Cuisine of Korea


Korean cuisine, is the usual food eaten by Koreans in Korea, or by overseas Koreans that uses traditional means of cooking, eating, and preparing a historically interesting and complex diet that has great health benefits. From the complex ritual of Royal court cuisine, to the food of the inland cities like Seoul, and the port cities like Incheon and Pusan, the cuisine is varied, fascinating, and becoming internationally popular. Korean cuisine has been widely eaten in northeast China for decades, though it's popularity seems to be fading.

As had by most Koreans, 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 exciting flavours and tastes 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. It varies seasonally, and relies much on pickled vegetables which are preserved traditionally in outside ceramic jars, and a very labour intensive preparation time even for the simplest kimchi.

In contrast, Traditional Korean "Royal" cuisines, once only enjoyed by Royal Court Family Members and the yangban scholarly 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 with a specifically sequenced arrangement of small dishes alternating to highlight the shape and colour of the various foods.

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. They are best known by a currently famous Korean soap opera about an imperial chef that has revived Korean cuisine in Hong Kong, and many asian countries in late 2004 and early 2005.

Not to be neglected is the wonderful elegance of the Korean tea ceremony which is older, and more natural than the Japanese tea ceremony more familiarly known to the west.


Traditional Korean table settings

Koreans traditionally ate (and a large number still do eat) seated on cushions at low tables with their legs in a modified lotus position. Westerners may be provided with extra cushions, or floorchairs with backs. Many Korean restaurants provide both in the major cities.

Meals are eaten with a set of oval-shaped chopsticks and a long handled shallow spoon, together known as sujeo.

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 personal set of stainless steel chopsticks for eating the side dishes (front and far right of the diner)
  • a large personal long-handled shallow spoon for rice and soup
  • various small bowls of shared bite-sized side dishes (banchan)

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.

In the case of some dishes, certain regions or cities are especially associated with the dish (for example, the city of Jeonju for Bibimbap) either as a place of origin or for a famous regional variety. Restaurants will often use these famous names on their signs and/or menus either to specify the regional variety of the dish served, or else to lend the food and the restaurant an air of authenticity (compare Chicago-style pizza).

In instances where this is the case, the regional name will be prefixed to the name of the dish (as in Jeonju bibimbap/전주비빔밥).

(Note that English spellings of Korean words may vary; see Korean romanization.)

  • Dwenjang (돤장) fermented soybean paste, similar to Japanese miso but saltier in taste
  • Gochujang (고추장) (hot chilli pepper paste) is an indispensable condiment.
  • 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.
  • Dwenjang jjigae (돤장찌개) (spicy soybean paste soup) This common soup is often served alongside rice with a main course like kalbi but is also a common lunch or dinner. Usually, it contains a variety of vegetables and several shellfish including small mussels, shrimp and/or large anchovies.
  • Kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) (Kimchi with spicy soybean paste in a soup) is a very common lunch accompanying Kimpap and also a side dish served when you order rice with a kalbi or a samgyeopsal main course. It is normally served in a stone pot and is still boiling when it arrives at your table.
  • Mandoo (만두) - A dumpling typically filled with pork, vegetables, noodles, or kimchi. The can be prepared boiled, fried, or steamed.
  • GamJaTang (감자탕) (literally potato soup) Spicy soup with pig spine, vegetables (especially potatoes) and hot peppers. The vertebrae are usually separated so that serving and eating this dish is not too much of a challenge. This is more often a late night snack but is also favored by many for a lunch or a late dinner.
  • 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.
  • Hoe \hweh\ (회) is a raw seafood dish served with gochujang sauce. It is often compared with Japanese sashimi.
  • Hoedupbap \hweh-dup-bahp\ (회덮밥) - Raw fish (Sashimi style) on top of salad and rice.
  • 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.
  • Chobap (초밥) - This is the Korean version of Japanese Sushi with raw fish.
  • Naengmyeon (냉면 (N: 랭면 Raengmyŏn); 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Samgyupsal - Pork bacon cut from the belly, served in the same fashion as galbi. 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, soybeans, and chestnuts. Honey or another soft, sweet material is found inside.

Korean liquors, wines, and beer

While Soju, a vodka-like rice liquor with high potency, and often flavoured similarly, is the best known liquor; and Majuang wine (a blended wine of Korean grapes with French or American zipcode wines) the most popular, there are well over 100 different wines and liquors available.

Famous Korean beers (lager) include: Ob lager beer which adds rice to the grain base; and is also available as a dry beer. As well as micro-brewery beers from:

  • Praha (in Gangnam)
  • Platinum (in Agpujeon and Gangnam)
  • Jung ang micro brewery (in Ansan)
  • German Brau haus (in Ansan)
  • Three Dragons (in Sinchon)

A wine museum in Jeonju is one of the best places to learn of the natural ways in which these wines are made.

Soju was originally made from grains, and now from sweet potatoes. The grain made soju is considered superior as in the case of grain vs. potato vodka. Soju is a favourite of college students, and hard-drinking businessmen.

Yakju is a refined pure liquor fermented from rice, with the best known being cheongju.

Takju is a thick unrefined liquor from grains, with the best known being makgeolli.

Korean wines have a separate entry, and are generally divided into fruit wines, and herbal wines. Acacia, maesil plum, Chinese quince, cherry, pine fruits, and pomegranate are most popular; and ginseng based medicinal wines, insamju are often diluted and sold to the west as energy drinks equivalent to Redbull.

Alcohol is generally consumed in three ways: at meals, at banquets, and in western style bars.

Juansang - Alcohol drinks (ju) and accompanying side dishes (an) are set on the table. The dishes vary depending on the kinds of liquor or wine.

Kyojasang is a large table prepared for banquets. Alcohol beverages and a large variety of side dishes, rice cakes, confectionaries, and fruit punch are all placed on the table. After the liquor is finished, noodle soup is served.

Korean snacks

Accompanying the Korean tea ceremony there are often rice snacks served alongside the tea. The wide range and complexity of Korean snacks requires its own entry.

Contemporary innovations

Fusion food is also rapidly becoming popular in South Korea, fusing the cuisine of two or more ethnicities into new creations. There are many "Chinese fusion", "northern Italian fusion", "French", and "Indian fusion" restaurants all over South Korea.

Vegetarian restaurants, which were sidelined with the decline of buddhism and advance of missionary christianity, have had a small resurgence, and can usually be found in every city, and are to be noted in the Lonely Planet travel guides in the next edition.

While in Korea many years ago, Prince Charles frequented several, as have most visiting western rock stars and vegetarian actors to enjoy typically vegan Korean dishes, and de-alcoholized pine flavoured wines.

Traditional Korean table etiquette

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 only but use sujeo a combination of a long shallow spoon and oval-shaped chopsticks (similar to Thai chopsticks) 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 based on individual servings, 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."


The use of red dyes in Korean food is particularly worrisome, but there is little research done on which dyes are used, or the source of continued red colouring in foods. Particularly questions on dangerous red dyes in red pepper colouring are being raised with little effort to distinguish between artificial and natural colourings. MSG is in every commercial noodle product, a heritage of Japanese noodle making process. MSG is not indicated on foods or is defined as a "spice" with no indication of quantity, strength or that it may be dangerous to some people's health. As in Japan many ion replacement drinks used by sports figures include MSG without so indicating in addition to excess salt. Most cooking in Korea is done in aluminum cookware, as nearly all rice pots, and this has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

Some Korean dishes such as gaegogi (dog meat) and "bosintang" (a soup) have been controversial in recent years. Dog meat is taboo in most of the Western world. However, in some asian cultures, particularly China, it is considered a food which has particular healing properties at specific times; but is very rarely eaten by contemporary Koreans.

See also

External links


fr:Cuisine cor้enne ko:한식 (요리) nl:Koreaanse keuken ja:韓国料理


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