Koreans enjoy broth dishes for almost every meal, and there are a variety of broth dishes in Korean cuisine. Guk is cooked with enough liquid to fully immerse all solid ingredients. Tang is a soup variation that is cooked by simmering the main ingredient for a long period of time. Jjigae is less watery, seasoned much stronger than soups, and is often served in a stone pot.
And jeongol is served in a wide and shallow pot with seasoned meat or seafood and other ingredients nicely arranged. Jeongol is cooked right on the table with broth being added as necessary.
Doenjangjjigae (soybean paste stew) and kimchijjigae (kimchi stew) are typical broth dishes Koreans enjoy almost every day. These are Korean “soul foods” much loved for their deep and savory flavors. Soybean paste and kimchi are the representatives of traditional fermented foods that are very well known for their great taste and nutritional properties. While soybean paste stew or kimchi stew can be considered common dishes good for everyday meals, meat and seafood based fancier dishes like jeongol are great for special occasions, or for inviting guests.
The mixture of healthy ingredients make Korean broth dishes a nutritional treat. On a long and exhausting day, Koreans usually fuel up with a bowl of seolleongtang (ox bone soup) which is made by simmering beef and bones for over a day to bring out the best flavors and nutrients which are known to help digestion. On hot summer days, samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), which is made by stuffing a whole chicken with ginseng, garlic, sticky rice and other healthy ingredients and simmering, is a great way to beat the heat.
There are also special soups for special days. Miyeokguk (seaweed soup) is also known as “birthday soup” and is usually served for breakfast on a person’s birthday. And on the first day of a new year, usually lunar new year, tteokguk (sliced rice cake soup) will be on the table to wish the best of luck and fortune for the year.
Banchan, or side dishes show the “balanced diversity” in Korean cuisine. Along with the staple dish of rice and soup, a variety of side dishes offering balanced flavors and nutrients are served together. Each person on the table is served his/her own bowl of rice and soup, and the side dishes are to be shared by everyone.
Because side dishes are meant to complement and enhance the taste of rice, a Korean meal table consists of a variety of dishes. The balanced flavors and nutrients of the side dishes are made using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Freshly made vegetable, meat and seaweed side dishes are served along with fermented foods. There are more than 1,500 different side dishes, and it is interesting to see the combination of hot, cold, dried and soupy side dishes presented on one table.
THE MOST POPULAR SIDE DISH: SALAD
Having a mostly mountainous terrain, and having successfully developed a farming culture, Korean side dishes are usually vegetarian with about 20% being meat-based. Vegetables are served raw, or cooked and seasoned as namul (salad). Namul are rich in vitamins and minerals, and are very common and popular. These vegetables are typically served in a combination of three colors, and common namul include spinach (green), bean sprouts (yellow), bracken (brown), eggplant (purple) and balloon flower root (white).
LIGHTLY COOKES AND MILDLY SEASONED MEAT SIDE DISHES
The meat and seafood side dishes served on the Korean meal table are typically cooked in a healthy method and seasoned mildly. For example, bulgogi and galbijjim (braised short ribs) are popular side dishes made by boiling then braising beef. Jeon, or Korean pancakes, are also popular sides made by adding various ingredients like seafood, kimchi, meat and vegetables to a flour batter and pan-frying it with only a small amount of oil. In addition, meat dishes are usually cooked with plenty of vegetables and mushrooms, like japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables).
BASIC SIDE DISHES
Korean families keep several basic side dishes in their refrigerator along with various other cooking ingredients. Basic side dishes are usually strongly seasoned so that they can be stored for longer periods of time. Popular basic side dishes that are ready to serve at anytime include myeolchibokkeum (stir-fried anchovies), sogogijangjorim (braised beef in soy sauce), dububuchim (pan-fried bean curd), ojingeochaebokkeum (stir-fried dried squid) and gamjajorim (braised potatoes).
Unlike dining traditions in other countries, where the food is served one course at a time, in the Korean tradition, all the dishes are served at once. Soup and rice are served individually, while stews or hot pots are served in a large pot to be shared.
Today, Koreans continue to follow some Confucian principles. Thus, showing respect for others, especially elders, is very important, and in the same spirit, etiquette is fundamental in a Korean meal, including expressions of gratitude to those who provided the meal.
1. Wait for the eldest person on the table to pick up his/her spoon before picking up yours.
2. Do not place spoon covered with food in a dish shared with others.
3. Do not pick up soup/rice bowl to drink directly from it.
4. Do not make noise when chewing.
5. Do not leave the table while others are still eating. Place the spoon on top of the rice bowl and wait until others are finished. When everyone has finished eating, put the spoon down and leave the table.
In countries where rice is the staple food, chopsticks play a central role, while the spoon has a secondary function. However, in Korea, chopsticks and spoons share equal importance, especially given the vast number of soups and stews in Korean cuisine.
Chopsticks are used for side dishes, while the spoon is for rice and watery foods. This pair also embodies the harmony of yin and yang, with the round-shaped spoon symbolizing the yang energy and the long chopsticks having yin energy.
HOW TO HOLD CHOPSTICKS
Place one chopstick on the crook of your thumb and index finger.
Place the other chopstick between your index and middle finger as you would hold a pen.
Use your index and middle fingers to move the tip of the top chopstick.
The bottom chopstick should remain relatively still.