WHY DO KOREAN RESTAURANTS GIVE YOU FREE SIDE DISHES?
“Hm, I don’t think I ordered these…” If you take someone to a Korean restaurant for the first time, this is the type of response you would get. The assortment of colorful small side dishes are called banchan 반찬, and they are served along with the basic Korean table set-up which includes rice, soup, kimchi, and jang (sauce) to complement the main dishes like galbi 갈비 and bulgogi 불고기 and a stew.
They are complimentary (yay!) and are presented in the middle so they can be shared. As for the origin, it’s believed to have received a Buddhist influence (as far back as the Three Kingdom Era, 57 BC) which strictly encouraged vegetarianism, giving birth to the vegetable side dishes to complement rice and soup. Depending on the number of banchan offered, the table setting with side dishes, or bansang 반상, is called 3 (sam) cheop 첩, 5 (oh) cheop, 7 (chil) cheop, 9 (gu) cheop, 12 (shibi) cheop bansang. According to history, Korean kings had 5 meals a day, 2 of which were the 12 (shibi) cheop bansang, which had a special name called surasang 수라상, meaning “royal meal”. If you want to taste the essence of Korean banchan culture and feel like a Korean king, you should visit a Hanjeongsik 한정식 (Korean Table d’hôte) restaurant!
RELATED POST: KIMCHI IS NOT A MEAL
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Bibimbap 비빔밥
The term “bibim” means mixing rice (burned rice at the bottom of the dish and cooked rice), while the “bap” noun refers to rice. Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul 나물 (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) or kimchi 김치(traditional fermented vegetables) and gochujang 고추장 (chili pepper paste), soy sauce, or doenjang (a fermented soybean paste). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions. The hot dish is stirred together thoroughly just before eating. In South Korea, Jeonju, Jinju, and Tongyeong are especially famous for their versions of bibimbap. In 2011, the dish was listed at number 40 on the World’s 50 most delicious foods readers’ poll compiled by CNN Travel. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap)
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Samgyetang 삼계탕
Also knwon as ginseng chicken soup, consists primarily of a whole young chicken (poussin) – filled with garlic, rice, jujube, and ginseng. Samgye-tang is a Korean traditional soup for body health. Samgyetang is a warm soup for hot summer days. It is especially popular to eat this chicken soup on sambok (삼복) days, which are three distinct days of the lunar calendar—Chobok (초복), Jungbok (중복), and Malbok (말복)—commonly among the hottest and most sultry summer days in Korea. Eating samgyetang on these days is believed to promote health. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samgye-tang)
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Naengmyeon 냉면
It’s a Korean noodle dish of long and thin handmade noodles made from the flour and starch of various ingredients, including buckwheat, memil 메밀, potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrowroot starch (darker color and chewier than buckwheat noodles), and kudzu chik 칡). Buckwheat predominates (despite the name, it is not a wheat but rather is more closely related to sorrel). Other varieties of naengmyeon are made from ingredients such as seaweed and green tea. In modern times, the mul naengmyeon 물 냉면 variant is commonly associated with and popularly consumed during the summer, however, it was historically a dish enjoyed during winter. According to the 19th-century documents of Dongguksesigi 동국세시기, 東國歲時記, naengmyeon has been made since the Joseon Dynasty. Originally a delicacy in northern Korea, especially in the cities of Pyongyang 평양 and Hamhung 함흥 in North Korea, naengmyeon became widely popular throughout Korea after the Korean War.
RELATED : Why is Korea divided?
Naengmyeon is served in a large brass or stainless-steel bowl with a tangy iced broth, julienned cucumbers, slices of Korean pear, thin, wide strips of lightly pickled radish, and either a boiled egg or slices of cold boiled beef or both. Spicy mustard sauce (or mustard oil) and vinegar are often added before consumption. Traditionally, the long noodles would be eaten without cutting, as they symbolized longevity of life and good health, but servers at restaurants usually ask if the noodles should be cut prior to eating, and use scissors to cut the noodles. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naengmyeon)
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Bulgogi 불고기
Literally “fire meat”, it’s a gui 구이 (Korean-style grilled or roasted dish) made of thin, marinated slices of beef or pork grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. It is also often stir-fried in a pan in home cooking. Sirloin, rib eye or brisket are frequently used cuts of beef for the dish. The dish originated from northern areas of the Korean Peninsula, but is a very popular dish in South Korea where it can be found anywhere from upscale restaurants to local supermarkets as pan-ready kits. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgogi) Pro Tip : It makes a great combo with naengmyeon 냉면
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Yukgaejang 육개장
It’s a spicy, soup-like Korean dish made from shredded beef with scallions and other ingredients, which are simmered together for a long time. It is a variety of gomguk 곰국, or thick soup, which was formerly served in Korean royal court cuisine. It is thought to be healthful and is popular due to its hot and spicy nature. Also, yukgaejang was eaten mainly by people who were tired of the midsummer heat to take care of themselves. In addition to shredded beef, scallions, and water, the dish generally also includes bean sprouts, gosari 고사리 (bracken fern), torandae 토란대 (taro stems), sliced onion, dangmyeon 당면 (sweet potato noodles), gochugaru 고추가루, garlic, perilla seeds (also called wild sesame seeds), soy sauce, oil (sesame oil and/or vegetable oil), black pepper, and salt. Chili oil may also be used. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yukgaejang)
Nongshim Soup Bowl Noodle Hot and Spicy [Amazon] – Try this ramyun noodle version of yukgaejang.
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Galbi 갈비
Galbi 갈비 It’s grilled ribs and a type of gui 구이 (grilled dish) in Korean cuisine. “Galbi” is the Korean word for “rib”, and the dish is usually made with beef short ribs. When pork spareribs or another meat is used instead, the dish is named accordingly. Galbi is served raw, then cooked on tabletop grills usually by the diners themselves. The dish may be marinated in a sweet and savory sauce usually containing soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. Both non-marinated and marinated galbi are often featured in Korean barbecue. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galbi)
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Tteokbokki / Toppoki 떡볶이
It’s a popular Korean food made from small-sized garae-tteok 가래떡 (long, white, cylinder-shaped rice cakes) called tteokmyeon 떡면; “rice cake noodles” or commonly tteokbokki-tteok(떡볶이 떡 “tteokbokki rice cakes”). Eomuk 어묵 (fish cakes), boiled eggs, and scallions are some common ingredients paired with tteokbokki in dishes. It can be seasoned with either spicy gochujang 고추장 (chili paste) or non-spicy ganjang 간장 (soy sauce)-based sauce; the former being the most common form, while the latter is less common and sometimes called gungjung-tteokbokki 궁중떡볶이 (royal court tteokbokki). Today, variations also include curry-tteokbokki, cream sauce-tteokbokki, jjajang-tteokbokki, seafood-tteokbokki, rose-tteokbokki, galbi-tteokbokki and so on. Tteokbokki is commonly purchased and eaten at bunsikjip 분식집 (snack bars) as well as pojangmacha 포장마차 (street stalls). There are also dedicated restaurants for tteokbokki, where it is referred to as jeukseok tteokbokki 즉석 떡볶이 (impromptu tteokbokki). It is also a popular home dish, as the rice cakes (garae-tteok) can be purchased in pre-packaged, semi-dehydrated form. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tteokbokki)
Cheese Tteokbokki Korean Rice Cake Instant (Pack of 2, Cheese Sauce) [Amazon] <- comes in 3 flavors : cheese / jjajang / onion butter
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – Kimchi Jjigae 김치찌개
It’s a jjigae 찌개, or stew-like Korean dish, made with kimchi and other ingredients, such as pork or seafood, scallions, onions, and diced dubu 두부 (tofu). It is one of the most common stews in Korean cuisine. Beyond the standard ingredients of beef, pork, or chicken, some varieties are called by their particular names. Chamchi kimchi jjigae 참치 김치찌개 is made with tuna, usually the canned type made specifically to use in jjigae. It is popular for camping trips or picnics, because of its ease of cooking and portability. Ggongchi kimchi jjigae 꽁치 김치찌개 is made with Pacific saury. Budae jjigae 부대찌개 is made by stewing kimchi with various ingredients not native to Korean cuisine, including Spam, hot dogs, American cheese slices, etc. Budae means “army base” in Korean; it originated during the Korean War, when South Koreans used ingredients procured from the US military. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimchi-jjigae)
They re-branded it as K-Army Stew haha. I’d check it out.
HANSIK – KOREAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY – JAPCHAE 잡채
It’s a savory and slightly sweet dish of stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables that is popular in Korean cuisine. Japchae is typically prepared with dangmyeon 당면, a type of cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch; the noodles are mixed with assorted vegetables, meat, mushrooms, and seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. Once a royal dish, japchae is now one of the most popular traditional celebration dishes, often served on special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays (especially dol 돌, the first birthday, and hwangap 환갑, the sixtieth), and holidays.
It is also popular at banquets, parties, and pot lucks, due to the ease of bulk preparation and flexible serving: japchae can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold from the refrigerator, and can be eaten freshly made or the day after. Japchae is commonly served as a banchan 반찬 (side dish), though it may also be eaten as a main dish. It is sometimes served on a bed of rice: with rice, it is known as japchae-bap 잡채밥.
So they are some of the most popular Korean dishes. What’s amazing is a lot of them have ready-to-eat products available online for purchase, thanks to the advent of e-commerce. You don’t have to live near a Korean restaurant anymore.
If you love cooking and explore Korean cuisine in depth, check out these Korean cook books.