Korean cuisine represents a rich and diverse culinary tradition that has been stewing for centuries—it’s an amalgamation of cultural influences, geography, and history. From the fiery flavors of the Korean barbecue to the comforting warmth of a hot stone bowl of bibimbap, Korean food is a relentless feast for the senses.
In this introduction, we will explore the key ingredients, preparation methods, and traditional dishes that make up the backbone of Korean cuisine. Whether you're a seasoned Korean foodie or a newcomer to Korean cooking, this guide will give you a taste of what to expect and hopefully inspire you to try something new.
One of the defining characteristics of Korean cuisine is its use of a wide variety of ingredients. Some of the most commonly used ingredients include:
Rice: Rice is the staple grain of Korean cuisine and is used in a variety of dishes. It is often served as a side dish to accompany meat or vegetable dishes, and is also used as a main ingredient in many traditional dishes.
Kimchi: Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable dish that is made from cabbage, radishes, or cucumbers, and is often flavored with chili peppers, garlic, and ginger.
Gochujang: Gochujang is a fermented chili paste that is used as a seasoning in many Korean dishes. It’s the secret sauce that gives Korean food a distinctive red color. You can mix it with your bibimbap or add it to your jjigae to give it a little kick.
Soy sauce: Soy sauce is used to season tons of Korean dishes, including soups and stews.
Sesame oil: Sesame oil is also used to season and finish many Korean dishes, including bibimbap and kimchi stew.
Garlic: Garlic is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine and is used to add flavor to many dishes. It’s great—you can add it to everything or put it on the grill and eat it like candy. Fair warning, consuming garlic in large quantities will in fact make you smell like garlic. And if you ride the Seoul Metro, you know, but when in Rome.
Green onions: Green onions are commonly used as a garnish or to add flavor to many Korean dishes.
Korean cuisine features a variety of preparation methods, including grilling, stir-frying, and stewing. Some of the most popular preparation methods include:
Grilling: Korean barbecue, or gogi gui, is a popular way to prepare the most common meats in Korea like beef, pork, and chicken. The meat is typically marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and spices and then grilled over an open flame.
Stir-frying: Stir-frying is a popular way to prepare vegetables and meats, and is often used to make dishes such as japchae and bibimbap.
Stewing: Stewing is a popular way to prepare soups and stews in Korean cuisine. Some popular stews include kimchi stew and doenjang jjigae, which is a stew made with fermented soybean paste.
Some of the most popular traditional dishes in Korean cuisine include:
Bibimbap: Bibimbap is a rice dish that is topped with a variety of vegetables, meat, and an egg. It is often served with a spicy chili paste called gochujang.
Japchae: Japchae is a stir-fried dish made with sweet potato noodles, vegetables, and meat. It is often seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Kimchi stew: Kimchi stew, or "kimchi jjigae," is a spicy stew made with kimchi, meat, and tofu.
Korean barbecue: Korean barbecue, or gogi-gui, is a popular way to prepare meats such as beef, pork, and chicken. The meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and spices and then grilled over an open flame.
Jjigae: Doenjang Jjigae, fermented bean paste
Korean cuisine is a rich and diverse culinary tradition that continues to evolve today. It combines a perfect blend of flavors, textures and nutritional values, making it an enjoyable and satisfying experience for people who are new to it.