Korean cuisine, made for common people, is based largely on rice, vegetables, fish, seaweed and tofu (dubu in Korean). Typical Korean meals are named for the number of side dishes (banchan) that accompany the ubiquitous rice, soup, and kimchi (fermented vegetables). Three dishes, five dishes, and up to twelve side-dish meals are served depending upon the circumstances. Korean food derives its pungent flavours from various combinations of sesame oil, soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger and, most importantly, chilli pepper, which gives it its distinctive spicy taste.
In contrast, Traditional Korean "Royal" cuisines, once only enjoyed by Royal Court Family Members and the "Yangban" or upper class of the Joseon dynasty, are served in luxury and took hours and days to prepare. They exhibit a unique blend of warm and cold, hot and mild ingredients that tantalize the tongue by harmonizing rough and soft bite textures with a range of solid and liquid foods, and are often served on hand-forged "bronze" plates.
Some of these traditional "royal" cuisines, which can cost as much as US$250 per person without drinks, include serving by an exclusive waiter and can be found at high-end restaurants in select locations within the city of Seoul.
Traditional Non-Royal Korean table settings
Koreans traditionally ate (and a large number still do eat) seated on cushions at low tables. The presentation of a Korean meal is almost as important as the taste. A typical table setting consists of:
- a personal bowl of rice, either stainless steel or clay, usually with a cover to keep the rice hot (front & far left of the diner)
- a small, personal bowl of hot soup
- a large personal spoon for rice and soup
- a personal set of stainless steel chopsticks for eating the side dishes (front and far right of the diner)
- various small bowls of shared bite-sized side dishes (banchan)
Traditional Korean table manners
Although there is no prescribed order for eating the many dishes served at a traditional Korean meal, many Koreans start with a small taste of soup before eating the other dishes in any order they wish. Unlike other chopstick nations, Koreans do not eat rice with chopsticks, instead use a spoon at formal or public meals. Koreans never pick up their rice or soup bowls but leave both on the table and eat from them with spoons. Side dishes, however, are eaten with chopsticks. Bad manners include blowing one's nose at the table (considered the rudest of acts), picking up chopstick or spoon before the oldest person starts the meal, chewing with an open mouth, talking with food in one's mouth, making audible eating noises, sticking chopsticks or spoon straight up in a dish, stabbing foods with chopsticks, mixing rice and soup, picking up food with one's hands, eating rice with chopsticks, and overeating. In informal situations, these rules are often broken.
At the Korean table, each person is served an individual serving of rice and soup (guk); while several side and main dishes are arranged for everyone to share. One kind of soup is called jjigae, which is thicker than guk; it is shared at the centre of the table. Korean food custom is not traditionally individualistic, but this custom is changing.
Though people do not need to finish all the shared food that was provided, it is customary to finish one's individual portion of rice. When a person leaves uneaten rice, he or she may be regarded rude. If one is unable to eat all of one's rice, one should start with less rice. Accordingly, it is usually perfectly acceptable to ask for refills on any of the side dishes, since all traditional Korean restaurants are, in this sense, "all you can eat."
Traditional Korean foods & dishes
Korean cuisine is prepared slightly differently from Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Koreans do not usually make one dish for each meal or for each day. Soup should be eaten in one meal or two, but people usually prepare dishes that will last for longer than one day. For example, during Kimjang season, Koreans make a large amount of kimchi to last for the entire winter. Some people thus believe that the strong taste of Korean food originates from its reliance on preservation techniques.
(Note that English spellings of Korean words may vary; see Korean romanization.)
Kimchi (or Gimchi, 김치 in Hangul) - vegetables (usually cabbage or white radish) which are commonly fermented in a brine of anchovies, ginger, garlic, green onion and chilli pepper. There are infinite varieties (at least as many as there are households), which are served as side dishes.
Bulgogi (불고기) - beef (and sometimes pork) marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and chili pepper, cooked on a grill at the table. It is a main course, and is therefore served with rice and side dishes. Bulgogi literally means "fire beef" and is often called "Korean BBQ."
Bibimbap (비빔밥) (literally meaning mixed rice or mixed meal) - rice topped with vegetables, beef and egg, and served with a dollop of chili pepper paste. A variation of this dish, dolsot bibimbap(돌솥 비빔밥), is served in a heated stone bowl, in which a raw egg is cooked against the sides of the bowl. 육회(비빔밥) variously romanised as Yukhoe, yuk-hoe, yuk hoe, Yuk'oe, Yuk-hae, Yuk Hwea, Yuk Whe but often plain "yuke " is a popular version, comprising raw beef strips with raw egg and a dash of soy sauce mixed with Asian pear and 고추장 (gochujang - Red pepper paste). Everything (seasonings, rice and vegetables) is stirred together in one large bowl and eaten with a spoon
Galbi (갈비) - ribs, either pork or beef, cooked on a metal plate over charcoal in the centre of the table, and accompanied by rice and various side dishes
Gimbap (김밥) (literally seaweed rice) - A Korean dish consisting of rice and strips of vegetables, egg, ham and pollock, rolled in laver (seaweed) and sliced. This is a popular snack or child's lunch, similar to and could be the precursor for Japanese sushi rolls.
- Naengmyeon (냉면;冷麵) (literally cold noodles) - this summer dish consists of several varieties of thin, hand-made buckwheat noodles, and is served in a large bowl with a tangy iced broth, raw julienned vegetables, and often a boiled egg and/or cold beef.
Gochujang (고추장) (hot chilli pepper paste) is an indispensable condiment.
- Samgyupsal - Pork bacon cut from the belly, served in the same fashion as Kalbi. Sometimes cooked on a grill with kimchee troughs at either side. Commonly grilled with garlic and onions, dipped in ssamjjang and wrapped in ssangchu.
- Songpyeon (송편) - Hollow rice cake served at Chuseok (Mid-Autumn Festival) decorated with sesames, soy beans, and chestnuts. Honey or another soft, sweet material is found inside.
Fusion food is also rapidly becoming popular in South Korea, fusing the cuisine of two or more ethnicities into new creations. There are many "Japanese fusion", "Chinese fusion" or "Western fusion" restaurants all over South Korea.
The traditional Korean dish gaegogi, literally dog meat, has been controversial in recent years. Dog, however, is not only eaten in Korea, but also in other countries such as China.
- KoreanKitchen.com http://www.koreankitchen.com/
- 90+ Korean food names http://www.kfood.net/story/story_name.html (in Hangul, Hanja, Japanese and English)
Last updated: 02-10-2005 00:10:07