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Korean Cuisine Primer

Royal Cuisine, Korea
Korean Cuisine Primer

Most people know that kimchee is Korean, made of fermented cabbage and rich in probiotics. But what might come as a surprise is how delicious Korean cuisine is, and how it is taking off all over the world.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes, called banchan, that accompany a bowl of steam-cooked short-grain rice.  Kimchi is almost always served at every meal.

Ingredients and dishes vary by province. Many regional dishes have become national, and dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family. Meals are regulated by Korean cultural etiquette.
There are thought to be about 250 varieties of kimchee. Commonly used ingredients include sesame oil, fermented bean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes,  fermented red chili paste and of course, cabbage.

Koreans have a custom of eating medicinal foods. Called boyangshik, a wide variety of specialty foods are prepared and eaten for medicinal purposes, especially during the hottest 30-day period in the lunar calendar, called sambok. Hot foods are consumed to restore energy, as well as physical stamina lost in the summer heat.  Commonly eaten boyangshik include: ginseng, chicken, black goat, abalone, eel, carp, beef bone soups and pig kidneys.

Here are some Korean dishes that are widely enjoyed: 

Bibimbap (Mixed Rice)  a bowl of mixed ingredients including rice, seasoned and sautéed vegetables, mushrooms, beef, soy sauce, chili pepper paste, and a fried egg.

Bulgogi (Marinated Beef Barbecue) A juicy, savory dish of grilled marinated beef, bulgogi is one of the most popular Korean meat dishes throughout the world that has been ranked as the 23rd most delicious foods in the world according to CNN Travel’s reader’s poll. It is often grilled with garlic and sliced onions to add flavor to the meat. It is traditionally eaten with thick, red spicy paste and lettuce wrapped around the meat.

Japchae (Stir Fried Noodles) A traditional Korean noodle dish made of stir-fried sweet potato, thinly shredded vegetables, beef, and a hint of soy sauce and sugar.

Hoeddeok (Sweet Syrupy Pancakes)  Essentially a flat, circular dough that is filled with a mixture of cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, and small pieces of peanut and cooked on a griddle.

Ddukbokkie (Spicy Rice Cake) A common spicy Korean street food made of cylindrical rice cakes, triangular fish cake, vegetables, and sweet red chili sauce.

Samgyeopsal (Pork Strips) One of the most popular Korean dishes in South Korea, samgyeopsal is essentially a dish of grilled slices of pork belly meat that is not marinate or seasoned. It is commonly dipped in seasoning made of salt and pepper mixed in sesame seed oil, and then wrapped in lettuce along with grilled slices of garlic, grilled slices of onion, shredded green onions, and/or kimchi. It is one of the most common dishes found in any Korean restaurant throughout the world.

Pajeon (Vegetable Pancake) A pancake-like Korean dish made predominantly with green onions, batter of eggs, wheat flour, and rice flour. Seafood can be added.

Dining etiquette in Korea can be traced back to Confucian philosophies. The eldest male at the table was always served first. Women usually dined in a separate portion of the house after the men were served. The eldest men or women always ate before the younger family members. The meal was usually quiet, as conversation was discouraged during meals. In modern times, these rules have become lax, as families usually dine together now and use the time to converse. Of the remaining elements of this tradition is that the younger members of the table should not pick up their chopsticks or start eating before the elders of the table or guests and should not finish eating before the elders or guests finish eating.

In Korea, unlike in China, Japan and Vietnam, the rice or soup bowl is not lifted from the table when eating from it. Each diner is given a metal spoon along with the chopsticks. The spoon is used for eating rice and soup.



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