice gochujang, barley gochujang, adzuki bean gochujang.
  2. Soybean Paste (Doenjang) is made from dried fermented soybeans and is another in Korea’s arsenal of disease fighting foods.
  3. Cooked Korean Rice (Bab) is a short grained sticky variety of rice and is served at each and every meal. Even after eating a heavy, hearty meal, a Korean (men especially) is likely to still ‘hungry’ if there was no rice served.
  4. Garlic is an integral ingredient in the Korean diet and is reputed to have played an important role in the founding of the nation. One of the legends about the creation of Korea tells of the union between a god and a bear. Legend has it that the relationship was helped along by twenty cloves of garlic. When the bear begged to be made human, the god gave it the garlic and said to go away for one hundred days. The animal re-emerged a woman, who then married the god. Their son, Tan’gun was the founder of Korea. In acknowledgment of the life-enhancing properties of garlic, Koreans eat it daily in almost every dish and in every form.

Korean cuisine ranges from the very spicy to the salty to the almost bland. It is based primarily on soups and stews and Korean-style BBQ. There is something for almost everyone, even vegetarians, albeit after some searching. Here are some dishes you should try:

  1. Bibimpap (bee bim ppap) is basically a huge bowl filed with vegetables shredded and layered on top along with a partially cooked fried egg. A dollop of red pepper paste is also included, although for foreigners the pepper may come on the side. The rice, vegetables and paste are all mixed together with a spoon. Dosut Bibimpap is served in a hot pot with a raw egg that you can immediately move over to the side of the hot bowl so it can cook.
  2. Bulgogi is thin strips of broiled marinated beef  that can be served cooked or sometimes prepared at  your table. This dish is often offered to foreign guests since it is not spicy.
  3. ChapChae is a mixture of clear noodles and cut-up vegetables and bits of meat. It is not spicy and is another favorite of many foreigners.
  4. Kalbi is the term used for barbecued ribs cooked at your table. Pices for Kalbi varies depending on the quality and type of meat. Every foreign guest can expect to be taken out for kalbi at some point.
  5. Kalbi-tang is a soup made with short ribs. It usually a bit of vegetable and clear noodles.
  6. Kimchi Tchigae is a spicy kimchi-based stew.
  7. Kimpap is a common snack food made of dried seaweed wrapped around vegetables and seasoned rice. It usually contains some form of meat, but is not spicy.
  8. Mandu (mandoo) are small dumpling filled with vegetables, meat and/or kimchi. Depending on the stuffing, mandu can be bland or spicy. They can be served in a variety of ways including steamed (jjin mandu), fried (gun mandu) or in soups such as mandu-guk (mandoo-gook).
  9. Pajeon is a kind of pancake made with vegetables and/or seasfood that is often served as an appetizer.
  10. NaengMyun is a cold noodle soup that is served in summer.
  11. Samgae-tang is a chicken soup made with young chickens stuffed with glutinous rice and ginseng. It was traditionally served in summer, but is now available year-round.

This is nowhere near a comprehensive list of Korean dishes, but it hopefully will give you an idea of the cuisine. You will normally be eating these dishes in restaurants. The best Korean food is often found in the small inexpensive restaurants that can be found in every neighborhood. Although chair seating is now available in the majority of places in Seoul, floor seating is still the norm.   

Last Updated on 2013-01-23


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