Korean cuisine has its own traditions, cooking techniques, and recipes like some other cuisines. It is basically based on rice, vegetables, and different meat products. Korean meals are called banchan (the number of side dishes), and kimchi is served along with many dishes.
Main ingredients for dishes are changed according to the region but they include napa cabbage, gochujang (fermented red chilli paste), garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and doenjang (fermented bean paste).
Most common ingredients of Korean cuisine
Grains: Rice, rice, rice!
Legumes: Soybeans, mung beans, azuki beans.
Vegetables: Korean radish, napa cabbage, sweet and regular potato, cucumber, garlic, chilli peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, lotus root, bean sprouts, and many more.
Meat: Beef, chicken, pork, and dog meat (very rear).
Fish & seafood: Shrimp, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, anchovies, and many more. Condiments & seasonings & spices: Vinegar, soy sauce, soybean paste, red chilli paste, red pepper, black pepper, salt, mustard, ginger, chilli powder, sesame seeds, sesame oil, corn syrup, and more.
If interested, you may learn more about the most common Korean food ingredients.
When the country had divided into two in 1948 as North Korea and South Korea, it also split into eight regions. These regions' cooking techniques and recipes have been preserved until modern times, now.
With the development of transportation in the late 19th century, those regions have started to connect to each other and shared their own culinary details with each other.
Buddhist traditions influenced Korean cuisine in a major way. Actually, Korean temple cuisine was created in Buddhist temples in Korea.
Dishes like chalbap (bowl of glutinous rice), yakgwa (a fried dessert), and yumilgwa (fried rice snack) were firstly served to Buddhist altars and changed positively into kinds of hangwa (Korean traditional confectionery). By this change, they influenced China and some other Asian countries as well.
Royal court cuisine:
Royal court cuisine of Korea is actually related to Korean temple cuisine. In the old times, sanggung (the royal court maids) were preparing the king’s meals. But when they get old, they had to leave the royal palace for good.
After the retirement, they entered to Buddhist temples in order to become nuns. This is how the royal court cuisine is related to Korean temple cuisine. Nuns were not aware of teaching the cooking techniques and details to people in temples.
Vegetarian cooking in Korea might be related to Buddhist cuisine as well. However, it is not a certain thing. Even though the staple food product is meat in this particular cuisine, there are many vegetarian restaurants available in Korea, although they were once local eateries and that is why most of them are not known by tourists or expats.
General serving style of these restaurants is a buffet. But at the same time, set-menu styles can be found as well. If you are two people or more, having a set menu could be more suitable since the payment is made up to the number of plates.
Vegetarian kimchi, tofu, bibimbap and alternatives like these ones are mostly served and preferred by vegetarians. The menus are changed according to season and ingredients.
Some popular vegetarian foods;
1. Bibimbap: Which literally means mixed rice. A bowl of rice is mixed with seasoned and sauteed vegetables like mushrooms, cucumber, radish, and spinach, gochujang (chilli pepper paste), soy sauce and rarely with doenjang (fermented soybean paste). According to taste, an egg and tofu (instead of beef) can also be added as toppings. Bibimbap was chosen as one of the World’s most delicious foods by CNN travel.
2. Kimchi: Much consumed as a side dish. It is based on salted and fermented vegetables such as napa cabbage and Korean radish. By adding gochugaru (chilli powder), garlic, ginger, and scallions, the flavour gets more delicious. This staple food has many variations depends on the season and regions of Korea.
And if you are vegan, there is room for you in Korean Cuisine as well. Check out vegan Korean foods.
Ceremonies and special events are taken very seriously in Korean culture like the four family ceremonies which are the coming-of-age ceremony, weddings, funerals, and ancestral rite. So, the food served during those events does have an important role.
For example, in funerals, yukgaejang is served which is a spicy beef soup cooked with some vegetables and seasonings. It is usually served with rice and fermented cabbage. According to the tradition, a bowl of rice is offered to the person who recently died and three spoons of food are put inside their mouth.
Especially in South Korea, food stalls can be seen everywhere. They are selling food for not so expensive and much preferred. People like to eat by standing next to the stalls or wrap their foods to take home.
Variations of dakkkochi, beondegi, bbopki, hotteok, gimbap, and bungeoppang could be the most preferred foods that are served at street eateries.
Table etiquette is very important and taught from childhood. Things, like blowing nose, making unusual noises, talking about diseases, eating too fast, throwing chopsticks, touching plates with spoons should be avoided at all times.
Other than this, in the past years, the eldest man should be served first and the youngers should wait till he eats. Women serve the dishes and then have their meal in a separate room. Nowadays, this has changed and all family members can enjoy their meal together. But still, younger people at the table should not start and finish their meal before the elderly ones.
Unlike the Chinese or Japanese cuisine, soup and rice should not be eaten by holding it to your mouth. That is why in addition to chopsticks, a spoon is placed on the table just for eating soups and rice. Also, covering mouth when eating with chopsticks is very expected.
The table setup is as important as the attitude. Traditionally, the individual setup should be rice bowl, spoon and then chopsticks respectively. Soup and stews should be placed on the right side, vegetables and rice on the left, kimchi at the back, and sauces in the front.
When drinking alcohol, people should face away from the eldest man and cover the mouth. Also, a guest can only refuse to drink twice and then should drink if a host asks for the third time. If a drink is refused for three times, the host will not ask again.
Best Korean dishes to taste:
Believe it or not, Korean cuisine is one the best among Asian cuisines. It contains many delicious main courses and side dishes, as well as desserts. Here are some must-have dishes and desserts when visiting the country or abroad;
1. Samgyeopsal: Korean style grilled pork-belly. The pork pieces are served raw to the dining table in order to be cooked by the diner. Rice, kimchi, and condiments like garlic, onions, green chilli peppers, and mushrooms are served as well. This dish is eaten by wrapping the meat into vegetable leaves.
2. Bulgogi: This dish is cooked by grilling or stir-frying the meat. Meat alternatives can be beef (usually), chicken or pork. The meat should be marinated before cooking. The marinating sauce includes soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, black pepper, onions, and scallions. In some regions, cellophane noodles are added or bulgogi is served along with leafy vegetables or ssamjang (spicy paste).
3. Sundubu jjigae: Is known as a commonly consumed stew made with soft tofu, kimchi soup, and an egg (placed on top). Often served with steamed rice and pickled vegetables on the side. According to taste, mushrooms, onions, and seafood are added.
4. Bungeoppang: This popular pastry is known for its fish-shape. It is filled with sweetened red bean paste. Stuffings like pastry cream or chocolate are also offered. Main ingredients are red bean paste, wheat flour, baking powder, water, and eggs (optional). It is made with a waffle iron and generally consumed in winter.
5. Songpyeon: South Korea’s Thanksgiving Day (Chuseok) Cake! The shape looks like a half-moon and made from rice flour. They are filled with sweet or semisweet ingredients like sesame seeds, honey, red bean or chestnut paste which are steamed over pine tree needles in order to have its smell.
Hungry for more? Check out all the best tasting Korean dishes.
Eating healthy is possible when following a diet…
Since Korean food offers richness in nutrients, a better digestive system, and less saturated fats; it can be considered as a healthy cuisine. The cuisine contains different types of vegetables, fermented foods, and meat at the same time.
Halal, gluten-free, vegetarian, and keto-friendly ingredients are dishes are available in Korean cuisine. Fermented and green vegetables, Korean barbeque, stews, soups, seafood products, tofu, and rice are much preferred and popular in the Korean diet.
If you are not having food at home and dining outside, feel free to ask for the ingredients to see if any of them is not suitable for your diet. You can also read our "Which Korean food is right for you?" article.
Having Korean dishes like kimchi, sundubu jjigae, ddukbokki (spicy rice cake), seolleongtang (ox bone soup), bulgogi, sam gae tang (stuffed chicken soup with ginseng), baechu kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), Korean dumplings, bibimbap, and chapchae (sweet potato noodles) will make you crave for them again!
While having a Korean meal blast, you can order Korean desserts online as well.
Why don’t you order Korean food online right now? Smartbite can deliver the food you would like to your doorstep!