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South Korea Cuisine


From the complex Korean royal court cuisine to regional specialties to modern fusion cuisine, the ingredients and preparation of Korean cuisine are richly varied, and many dishes are becoming internationally popular. The foods described in this article are very different from Korean royal court cuisine, and were (and still are) widely enjoyed by the Korean masses. Kimchi is believed to be a healthy food with many purported health benefits. It is based largely on rice, vegetables, meats and tofu (dubu in Korean). Traditional Korean meals are notorious for the number of side dishes (banchan) that accompany the ubiquitous steam-cooked short-grain rice, soup, and kimchi (fermented, spicy vegetable banchan, most commonly cabbage, radish or cucumber). Every meal is accompanied by numerous banchan.

Korean food is usually seasoned with sesame oil, doenjang (fermented soybean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger and gochujang (red chili paste). Korea is the largest consumer of garlic, ahead of the rest of Asia (particularly China and Thailand, excluding Japan) and the Northern Mediterranean (mainly Spain, Italy, and Greece).

The cuisine varies seasonally, and especially during winter, traditionally relies much on kimchi and other pickled vegetables preserved in big ceramic containers stored underground in the outdoor courtyard. Preparation of Korean food is generally very labour-intensive.

Korean royal cuisine, once only enjoyed by the royal court of the Joseon period, take hours and days to prepare. It must harmonise warm and cold, hot and mild, rough and soft, solid and liquid, and a balance of presentation colours. It is often served on hand-forged bronzeware or bangjjaa. The foods are served in a specific arrangement of small dishes alternating to highlight the shape and colour of the ingredients.

Some of these traditional royal cuisines, which can cost as much as US$265 per person excluding drinks, include serving by exclusive waiters and can be found at high-end restaurants in select locations within the city of Seoul. Imperial cuisine has received a recent boost in popularity, due to Dae Jang Geum, a Korean television drama very popular in many parts of Asia, about a humble girl becoming the royal head chef during the Joseon period.

The Dishes

Much of Korean cuisine consists of simple dishes such as preserved food. It is known for its strong and pungent flavours. Many Korean banchan rely on fermentations for flavour and preservation, resulting in a tangy, salty and spicy taste. Certain regions are especially associated with some dishes (for example, the city of Jeonju with Bibimbap) either as a place of origin or for a famous regional variety. Restaurants will often use these famous names on their signs or menus (compare Chicago-style pizza).

Light Dishes

These light dishes are often sold by street cart vendors and are generally considered to be snacks rather than a complete meal. Many street carts are open late and even serve alcoholic beverages with the food. Bingsu is a refreshing iced treat popular in the summer, whereas warm soup, gimbap, hottteok, and bugeo-ppang are more popular in the fall and winter.

Kimbap (or Gimbap,"seaweed rice"):
Rice and strips of vegetables, egg, and meat, rolled in seaweed and sliced into bite-sized pieces. Unlike Japanese futomaki sushi rolls, rice is seasoned with salt and sesame seed oil.

Mandu :
A dumpling typically filled with pork or beef, vegetables, special noodles, tofu and kimchi. These can be prepared boiled, pan-fried, or steamed.

Pajeon :
Pancake made mostly of eggs and flour, with green onion, oysters, or fresh baby clams cooked on frying pans

Bindaetteok :
Pancake made of ground mung beans, with green onions, kimchi, or peppers cooked on frying pans.

Soondae :
Korean sausage made of chitterlings stuffed with a mixture of boiled sweet rice, oxen or pig's blood, potato noodle, mung bean sprouts, green onion, etc.

Ddeokbokki :
A broiled dish which is made by sliced rice cake, seasoned beef, fish cakes, and vegetable with gochujang.

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