What Is Korean Food, Anyway?

I was talking to my mom last week, and she asked, ‘What is the basic Korean food, anyway? What are they known for?’ Korean SoupThe answer is not as neat as saying ‘pasta and pizza’ for Italy, though I would say that:

  1. There are a lot of soups and stews
  2. There are many foods made of rice
  3. Many foods include meats
  4. There is more street food than in the US

More specifically, the dishes to try in Korea – and the ones to think of when someone says ‘Korean food’ are:

  • BanchanKorean KimcheeThis is not a specific dish, but a category: like saying ‘tapas.’ However, while tapas can be just about anything served in a small portion, these dishes tend toward specific foods: for example, cabbage in spices (kimchee) and pickled radish (chikin mu) in spices are almost always provided. Moreover, they are almost always brought to the table, no matter what else you order, and you can get free ‘refills’ throughout the meal.
  • Gingseng chicken soup (samgyetang):  This looks like a cloudy chicken noodle soup, except with chicken legs instead of small chunks, and with a piece of ginseng thrown in. Ginseng is reputed to treat any ailment under the sun, so they tout this as a cure for hangovers and Korean Soft Tofucolds – and for the disease of life, since they also eat it on any old day.
  • Soft tofu stew (sundubu jjigae): Calling this a stew is ambitious, but it is a red soup with very soft pieces of tofu and vegetables floating around in it. It’s a tiny bit like a minestrone in which all of the stuff inside is a little mushy.
  • Spicy chicken stew (dakdoritang): Korean Chicken StewThis is a stew-like dish of spicy chicken pieces, with various vegetables. It’s usually served on a mini burner on the table, to keep it warm and to do the final cooking on the veggies.
  • Korean BBQ: Korean BBQ pretty much just means that there is a mini grill on the table, and you cook your own meat and veggies on it. The most common raw meats to grill are bulgogi (grilled beef) and galbi (short rib); both are marinated overnight by the restaurant before they reach your table. They are also sometimes used in rice dishes, already cooked for you, but the cook-it-yourself style is more common.
  • Korean Blood SausageBlood sausage (soondae): This looks like a large, black sausage – though the inside seems to be just glass noodles in a pig intestine casing.
  • Rice cake sticks in sauce (tteokbokki): These look like mini wieners in a tomato sauce, but they’re actually made of rice – not meat. It’s a gummy sort of rice ‘cake’ in a cylindrical shape. Sometimes, they even sell them in a paper cone, like we would see french fries. Rice cakes of all shapes and sizes are quite popular: there is even a museum dedicated to them!Korean Mung Bean Pancake
  • Mung bean fried pancake (bindaetteok): To make this, they grind something that looks like lentils, and then deep fry that ‘dough’ into the shape of a large pancake. It can be served table-side (as shown in photo), but is more likely to be a street food.
  • Leek pancake (pajeon): This looks like a large pancake, but there are pieces of scallion/leek inside – often pretty large ones. It also often has shrimp or other seafoods baked into the pancake as well, so it ends up seeming more like a shrimp-and-green onion omelette.
  • Fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste (bungeoppang): This is the size and shape of a kids plastic fish toy, but it’s made of dough, Korean Kimbapand it’s filled with a paste made of red beans. The dough isn’t terribly thick, and the paste tastes a bit like apple butter, with a hint of bean.
  • Cooked rice rolled in seaweed, with fillings (kimbap): These look like sushi rolls – except without the soy sauce to dip them in. The inside tends to include pickled vegetables and tempura-battered something, though this is not always the case.
  • Rice with veggies, sauces, egg (bibimbap): Korean BibimbapYou could think of this as Chinese fried rice, but that would be like saying that fancy gelato is like shaved ice. Yes, they’re both rice with stuff in them, but this version is fresh, cooking in its hot pot as you eat it, and it has significantly more non-fried mix-ins.
  • Fried chicken: Restaurants called hofs serve fried chicken and beer, not unlike a KFC with a liquor license. However, the vibe is more like a family restaurant or a pub (without a standing bar), not a fast food place. The fried chicken comes in spicy and non-spicy varieties, and it is more likely to have dark meat or other less fleshy chicken parts, just covered with more breading.Korean Kimchee Dumplings
  • Kimchee dumplings (mandu): These dumplings are filled with cabbage, ground meat, garlic, onion, tofu, and potentially glass noodles. Most of the flavors other than the cabbage are difficult to discern: they’re pretty harmonious and non-pungent.
  • Shaved ice with condensed milk, red beans, and fruit (patbingsu): This is sold as a big shaved ice, but to me, it has the texture and appearance of cold coconut flakes and tastes more like whipped cream (which is to say, not much of anything, except sweet). It often comes with fruit or red beans on the top or sides, with the more exotic/seasonal varieties coming in flavors like tangerine.

Follow us!

Or follow via RSS.

One thought on “What Is Korean Food, Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Memorable Moments in Seoul - Novelty Buffs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *