For foreign travelers who are not fond of spicy food, navigating Korean cuisine can seem like a challenge.
The use of chili peppers in Korean cuisine dates back to the 16th century, when they were introduced to Korea from China. Chili peppers quickly became a popular ingredient in Korean cooking, and today they are used in a wide variety of dishes. The level of spiciness in Korean food can vary greatly from dish to dish. Some dishes, such as kimchi and bibimbap, are only mildly spicy, while others, such as buldak-jjigae and dak-galbi, are very spicy.
In this blog post, we'll guide you through some of the best local dishes in South Korea for non-spicy eaters.
Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish consisting of rice, namul (seasoned vegetables), meat or tofu, and gochujang (chili paste), which you can adjust to your liking. The ingredients are placed in a bowl and mixed together before eating. Bibimbap is often served with a fried egg on top.
The word bibimbap literally means "mixed rice" in Korean. The dish is thought to have originated in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when it was often served as a peasant dish. Bibimbap became more popular in the 20th century, and it is now considered to be one of the most popular Korean dishes.
Gimbap is a Korean dish made from cooked rice, vegetables, fish, and meat rolled in gim—dried sheets of seaweed—and served in bite-sized slices.
The origins of gimbap are debated. Some sources suggest it originates from Japanese norimaki, introduced during Japanese colonial rule, while others argue it is a modernized version of bokssam from the Joseon era. The dish is often part of a packed meal, or dosirak, to be eaten at picnics and outdoor events, and can serve as a light lunch along with danmuji (yellow pickled radish) and kimchi. It is a popular take-out food in South Korea and abroad and is known as a convenient food because of its portability.
Japchae is a dish made with stir-fried glass noodles, vegetables, and meat. It is a popular dish for special occasions and holidays, and it is often served as a side dish or main course.
The main ingredients in japchae are glass noodles, vegetables, and meat. The glass noodles are made from sweet potato starch, and they have a chewy and slightly sweet flavor. The vegetables in japchae can vary, but they often include carrots, onions, mushrooms, and spinach. The meat in japchae is usually beef, but it can also be chicken, pork, or shrimp.
Japchae is typically seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. It can also be seasoned with other spices, such as ginger and black pepper. Japchae is often served with a side of kimchi or other pickled vegetables.
Haemul pajeon is a Korean savory pancake made with seafood, green onions, and eggs. It literally translates to Seafood Green Onion Pancake. It is one of the most popular Korean pancakes, and it is often served as an appetizer or snack.
The main ingredients in haemul pajeon are seafood, green onions, and eggs. The seafood can vary, but it often includes shrimp, squid, and clams. It is typically served with a dipping sauce made with soy sauce, sesame oil, and vinegar. It can also be served with kimchi or other pickled vegetables.
You’ll also find many different variations of jeon (전) such as:
• Buchu-jeon (부추전): Savory pancake made with Asian chives.
• Kimchi-jeon (김치전): Savory pancake made with kimchi, onion, and sometimes tuna.
• Gamja-jeon (두부전): A savory pancake made with grated potatoes.
Samgyetang, also known as ginseng chicken soup, is a traditional Korean soup made with a whole young chicken stuffed with sticky rice, ginseng, jujube, garlic, and ginger. The chicken is “closed” shut and cooked in a soup. The richness of the broth depends on the style of the cook, as is the added ingredients that may be added. Some Samgyetang broths are cooked for hours. This broth is added to the chicken cooking separately to create a very rich soup. Other broths are lighter and clear. Samgyetang is usually served with salt and pepper, which is put in a small separate dish to dip the meat. Some people like to add the seasoning directly into the soup. It is usually served with kkakdugi (radish kimchi) and some restaurants will offer regular kimchi as well.
Samgyetang is a popular dish in Korea, and is often eaten during the summer months. It is believed to have health benefits, such as boosting the immune system and helping to cool the body down.
Jjajangmyeon is a Korean-Chinese noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang, diced pork, and vegetables. It originated in Incheon, Korea in the late 19th century, when Chinese migrant workers started making zhajiangmian (noodles served with fried bean sauce). Modifications in Korea such as a darker and sweeter sauce differentiate the Korean dish from the Chinese version. Variants of the dish use seafood, or other meats.
Jajangmyeon uses thick, hand-made or machine-pulled noodles made from wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and water. The sauce, jajang, is made with fried chunjang with other ingredients, such as soy sauce (or oyster sauce), meat (usually pork, but sometimes beef), seafood (usually squid or shrimp), fragrants (scallions, ginger, and garlic), vegetables (usually onions, zucchini or Korean zucchini, or cabbage), stock, and starch slurry.
Jajangmyeon is a popular dish in Korea and is often served as a late-night snack or a quick meal. It is also a popular dish to eat on special occasions, such as birthdays or graduations.
Galbi-jjim is a dish made with beef short ribs that are braised in a sweet and savory sauce. It is a popular dish that is often served at special occasions, such as Korean New Year or Chuseok.
The beef short ribs are first marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil. They are then braised in a pot with the marinade, along with vegetables such as carrots, onions, and mushrooms. The dish is simmered for several hours until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened.
Galbi-jjim is typically served with rice and other Korean side dishes, such as kimchi and pajeon. It is a hearty and flavorful dish that is sure to please everyone at the table.
Korean mandu are dumplings that consist of a savory filling wrapped in thin wrappers. Mandu has been a part of Korean cuisine for centuries. The first recorded mention of mandu was in the Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), which was written in the 12th century. Mandu were originally made with a filling of pork, vegetables, and pine nuts.
There are many different types of mandu, but they are typically filled with a mixture of meat, vegetables, and sometimes seafood. Mandu can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. They can be served as an appetizer, main course, or soup.
Mandu is a popular food in Korea and is often served during special occasions, such as the Lunar New Year. They are also a popular food for street vendors. Mandu are considered to be a symbol of good luck and prosperity.
Tteokguk is a traditional Korean rice cake soup. It is made with thinly sliced garaetteok (white rice cakes), beef broth, and various garnishes such as thinly sliced beef, eggs, green onions, and laver (dried seaweed). Tteokguk is a popular dish during the Korean New Year, but it can be enjoyed year-round.
The white rice cakes in tteokguk are believed to symbolize a fresh start and a new beginning. The beef broth is said to represent strength and vitality. Together, these ingredients are thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.
Bossam is a Korean dish of thinly sliced pork belly that is wrapped in lettuce or cabbage leaves with various other accompaniments, such as kimchi, ssamjang, and garlic. It is often served as aanju (food that accompanies alcoholic beverages).
The word bossam literally means "wrapped" or "packaged." The pork belly is boiled or steamed until it is tender, and then it is sliced thinly. The lettuce or cabbage leaves are used to wrap the pork belly, and the other accompaniments are added to taste.
No matter what your level of heat tolerance, you are sure to find something to enjoy in Korean cuisine. If you have any dietary restrictions, don't hesitate to ask your server for recommendations or to make adjustments to the level of spiciness.
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