The Korean verb jitda, which can be simply translated as “to make”, is paired with words related to life, such as nongsa jitda (to farm), jip jitda (to build a house), si jitda (to write a poem), miso jitda (to smile), and lastly bap jitda (to make rice).
For Koreans, rice symbolizes life. That is why they use the same verb for the act of cooking rice as they do for the act of farming to produces food and maintain lives; the act of building a house, in which people live; the act of writing a poem, which is often said to be the song of life; and the act of smiling, which is the expression of one’s inner life.
The Korean verb damda can be translated as “to contain.” When paired with nature, time, devotion, or memories, it figuratively means “to reflect.” It is also often paired with food. Koreans believe food should contain the values and devotion of those who make it, the wisdom and laws of nature, and the memories built by sharing it with others.
Korean cuisine is based on rice. The typical Korean meal table centers on rice, and it can be categorized by the number of side dishes served. Although the word bap literally means “steamed rice,” it also refers to a full meal. Rice is considered the basic energy source of the Korean people, and it is often said that Koreans live off rice. “Have you eaten yet?” is a very common and sincere greeting.
The most basic element in hansik is rice, which is made by boiling various grains such as rice. The Korean meal table consists of the staple dish of steamed rice, and is supplemented by various side dishes. The cultivation of rice began sometime between 10th to 15th century BCE, and other grains like millet, sorghum, proso and barnyard millet were grown since even before rice. Due to its long history, Koreans have always been famous for their great skills in cooking rice.
While rice can be cooked on its own as steamed white rice, there are also many other ways of making and serving rice: multi-grain rice is cooked with assorted grains such as barley, beans and red beans; bibimbap is a popular dish served with various seasoned vegetables and meat; dolsotbibimbap is a variation of bibimbap that is served in a hot pot to keep rice warm throughout the entire meal; kimchi fried rice is an all-time favorite among Koreans; ssambap is rice wrapped in various leafy vegetables, and haemulbap is rice cooked with oysters, mussels or other seafood. Because rice itself is not strongly flavored and it’s soft in texture, the possible combination dishes are endless.
Rice is deeply rooted in Korean sentiment and culture. As rice is held “sacred” by Koreans, it is consumed with great appreciation to the last grain, and is regarded a symbol of life. When a baby is born, people say that “a spoon was added on the table,” and death is described as “putting down one’s spoon,” and rice is put into the mouth of the deceased. The love and compassion of the Korean people can be seen in the old saying “ten spoons of rice will make one bowl of rice,” which implies that by sharing just one spoonful of rice, a new bowl of rice can be made for the poor. If a Korean friend invites you for a home-cooked meal, it is an expression of gratitude and great friendship.