Introduction to Korean cuisine
Between the years 1910 and 1945, Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula. During this period, rice production had increased just for the nutrition of Japanese people. This is why the consumption of other grains was increased for the Koreans. Fulfilling the stomachs were more important than the quality of food at that time. Surprisingly, lower class people could only have one bowl of rice each year and consumed other grains for the rest of the year. But for the middle and upper class, eating white bread and pre-cooked noodles were common. These circumstances were continued until the end of this period, the World War II.
During the Korean and Cold War, the country was divided into two as North Korea and South Korea and this was the time of taking shape of the Korean cuisine. Agriculture was improved, and livestock and dairy production were started increasing.
Today’s Korean cuisine is basically based on rice, meat, and vegetables. Sesame oil, soy sauce, fermented bean paste, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, fermented red chilli paste, and napa cabbage can be found in the most commonly used ingredients list of Korea. However, ingredients and recipes may subject to change according to each province.
Since rice was expensive when it first entered the country, people were cooking by mixing it with other grains in order to use less amount. This tradition has continued until now and can be seen in dishes such as boribap (rice with barley) and kongbap (rice with beans). Rice is traditionally cooked in an iron pot which is called musoe sot. It is also used as a ground for rice cakes, mixed and cooked with other grains and meat, and for making filtered and unfiltered rice wines.
Soybeans are much eaten in Korean cuisine as well as used for making tofu and soy milk. The sprouts of soybeans are also used. Soybean paste and soy sauce are produced and commonly used in dishes.
Secondly, most used legume in the Korean kitchen is mung beans, also known as green beans. They are literally used in every way; side dish, blanched, sauteed, in pancakes, noodles, soups, stews, jelly foods (its starch is used), and more. For the last but not least, azuki beans are consumed with rice.
Vegetables are served as cooked or uncooked. Varieties can be found in salads, pickles, stews, stir-fried dishes, and more. The consumption basically depends on the season. Korean radish, napa cabbage, cucumber, potato (regular & sweet), spinach, bean sprouts, garlic, chilli peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, lotus root, and endless types of other vegetables can be found in this cuisine.
Condiments & seasonings & spices
They are divided into two as fermented and nonfermented. Examples for fermented ones are vinegar, ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste made of soybean and brine), and gochujang (red chilli paste made of chilli powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, and barley malt powder). Gochujang is used to give a spicy taste, and should not be substituted with gochugaru as their taste is very different from each other. If you do not want to use gochujang for any reason, you may replace it with chilli flakes but it would not taste the same either. Like gochujang and doenjang, there are many dipping sauces in Korea. They are prepared according to taste and often consumed with barbequed food items.
Red & black pepper, cordifolia, mustard, garlic, onion, ginger, leek, and spring onions are known as nonfermented condiments and spices. Other commonly used spices in Korea are chilli powder, roasted sesame seeds, black pepper, and salt. On the other hand, sesame and specifically sesame oil are much used and preferred almost in every dish. The oil adds an extra aroma and savoury flavour to the dish.
Other than these, oligodang and mulyeot are used for sweetening the dishes. Oligadong is known as oligosaccharide, and mulyeot is known as corn syrup (mostly used in stir-fried dishes).
As Korean people do hunting and fishing since the Ancient times, meat products are much used, liked and inevitable for Korean cuisine. Even though cattle used to have a significant role for the Lunar New Year, today, beef is consumed freely as roasted, grilled, dried or boiled. Chicken is usually eaten as roasted or slow-cooked. Each and every inch of a chicken is commonly used in Korean recipes, including feet, liver, and gizzard. Some of them are cooked in medicinal soups, some roasted with spices, and some served as side dishes. Like chicken, all pieces of pork are used commonly. The head and internal organs such as liver and kidney are taken place in recipes by the techniques of steaming, boiling, stewing, and smoking.
Fish & seafood
Many fish and seafood varieties are available because of the geographical location of the country. They are usually eaten raw or grilled, broiled or dried before serving. Mackerel, croaker, shrimp, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, anchovies, yellow corvina, and many more types are popular and consumed on regular basis. Also, some of the shellfish are used for making broth.