Korean Food, Cooking & Cuisine
Healthy and nutritious, Korean food and cuisine is winning a growing international reputation. Korean restaurants are now a common sight on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, London and Tokyo as the popularity of Korean food spreads worldwide. Bimbap and gimbap may one day be as common as sushi and sashimi among discerning international diners.
Conversely in Korea itself, many people nowadays eat more Western food, with pizza becoming as popular as kimchi among the younger generation.
We take you on a culinary guide of some of the most popular and common Korean dishes.
Kimchi is Korea's best-known food. It's a side dish of fermented vegetables, usually spicy, and is an essential part of any Korean meal.
During the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, thousands of foreigners were introduced to it for the first time. Despite a reputation for being spicy, most people usually develop a taste for it, and many foreign visitors to Korea find themselves missing it after returning to their home country.
Early kimchi dishes were relatively mild, spiced with fermented anchovies, ginger, garlic, and green onions. Koreans still use these ingredients today, but the spice most closely associated with modern kimchi is red pepper powder, though even today some recipes call for little or no red pepper.
Korea boasts more than two hundred types of kimchi, all rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins created by the lactic acid fermentation of cabbage, radish, and other vegetables and seafood.
Bibimbap (Mixed Vegetables on Rice) is a simple but popular dish, bibimbap is a bowl of hot rice served with a variety of vegetables (cooked and raw) arranged on top. Vegetables can be seasonal, with toraji, bellflower roots, gosari, bracken, bean sprouts, and spinach often served.
Other ingredients can include chestnuts, jujubes, ginseng, and a small amount of seafood or meat. An egg may be also served on the top. Most restaurants prepare the dish with a big scoop of gochujang and red pepper paste placed with the vegetables. (Ask for it to be placed on the side if you do not like the taste much.)
This dish comes in two ways: a large bowl with rice on the bottom and the other ingredients placed on top, or just the ingredients in the bowl and a separate bowl of rice. Mix all the ingredients together well, then use your spoon to eat. A bowl of light soup is also served with bibimbap.
Gimbap (Rice Wrapped in Seaweed)
Gimbap (or Kimbap) is Korea's most popular and nutritious convenience meal. You can find it sold everywhere: picnics, schoolchildren's lunch boxes, street vendors, and convenience stores.
A layer of cooked rice is spread over a square piece of gim (dried laver/seaweed). Various ingredients (including ham, sausage, spinach, cucumber, crab meat, carrots, and radishes) are thinly sliced and placed on top. The laver is rolled into a tube, sliced into pieces, and seasoned with sesame seeds. The idea was borrowed from the Japanese during the colonial period, but Korean gimbap is slightly different from Japanese makizushi. (roll sushi)
How to eat gimbap: Each roll is sliced into bite-sized pieces. Eat one at a time with chopsticks or a toothpick.
Pulgogi (Barbecued Beef)
Pulgogi is one of Korea's most famous grilled dishes. It is made from sirloin or another prime cut of beef, cut into thin strips. For an outside barbecue, the meat is marinated for at least four hours to enhance the flavor and to tenderize it in a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce, black pepper, garlic, sugar, onions, ginger, and Korean wine.
The marinated beef is cooked on a metal dish over the burner. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions, and chopped green peppers are often grilled at the same time.
To eat, select a piece of cooked beef, and wrap it in lettuce with rice, kimchi, shredded vegetables, or a number of other garnishes on the table. You can also add doenjang (bean paste) for flavor. Dwaeji pulgogi is a pork version of this dish.
Saengseon-gui (Grilled Fish)
The Korean way of grilling seafood is to use the entire fish (including the head!) with simple seasonings such as salt, soy sauce, or hot pepper sauce.
Popular choices of fish for this style of cooking include snapper, herring, mackerel, sole, and flounder. Grilled squid (ojingeo-gui) is also very popular.
Taehap-gui (grilled clams) are opened and seasoned with sesame seeds and salt and served garnished with finely chopped scallions, sesame seeds, and black pepper.
Korean Food Glossary
galbi - grilled rib meat; beef galbi is so-galbi; pork galbi is dwaeji-galbi
samgyepsal - grilled strips of pork belly
hanjeongsik - Korean banquet centered on rice and stew - jjigae
banchan - side dishes
hoddeok - type of Korean pancake sold at street stalls
mandu - dumplings
gochujang - spicy red pepper sauce
sundubu - tofu
doen-jang - soy-bean paste
ramyeon - noodles
ya chae twiggim - deep-fried vegetables, seafood and other ingredients
ddeokbokki - stir-fried rice cake snack
nok-cha - green tea
patbingsu - dessert made with shaved ice