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The Culture of Food and Drink in South Korea
Home to 48 million people, South Korea takes great pride in its traditions and history. A great example is its delightful food culture that, despite having influenced by other cultures over time, has remained unique among the world's cuisines.

By Julie Park

Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

Meat lovers, rejoice! It

Side Dishes

It's All About Side Dishes

No Korean meal is complete without the accompaniment of side dishes called banchan (반찬). Banchan are different kinds of small dishes that are eaten with rice (which Koreans call


The heart and soul, and the mother of all Korean side dishes is kimchi (김치). It is eaten every single day by most Koreans. Kimchi is made with Napa cabbage (known as baechu (배추) which is fermented and marinated with seasonings. One of the reasons it became such an important food was because baechu can be harvested rather cheaply, and can be stored after marinating in clay pots year round. So over the course of history, Koreans turned this


A World of Side Dishes

Nam ool (나물):
Korean for herbs,na mool includes a variety of blanched, steamed, or boiled and seasoned vegetables. Typically, various types of vegetables are marinated with the following flavorings: soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, chilli peppers, garlic, green onions and sesame seeds. If you ever find yourself in Korea, try eating at a restaurant that serves Buddhist temple food. You can certainly count on being served dozens of different types of namool banchan. Despite similar seasoning ingredients, each namool banchan tastes deliciously different.

Kong-na-mool (콩나물) are marinated soybean sprouts. Historians have found written records that indicate that kong na mool was eaten as early as the Goryeo Dynasty (918 to 1392). This banchan has a pleasant, mild, and slight nutty taste.

Do-ra-jee-na-mool (도라지 나물)are bellflower roots. They can be eaten raw, but they might taste too bitter for first-timers. Once boiled and marinated, do ra jee na mool tastes even better.

Go-sa-ree-na-mool (고사리 나물)are fern shoots are perhaps not pleasant on the eyes due to their brownish colors, but they have a delightful taste. Go sa ree na mool is both chewy and crunchy.


Bok eum signifies stir-fried. Some of the most common bok eum side dishes are:

Oh-jing-euh-chae bok-eum (오징어채 볶음) is an Asian fusion side dish that is popular with young kids. The sweet and chewy banchan is made from shredded dried squid that is stir-fried and marinated in a sauce made with go chu jang (chili pepper paste), 물엿 (mool-yeut, Korean sweet syrup), and minced garlic.

O-daeng-bok-eum(오댕 볶음) are stir-fried fish cakes. O daeng bok eum can be mildly seasoned with soy sauce, corn syrup and sesame oil, or can be made spicier, by adding go chu jang (hot pepper paste).

Meyl chee bok eum (멸치) are baby dried anchovies. Seasoned with olive and sesame oil along with corn syrup or sugar, this savory side dish is paired well with Korean alcohol drinks such as soju.

Simmering (Jo-reem) is another method of making side dishes. Here are some of the popular jo reem banchan.

Gam-ja-jo-reem (감자 조림) are bite-size white potato side dish that can be made sweet or spicy. It is a very common side dish which is simmered in soy sauce, corn syrup or honey (and in go chu jang if it

Korea's sool is cool

Sool(술) which means alcohol in Korean actually comes from the combination of two words: su and bul.

So-ju (소주):
Think of soju as Korean version of vodka. Sool is colorless and smooth and clean in taste. In the past, soju was distilled from rice. However, in modern Korea, other ingredients such as potato or tapioca starches are also used. Typical alcohol content is about 20%. Common soju brands that Koreans drink are Chamisul, Chum-Churum and Ipsaeju. Since the late 90

The Intricate Table Setting:

Bapsang (밥상) is a traditional Korean table setting style that rose to its height of refinement during the Joseon dynasty. In this table setting, all the food was served at once, not in succeeding courses. Bapsang typically consists of rice, soup, side dishes and either a seafood or meat main dish. In addition, the table setting can be called by different names depending on the number of the side dishes served. For example, if three banchan are presented the bapsang is called sam-cheop (삽첩). For five banchan, it is oh-cheop (오첩). For seven banchan, you say cheel-cheop (칠첩). For nine banchan, it

Table Manners Matters:

As you may be aware, politeness and manners are taken very seriously in South Korea. These values are also applied when eating. So before taking one or several bites of the yummy-looking side dishes, impress your Korean friends and acquaintances with your grasp of Korean table manners.

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