Korean cuisine is full of rich and diverse culinary traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. It’s a tasty stew of ancient and modern culinary techniques, marrying fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and an assemblage of preparation methods. But at its peak, Korean cooking is ultimately characterized by the use of fermented kimchi and other ingredients such as soy sauce, bean paste, red chili paste, which gives Korean food their unique and distinctive taste. Korean cuisine seeks to combine the sweet, sour, salty, and spice in a blissful mouth kiss of harmony.
Korean cooking dates back to when the Korean people were predominantly farmers and fishermen. The traditional Korean diet was healthy—based on grains and vegetables, with meat being a luxury item, when afforded. Even today, in place of asking how someone is, a Korean friend might ask you, “Have you eaten?” Eating well = being well. For those new to it, Korean cuisine is a delicious way to explore new flavors and ingredients and digest the rich cultural heritage of Korea. Geonbae!
Here are the most popular Korean foods, the creme de la creme, the ones you’ll need to know about if you wish to master the basics of Korean food.
1. Korean Barbecue
Korean barbecue, or "gogigui" (고기구이) in Korean, is a popular and traditional way of cooking and consuming meat in Korea. It typically involves grilling marinated meat, such as beef, pork, or chicken, at the table on a gas or charcoal grill. The meat is usually cut into thin slices and served with a variety of side dishes, such as kimchi, pickled vegetables, and rice.
One of the unique aspects of Korean barbecue is the social and communal aspect of the meal. Diners typically cook and eat together, making it a popular choice for group gatherings and special occasions. The act of grilling and eating together is also believed to foster a sense of camaraderie and intimacy among the diners. There are also different types of BBQ in Korea, like galbi, bulgogi, and samgyeopsal, and also different marinades and sauces used.
It is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables, most commonly Napa cabbage. The vegetables are mixed with a spicy, flavorful seasoning made from chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce, and then left to ferment for several days or weeks. Kimchi on its own is not so much a dish as it is a side.
Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine, and is served as a side dish with every meal. It is also used as an ingredient in many Korean dishes, such as kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) and kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap). Kimchi is also rich in vitamins, minerals and probiotics, which are beneficial to the gut microbiome. It is also known for its health benefits such as helping with digestion and boosting the immune system. Kimchi is not only popular in Korea, but it is also gaining popularity worldwide as a healthy and flavorful alternative to traditional pickled vegetables.
Bibimbap, also known as mixed rice, is a traditional Korean dish that consists of a bowl of steamed white rice topped with a variety of sautéed and seasoned vegetables, such as spinach, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots, as well as a fried egg and thinly sliced meat (usually beef). The dish is typically served with a spicy chili pepper paste called gochujang.
Bibimbap is a popular and well-known Korean dish, both in Korea and internationally. It is also considered to be one of the most healthy dishes from Korea, as it is rich in vegetables and protein. Additionally, it is also often served in a hot stone bowl, which adds a unique texture and flavor to the dish. The rice that is at the bottom of the bowl, mixed with the ingredients and the chili paste, creates a crispy layer called nurungji, which is kind of a delicacy in itself. There are also different types of bibimbap, like dolsot bibimbap which is served in a hot stone bowl and hwae bibimbap which uses raw fish as an ingredient. It’s always healthy and filling.
Tteokbokki is a popular Korean street food dish made of soft rice cakes (tteok) in a spicy chili sauce. The dish is often made with fish cakes, boiled eggs, and scallions and it is known for its spicy and sweet taste. It is a popular dish among all ages and it can be found in street vendors, food carts and also in Korean restaurants. For Koreans, it's a go-to snack and when you have the itch, it must be scratched.
Tteokbokki has a long history in Korean cuisine and it has been around for centuries. Originally, it was considered a royal dish and it was made with high-quality ingredients, but now it is a common street food and it can be found in many places. The dish has also evolved and there are many different variations of it. Some variations include adding cheese, seafood, or dumplings to the dish. The dish is also often served as a snack or as a side dish in Korean cuisine. It's also a dish that is easy to make and can be enjoyed by many people.
Japchae is a traditional Korean dish made of sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon) stir-fried with a variety of vegetables, such as spinach, mushrooms, and bell peppers, and meat, usually beef. The dish is seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, giving it a sweet and savory flavor. It is a popular dish in Korean cuisine and it is commonly served as a side dish or as a main dish.
The dish is said to have originated during the Joseon Dynasty, and it's said to have been a favorite of King Gojong. Japchae is a dish that is enjoyed by many people, not only in Korea but also abroad. It is a dish that is often served on special occasions and holidays such as the Korean New Year and Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving. Japchae is also considered to be a healthy dish, as it is made with a variety of vegetables and it's also a great source of protein from the meat. The dish is also known for its colorful presentation and its balance of flavors, textures and colors.
Samgyetang is a popular Korean dish that consists of a whole young chicken that is stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng, jujube, and garlic, and then simmered in a broth made from chicken stock, ginseng, and other herbs. The dish is typically served in a hot clay pot, and it is often accompanied by a bowl of rice and a side of kimchi.
Samgyetang is considered to be a nutritious and healthy dish in Korean cuisine, as it is rich in protein and vitamins, and it is said to have medicinal properties. It is believed to help boost energy levels, improve the immune system, and aid in digestion. It is commonly eaten during the summer months as it is believed to help cool down the body and provide energy. The dish is enjoyed by all ages and is often served in restaurants and consumed at home. It is also a popular dish during the hot summer days, and it is often considered to be a comfort food, as it is warm and hearty.
7. Mandu (Korean dumplings)
Mandu, also known as dumplings, are a traditional Korean dish that consists of a meat or vegetable filling wrapped in a thin dough made of flour, water, and salt. The most common fillings are minced meat (usually beef or pork) and vegetables such as cabbage, chives and mushrooms. The dumplings can be steamed, boiled, fried or even grilled. They are often served as a side dish or as an appetizer, but can also be served in a soup.
Mandu has a long history in Korean cuisine, but the tradition is believed to have originated in China. The dish has become a staple in Korean cuisine, and it is enjoyed by people of all ages. There are different variations of mandu, such as jjin mandu (steamed dumplings), mul mandu (water dumplings), and gun mandu (pan-fried dumplings). Some variations include adding a spicy seasoning to the filling, adding different types of meat or seafood, and using different types of dough. Mandu is not only a delicious dish but also a convenient one, as it can be prepared in advance, cooked and then frozen and enjoyed whenever you want.
8. Bossam (Wrapped Pork)
Bossam is a traditional Korean dish that consists of steamed or boiled pork belly that is wrapped in a variety of fresh vegetables such as lettuce, radish, and perilla leaves. The pork belly is seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices before cooking, giving it a flavorful and savory taste. The dish is typically served with a side of spicy mustard and soybean paste dip, and it is often accompanied by a bowl of rice.
Bossam has a long history in Korean cuisine and it is believed to have originated in the Gyeongsang region in the southeastern part of the country. The dish is a popular one in Korean cuisine and it is often served as a main dish or shared as a communal meal among friends and family. Bossam is considered a hearty dish and it is typically eaten during the colder months, as it is believed to help warm the body. The dish is also a popular option for special occasions and holidays, as it is often considered a luxurious dish due to the use of pork belly.
9. Jjajangmyeon (Noodles in black bean sauce)
Jjajangmyeon is a popular Korean-Chinese dish that consists of chewy wheat noodles topped with a thick, dark sauce made from fermented black bean paste, diced pork and vegetables such as onions, cabbage and zucchini. The dish is often garnished with sesame seeds and scallions. It is a hearty and savory dish that is enjoyed by many people in Korea.
Jjajangmyeon is believed to have originated in China and was introduced to Korea by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century. It quickly became popular among the working-class population and it is now considered a staple dish in Korean-Chinese cuisine. The dish is also considered a comfort food and it is often enjoyed as a quick and easy meal. It is also commonly consumed on special occasions, particularly on Black Day. This dish is often enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some pickled vegetables on the side.
Re: Black Day
Black Day, celebrated on April 14th, is a day when single people in South Korea come together to express their sorrows and frustrations about being single. It is a day for people who didn't receive any chocolates, flowers or any gifts on Valentine's Day and White Day (celebrated one month after Valentine's Day). On this day, people usually wear black clothes and eat jajangmyeon (a popular Korean-Chinese dish made of wheat noodles in black bean sauce) as a symbol of their singlehood.
It is a day when single people gather with friends and eat jajangmyeon together. Some people also use this day to express their feelings of loneliness and to reflect on their relationship status. Some people also express their feelings through social media using hashtags such as #BlackDay. Black Day is not an official holiday, but it has become a popular cultural event in recent years, it is a way for single people to come together and to have fun while being single.
10. Soondae (Blood sausage)
Soondae is a traditional Korean blood sausage made from pig's blood, rice, and various vegetables, such as green onions and garlic. The ingredients are mixed together and then stuffed into a natural pig's intestine, then boiled or steamed. The dish is commonly served sliced and often accompanied with a dipping sauce, made of soy sauce and vinegar or chili pepper paste.
Soondae has a long history in Korean cuisine, and it is considered a traditional street food, as well as a popular dish in Korean-Chinese cuisine. It is often consumed as a snack or as a side dish, but it can also be used as an ingredient in other dishes. It is considered a comfort food, and it is often enjoyed with a cold beer, especially during the colder months. The dish is often enjoyed by all ages, but some may find it an acquired taste due to the use of pig's blood. It is also considered a delicacy and it is often enjoyed in small quantities.
Kimbap, also known as gimbap or Korean sushi, is a traditional Korean dish made of steamed white rice and various fillings, rolled in seaweed. It is a popular lunchtime or picnic food in South Korea and can be found at many street vendors and convenience stores. The fillings for kimbap can vary greatly and can include a combination of ingredients such as carrots, egg, spinach, beef, imitation crab meat, and pickled radish. It is often served with a side of soy sauce or mustard for dipping.
Kimbap is a really popular dish in Korea and is considered a healthy and convenient food and it is sometimes referred to as "Korean sushi" due to the uncanny resemblance to Japanese sushi rolls. That said, sushi typically contains raw fish, while it doesn't. It is a popular dish for take-out and for picnics because it is easy to transport and can be eaten with one hand—it’s basically the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of Korea. It is also a popular dish for people who are in a rush and want to eat something quickly.
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