Korean began primarily as an
agricultural nation, and the food clearly reflects this development.
Korean food is full of grains and beans, and a great deal of importance
is placed on fresh vegetables. Rice is included in every meal, and there
is almost always a bowl of soup or stew to savor. Korean weather
provides four definite seasons each year, and as a result Koreans
developed ways to ferment and preserve many foods that would otherwise
be unavailable in the winter months. The most well known product of this
practice is kimchi, a dish many Koreans would be hard-pressed to do
The preparation of Korean food may seem a little unusual, but it's
designed to provide healthy meals with plenty of taste. Koreans use a
lot of naturally preserved foods, which contribute bolder flavors to
their dishes year round. Cooking oil is also common, but it's used
sparingly, leading to dishes that are lightly pan-fried or stir-fried
instead of deep-fried. Steaming and boiling are the most common ways to
cook vegetables, and many soups and stews are left to simmer for long
periods of time to intensify the flavor of the ingredients. But it
wouldn't be a Korean-style meal without rice, and you won't find a
single Korean restaurant that doesn't serve it alongside every dish.
The typical Korean meal began as a highly structured, ritualistic
occasion, but has in more recent times become more relaxed and informal.
Long ago, very specific rules were set out for proper table etiquette,
which included a ban on picking up any bowl, leaving before everyone was
finished, and even talking! Nowadays conversation is always welcome, and
you can leave if you must, but the bowls still stay on the table. The
arrangement of the meal has also been carried on from ancient times. The
meal is served all at once, rather than in courses; the rice bowl is
always on the left, the soup bowl on the right, and the side and main
dishes are placed in the center.
A Korean meal generally includes rice, soup, perhaps a stew, and several
side dishes, particularly the mainstay kimchi. The latter is made from
fermented vegetables with garlic, ginger and often (but not always)
plenty of chili. There are said to be some 160 varieties of this popular
side dish, the most common made from cabbage, radish or cucumber. In
Seoul, you can visit a museum devoted entirely to kimchi.
Koreans are big meat-eaters and their barbecues are rightly renowned.
You will often find yourself grilling meat at your own table, a warming
experience in the winter months. Galbi (beef or pork ribs) are common as
is bulgogi, beef marinated in garlic, chili, sesame oil and soy sauce.
For something lighter, try pancakes stuffed with various fillings such
as shredded pork and beansprouts (pindaedokk) or green onion (pajon).
Japanese food, especially sushi and sashimi, is also widespread
In Korea, a "hamjipark" is a large wooden plate on which shared meals
are mixed. Long ago, peasants would carry this plate to the fields so
that all of the workers could eat together.
What is Korean Kimchi 101