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Korean cuisine belongs to the traditional food and cooking techniques of Korea. From sophisticated Korean royal court cuisine to regional specialties and modern fusion cuisine, their ingredients, and preparations are very diverse. Many dishes have become popular all over the world.

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Historically, growing, gathering, preparing, and eating food was a social event for Koreans. Living with a high population density on the Korean peninsula throughout its history, Koreans have concentrated in rural communities outside their major cities. The social lifestyle that intensified during the Joseon Dynasty made eating one of the most important times of the day in the large family farms and royal court. The vitality of the Korean family and life together reaches its peak at mealtime, when Koreans enjoy time together with their traditional food. Although the variety and quality of food for poor farmers and the royal court differed dramatically, the importance of Korean cuisine and the timing of meals remained the same.

Overview of ingredients in Korean cuisine

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Korean street food

The main ingredients of Korean cuisine are rice, noodles, vegetables, meat, and tofu (dubu in Korean). Traditional Korean meals boast an abundance of side dishes (banchan) that accompany short-grain, steamed rice, soup, and kimchi (fermented spicy vegetable banchan, usually cabbage, radish, or cucumber). Banchans accompany every meal. Sesame oil, doenjang (fermented soybean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and gochujang (red chili paste) commonly season Korean food. Before refrigeration, Koreans stored kimchi and other pickled vegetables in large ceramic containers that were stored underground outdoors in the winter. This method is still used in some rural areas of South Korea. Preparing Korean food is labor-intensive, although many Koreans living in cities buy ready-made traditional food from supermarkets or outdoor markets.

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Royal Korean cuisine

Once enjoyed only by the royal courts of the Joseon period, Korean royal cuisine takes anywhere from a few hours to several days to prepare. The chef harmonizes warm and cold, hot and soft, rough and soft, solid and liquid, balances colors. Served on hand-forged bronze dishes or bangjaa, the specific arrangement of the small dishes is alternated to highlight the shape and color of the ingredients. Restaurants serving traditional royal cuisine can be found in some parts of Seoul, costing up to 240,000 won (~US$265) per person. Imperial cuisine has recently gained popularity thanks to Dae Jang Geum, a widely popular Korean television drama about a humble girl who becomes a royal chef during the Joseon period.

Korean table setting

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Serving the table

Koreans traditionally sat cross-legged on cushions at low tables in a modified lotus position, although most urban Koreans usually sit at East-West style tables. Some traditional restaurants offer chairs with backs. Food is typically served with chopsticks made of silver or stainless steel (jeotgarak) and a shallow spoon with a long handle (sutgarak). Sutgarak looked more like a Western spoon than a Chinese soup spoon. The sets jeotgarak and sutgarak make the set sujeo (short for sutgarak and jeotgarak), although sujeo can also mean sutgarak. Unlike other chopstick cultures, Koreans have been using spoons since at least the fifth century. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese, Koreans often leave bowls of rice or soup on the table and eat them with spoons. Koreans eat banchan with chopsticks.

A typical table setting consists of:

  • Steamed rice for each person in a small bowl taller than its diameter, usually with a lid (near the left side of the dining room).
  • Hot soup for each person in a larger bowl wider than they are tall (to the right of the rice). Sometimes people share jigai or other liquid food from a large pot in the center of the table.
  • A set of silver (traditional) or stainless-steel rice and soup spoons and banchan chopsticks (to the right of the soup).
  • A variety of small bowls with banchan side dishes.

Families usually drink chilled or iced water during meals. In restaurants, waiters typically serve water or tea, usually a grain tea such as barley, rather than actual tea. Alcohol often accompanies traditional Korean food. After the meal, visitors can enjoy a refreshing sweet drink such as soojungwa or shiki. The type of drink may change depending on the season.

Do you like cooking Asian cuisine? Want to try it? You can easily find them on our website: at this link – Asian cuisine, see other recipes that you may like – a recipe for Christmas English cake, Chinese pork belly, or an Italian recipe for pasta and cheese.

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