Cuisine of Korea

Korean cuisine, made for common people, 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 (pickled vegetables). Three dishes, five dishes, and up to twelve side-dish meals are served depending upon the circumstances. Korean food derives its pungent flavors from various combinations of sesame oil, soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger and, most importantly, chili pepper, which gives it its distinctive spiciness.

In constrast, Traditional Korean "Royal" cuisines, once only enjoyed by Royal Court Family Members and the "Yang-Ban" or upper-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.

Some of these traditional "royal" cusines, 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.

Table of contents
1 Traditional Non-Royal Korean table settings
2 Traditional Korean table manners
3 Traditional Korean foods & dishes
4 Controversies
5 See also
6 External Links

Traditional Non-Royal Korean table settings

Koreans traditionally ate (and a large number still do eat) seated on cushions at low tables. The presentation of a Korean meal is almost as important as the taste. A typical table setting consists of:

Traditional Korean table manners

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, instead using a spoon 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), chewing with an open mouth, talking with food in one's mouth, making audible eating noises, sticking chopsticks straight up in a dish, 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 center of the table. Korean food custom is not traditionally individualistic, 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."

Traditional Korean foods & dishes

Korean food preparation is slightly different from that found in 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 would make a large amount of kimchi to last for the entire winter. Some people thus believe that the stong taste of Korean food originates from the its reliance on preservation techniques.

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

  • Kimchi or gimchi (김치 in Hangeul) - vegetables (usually cabbage or white radish) Commonly Fermented in a brine of anchovies, ginger, garlic, green onion and chili pepper. There are infinite varieties (at least as many as there are households), which are served as side dishes.
  • 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."
  • 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, teolseot bibimbap, is served in a heated stone bowl, in which a raw egg is cooked against the sides of the bowl.
  • Kalbi or galbi (갈비) - ribs, either pork or beef, cooked on a portable gas burner in the centre of the table, and accompanied by rice and various side dishes
  • Kimbap or gimbap (김밥) (literally seeweed rice) - 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 Japanese sushi rolls.
  • Naengmyeon (냉면;冷麵) (literally cold noodles) - this summer dish consists of several varieties of thin, hand-made 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.
  • Gochujang (고추장) (hot chili pepper paste) is an indispensable condiment.
  • Songpyeon (송편) - cake served in Mid-Autumn Festival decorated with sesames, soy beans, and chestnuts.

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

Controversies

The traditional Korean dish gaegogi, literally "dog meat", has been controversial in recent years. See the entry Gaegogi for more information.

See also

External Links


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