A Simplified Introduction to Korean Food 

A Simplified Introduction to Korean Food 


Every culture has its own traditions when it comes to its favored cuisines. Korea is known for its flavorful and delicious food, such as Korean BBQ. However, barbecue isn’t the only famous go-to food in South Korea. There are various other traditional meals and drinks that are a popular option for any day of the week. If you are not too familiar with traditional Korean meals, here is a simple introduction to Korean food. 


1. Flavor 

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First and foremost, Korean food is known for having a lot of flavor. Most of the common ingredients found in Korean dishes are sesame oil, garlic, chili pepper paste (gochujang), and soy sauce. These ingredients assist in bringing a pop of flavor in various kinds of meals in Korea, such as kimchi stew, fried rice, or even fried chicken. 


2. Korean BBQ 

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There is a lot more to Korean BBQ than just the meat. The sides, or also known as ‘banchan,’ have a big role when it comes to having a Korean BBQ feast. The sides include lettuce to wrap the meat in, steamed egg or ‘gyeran-jjim, kimchi or soy bean stew, and of course, kimchi. 

The kimchi can be cooked on the grill, and having the kimchi heated and slightly grilled enhances the flavor. 

When it comes to traditional American BBQ, hamburgers and ribs come to mind. But in Korea, pork belly, or samgyeopsal, is one of the most popular choices of meat for BBQ. The pork belly is cut into thin, long strips that are laid out onto the grill. After the meat is on the grill for a little bit of time, scissors are used to cut the meat into bite sized pieces. Dip the meat into a bit of salt and some sauce, and it’s like taking a bite of heavenly flavor. 


3. Stew 

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The stews in Korea are not the typical chicken noodle style soup. Also known as ‘jjigae,’ Korean stews have a mixture of flavor and spice. Kimchi jjigae is one of the most popular stews in Korea. Simply made with kimchi, pork or beef, and water to boil with a splash of gochujang, the stew is ready to eat. Kimchi jjigae is paired perfectly with a bowl of rice. Another popular jjigae is tofu stew which is a little similar to kimchi jjigae, but is made with soft tofu, vegetables and of course some gochujang to add that familiar spice. Budae jjigae is an all time favorite and is a little more hearty than the previous stews. Budae jjigae has meats like sausage, ham, spam, and hot dogs. With a little bit of spice, ramen and cheese can also be added. Budae jjigae came into existence during the time of the Korean War when American troops were stationed in Korea. Whether you are craving a simple, light stew, or something heavier, there are a number of stews to choose from. 


4. Triangle Kimbap/Kimbap

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The triangle kimbap is a go-to favorite and can easily be found in any of the convenience store chains such as GS25 and CU. Triangle kimbap is a small snack that is mainly rice formed into the shape of a triangle. Inside the rice, there is usually tuna, chicken, bulgogi, or spam. These snacks are cheaply priced, but a great, filling lunch or small bite. On the same spectrum, there is also kimbap. 

Kimbap is also a famous dish that consists of rice, vegetables, meats or fish all rolled up in seaweed. The roll is then cut up into bite sized pieces. Kimbap is an affordable and filling snack that can be found in restaurants and convenience stores throughout Korea. 


5. Chicken and Beer 

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Chicken and beer, or also known as ‘chimaek,’ is a popular and well-known pairing in South Korea. Korean fried chicken stands out for having crispy and crunchy skin that carries a lot of flavor. The chicken pairs well with an ice, cold beer. Many Koreans like to find a relaxing spot along the Han River and indulge in the delectable pairing. The meal is so popular that when walking to the Han River, there are numerous people handing out flyers for nearby fried chicken restaurants. 

6. Soju 

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While soju isn’t exactly a food item, it is Korea’s most famous alcoholic beverage. Soju can be paired with all kinds of traditional Korean food like barbeque, chicken, or even some spicy soups. Soju can be consumed as shots or if the drink is too strong, can actually be mixed in beer. When combining soju and beer (maekju), it is called ‘somaek.’ Soju has original flavors, like chamisul or ‘fresh.’ However, if those are too strong, soju comes in some fruity flavors, too, like green apple or grapefruit. Soju can be bought at any grocery store or local convenience store for a cheap price. Soju can be purchased abroad, also, but the price will definitely jump a bit higher. 

7. Spicy Rice Cake (떡볶이) and Fish Cake 

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One of the staple, traditional foods in Korea is street food. Street food is part of Korean culture, and both locals and tourists can enjoy the tasty items on a daily basis. Some street food can be on the sweet side, while some are on the savory side. Two of the popular street food choices are spicy rice cake (tteokbokki) and fish cake. Tteokbokki are pieces of rice cake that are softened to chewy perfection. The rice cake comes with a spicy, reddish sauce that adds a punch of unique flavor to the dish. Fish cake is another well-known street food item. Korean fish cake is made of processed seafood that is placed on a wooden skewer and cooked in a broth. Fish cake doesn’t have an overwhelming fishy taste, which makes it a nice little snack. 


8. Jeon and Makgeolli 

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Jeon and makgeolli are a fantastic pairing when it comes to Korean food. Jeon is also called Korean pancake. There are a few different kinds of jeon, like kimchi jeon, potato jeon, or seafood jeon. The pancake is fried in oil, and mainly consists of only a few, simple ingredients like flour. Due to the fact that the jeon is fried in oil, the dish has a fried, crispy texture. There is usually a soy inspired dipping sauce that the jeon can be dipped in. Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine that goes very well with jeon. Korean rice wine has a sweet and bitter taste, while the appearance is milky or cloudy. There are a few different flavors of makgeolli, like chestnut or even banana. On rainy days in Korea, jeon and makgeolli are the go to pairings. 


9. Banchan (Sides) 

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Banchan is also another word for sides. Most restaurants in Korea will give customers complimentary sides or ‘banchan’ with their meals. Some of the basic banchan sides are kimchi, bean sprouts, cucumber kimchi, and pickled radish. Banchan is great to nibble on while waiting for food and also along with meals. 

Korea is filled with traditional foods and unique flavors, and with this simplified introduction, it will be easy to dive in and try all the delicious eats that Korea has to offer.