Banchan : Small Dishes of Food
Banchan is a set of small plates of food that are typically served at restaurants before the main course. Typical dishes are salty and spicy and include spicy fermented kimchi, steamed fish and other small seafood, soups, stews, and spicy pickled or stir fried vegetables seasoned with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil.
During Three Kingdoms period, Korea became a Buddhist state and meat was banned. Therefore, vegetable side dishes became popular by Buddhists. After the invasions of the Mongols, meat was allowed once again, but the vegetables remained.
Banchan dishes are a great way for visitors to Seoul to experience many new and different types of Korean flavors.
Bibimbap : Rice Mixed with Vegetables
Bibimbap, meaning mixed rice, is a famous Korean dish composed of white rice topped with seasoned vegetables, gochujang (chili pepper paste), and an egg. Bibimbap is a delicious dish that is enjoyed by both locals and tourists and great way to introduce Korean food new and curious foodies in Korea.
The first mention of bibimbap was in a late 19th century cookbook known as Siuijeonseo. In the book, the dish is known as bubuimbap. Some scholars believe that the dish originates from ancestral rites, where all food offerings were mixed prior to the ceremony.
Bibimbap can be prepared in a number of ways with a wide variety of ingredients. The most common preparation is to add vegetables and sliced meat, such as beef, to steamed rice. Vegetables include cucumbers, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, and sprouts. Lastly, gochujang, a spicy red chili pepper paste and an egg, raw or cooked, top the dish off.
Presentation and placement of the vegetables by color is also important in the preparation of the dish. When eating, all the rice, vegetables, meat, and egg should be mixed together to achieve the best taste.
The popularly of bibimbap has grown over the years internationally. The dish can now be found in Korean restaurants all around the world and even on flights arriving and departing from South Korea.
Variations include Jeonju bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap. Jeonju bibimbap is a very traditional dish popular in Jeonju, the capital of the North Jeolla Province. It is cooked in a bowl and based on a dish served to royalty during the Joseon Dynasty. Dolsot bibimbap is served in a hot stone pot. Dolsot means “stone pot.” Since the pot is so hot, the raw egg will begin to cook and the rice at the bottom of the pot will turn crispy and golden brown which is quite delicious.
Bindaetteok is a fried Korean style pancake and snack that is made with mung beans, green onions, peppers, and kimchi. Other than vegetables, you can often find the pancake stuffed with seafood (haemul) or meat (gogi) such as pork or beef.
Bindaetteok is a popular food in the markets and streets of Seoul. One of the best places to try it is at Gwangjang Market. When you walk through the market you will notice and smell the many vendors preparing and cooking the tasty snack in oil. The cost is around 4,000-5,000 won each.
The dish dates back to the 1600s when the dish was popular with poor people as those with money ate meat.
Bulgogi : Grilled Marinated Meat
Bulgogi is a dish that consists of well marbled grilled marinated beef, chicken, or pork that is commonly found in barbecue restaurants all over Seoul. The most common preparation is to marinate thin slices of beef, such as sirloin, in soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic.
Literally meaning fire meat, this dish dates back to 37 BC during the Goguryeo era. During this period, meat was often grilled on skewers which was known then as maekjeok.
During the Joseon Dynasty, it was known as neobiani and consumed mainly by the noble and wealthy.
Bulgogi is usually grilled on an open fire or metal dish along with sliced garlic, onions, mushrooms, kimchi, and even egg. The meat is then cut into smaller pieces and wrapped in lettuce or perilla (sesame) leaves and topped with ssamjang, which is a thick and spicy soybean paste. This is known as ssam.
Variations include dak bulgogi (marinated chicken) and dwaeji bulgogi (marinated pork).
Dak galbi is a dish made using diced chicken stir fried in gochujang (chili pepper paste) with vegetables such as sliced cabbage, onions, and scallions. It literally means chicken ribs, but ironically there is no rib meat in the dish. Other ingredients often added to the chicken include sweet potatoes, tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), and rice.
This inexpensive dish is a specialty in the city of Chuncheon, located about 73 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Seoul. Chuncheon dak galbi first appeared in the 1960s as an alternative to more expensive grilled meat dishes.
There is a street in Chuncheon that contains a high concentration of restaurants selling this specialty. Every autumn, the city has a festival in honor of the dish.
Dak Galbi is popular with university students who do not want to spend a lot of money and want to eat something that is quick and easy to find in restaurants. They choose the more affordable chicken over the more expensive marinated beef and pork.
Galbi, or kalbi, is dish that uses beef or pork short ribs, on the bone or not, marinated in ganjang (Korean soy sauce) known as garlic, and sugar. The type of marinade, which varies by each restaurant, can include sesame oil, rice wine, fruit juice, or even honey.
When one orders galbi at a restaurant in Seoul, the raw meat is often brought right to the customer and cooked on tabletop charcoal grills. The grilling of meat is usually done by the customer themselves and then cut into smaller pieces using scissors. As the meat cooks, the occasional flare up from dripping fat will add an amazing aroma to the air.
The meat is most often wrapped inside perilla (sesame) leaves or lettuce along with garlic, green chilies, and ssamjang (fermented soybean paste).
Variations include dak galbi, made with chicken, and galbitang, a soup made with beef ribs.
Galbitang : Beef Short Ribs Soup
Galbitang is a type of guk (Korean soup) in which galbi (beef short ribs) is stewed in water for many hours with ingredients such as daikon and onions. Galbi means “short ribs” while tang is another name for guk, which means “soup.” Therefore, galbitang literally means “short ribs soup.”
Galbi has been eaten in Korea since the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392). It is believed that galbitang was first served at royal banquets that occurred during the late Joseon Dynasty around 1890. Today, galbitang is a popular dish at wedding receptions.
The basic ingredient of the dish is short ribs that are slit with a knife and cut into pieces about two inches long. The pieces of meat are then added to a pot of water along with a whole daikon. The pot of water is then brought to a boil and then the heat is reduced to a simmer.
After five hours of simmering, the meat, which is extremely tender and the daikon are removed from the pot. After being removed from the pot, the meat is usually seasoned with scallions and garlic, sesame oil, salt, and pepper powder. The daikon is then sliced into smaller pieces.
The broth that remains in the pot is then chilled down. When cool, a layer of fat will appear on top which can then be easily removed and discarded.
The final step is to add the seasoned meat and sliced daikon back to the broth where it will simmer for a few more hours.
Galibtang is similar to seolleongtang, which uses ox bones instead of short ribs.
Gejang : Marinated Raw Crabs
Gejang is a dish of salted fermented fresh raw crabs marinated in soy sauce (ganjang gejang) or a sweet and spicy chili pepper sauce (yangnyeom gejang). In Korea, “ge” means crab while “jang” means condiment. Originally, gejang was made using freshwater crabs. As these crabs have become more rare, the dish today is often made using kkotge (horse crab) from the Yellow Sea, also known as the West Sea.
Written records of gejang are mentioned in many books including Sallim Gyeongje (written by Hong Man-seon around 1800), Gyuhap chongseo (written by Lady Bingheogak Yi in 1809), Siuijeonseo (from the late 19th century by an unknown author), and other works during the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In these books, gejang was known as johaebeop, which involved marinating in a type of liquor. This method helped preserve the dish for long periods of time.
Ganjang gejang is prepared by first cleaning the raw crabs in a bowl of water and then rinsing them off. The crabs are then salted and then places in a pot for about five to six hours. After, the crabs are removed from the pot and placed in a bowl where they are covered in a briefly boiled sauce of ganjang (soy sauce), sesame oil, sugar, garlic, ginger, red chili pepper, and scallions. After an hour, the sauce is removed from the bowl, briefly boiled again, and added to the crabs. This process is often done three to four more times. The dish can be consumed up to two weeks after being prepared.
Yangnyeom gejang is made using clean raw crabs. The crabs are then added to a sweet but spicy chill powder that is made into a sauce adding Korean pears, onions, garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds and oil. After being prepared, it is best to consume the dishes within a few days.
Kimpap, or gimbap, is a dish where streamed white rice (bap) and other ingredients are rolled in sheets of seaweed (gim) and sliced into smaller pieces. The dish can be found all over Seoul in formal and fast food restaurants, sold by street vendors, and in convenience stores. Though similar to the look of sushi, kimbap does not use rice vinegar but instead sesame oil.
The word kimbap literally means “seaweed rice.” The most basic form of the dish uses seaweed and short grain rice. When only rice and seaweed are used, the dish is known as Chungmu kimbap. The rice is usually seasoned with salt and sesame oil (perilla oil). The seaweed is a laver variety that is dried and pressed and often brushed with sesame oil.
Gimbap can be filled with an almost endless variation of meat and vegetable fillings. Meat and protein fillings include beef, cured meats, seafood such as fish cakes, spicy tuna, squid, and imitation crab meat, and eggs. Vegetables include carrots, cucumbers, spinach, kimchi, and pickled radish (danmuji).
The steamed rice and fillings are placed onto the seaweed and rolled. The roll is then sliced into smaller, bite sized pieces and served with more pickled radish.
A variation of the dish is known as samgak gimbap. Instead of a circular roll and slices, the seaweed is shaped into a triangle. This snack, which has many variations of fillings, is popular at convenience stores all across Seoul.
Hotteok: Sweet Filled Pancake Snack
Hotteok is a popular and sweet filled snack that resembles a pancake. It is typically found on the streets of Seoul during the cold winter months. It is believed to have been brought to Korea by Chinese merchants in the 1800s. Unlike similar Chinese snacks, this dish features a sweet filling instead of a meat filling. Koreans favor the sweet taste over the savory taste.
The dough is made mixing flour, yeast, and sugar with milk or water. Inside, the dough is stuffed with nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
After mixing all the ingredients together to make a dough, it is then cooked on a hot griddle in oil until it is hot and golden brown. It is then served hot, usually inside a paper cup, to keep the sweet filling from running out.
If made fresh, try to get a close up view and watch the process of how its made. Its quite interesting to watch the process if it is your first time. One of the best places to watch hotteok being made is on Insadong-gil Street in Insadong.
The cost is usually around 1,000 won from a street vendor.
Jokbal is a dish of sliced pigs’ feet cooked in ganjang (soy sauce), ginger, garlic, rice wine, water, and sugar. The mixture is then brought to a boil. Over time, the meat becomes very tender. The meat is then removed from the bone and cut into slices and enjoyed.
Large portions of jokbal are usually shared among several diners. Like other Korean meats dishes, the meat is often eaten wrapped in lettuce or perilla (sesame) leaves with green chili peppers, sliced garlic, and topped with spicy chili or soybean paste such as ssamjang.
Kalguksu is a noodle dish consisting of wheat flour noodles mixed with a seafood broth and other ingredients such as scallions, potatoes, and vegetables.
The dough for kalguksu is made by mixing wheat flour and eggs. The dough is then cut into thin slices to make the chewy and tasty noodles. The broth is often made from dried seafood and selfish and also kelp. If seafood was not available, the broth could be made from using chicken. Zucchini, potatoes, scallions and other vegetables are added to the broth. Everything is then brought to a boil and then simmered for a few hours.
Kalguksu was first mentioned during the Goryeo period (918–1392). At this time, wheat flour was expensive as it was imported from China. Since the dish was expensive to make, it was often only eaten during special occasions. Today, kalguksu is most popular in the summer months.
Kimchi is a traditional spicy fermented cabbage dish served as a side dish or as part of a main dish that can be found on almost any table across Korea. It is estimated that Koreans eat upwards of 18 kilograms (40 pounds) of the dish, per person, per year. Not surprisingly, kimchi is the national dish of Korea.
Traditional kimchi dates back to the 7th century. Pickling has been used for hundreds of years in Korea as a way of preserving vegetables that could not be cultivated during the harsh and cold winters.
To make kimchi, red pepper powder along with ginger, garlic, radishes, and scallions is added to cabbage. Everything is then placed in earthenware pots that ferment underground for months at a time.
There are hundreds of different varieties that vary greatly by region and time of the year. It can also be found as the main ingredient in soups, stews, and rice dishes.
Since kimchi is made with vegetables it is high in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, iron and carotene while being low in fat and calories. Studies have proven that eating large amounts of kimchi can reduce the risk of certain cancers. It is also believe that the dish can prevent the spread of certain viruses such as SARS, H5N1, and bird flu.
Kimchi jjigae is one of the most common jjigae (stew) in Korea which is made using kimchi, tofu, scallions, onions, and sometimes pork or seafood.
This popular dish is thought to have been developed during the middle of the Joseon Dynasty when kimchi and chili peppers were first introduced to Korea.
Kimchi jjigae is commonly prepared in houses all around the country. Kimchi is the most important ingredient of the dish. The longer the kimchi has been fermented, the better the stew will taste as the flavor has had a longer change to develop.
Sliced kimchi is added to a pot with water or anchovy stock along with tofu, onions, garlic, and proteins such as pork, beef, or seafood. Additionally, the stew may be seasoned with doenjang (soybean paste) or gochujang (red pepper paste) to add extra flavor and spice.
Kimchi Jjigae is most often served boiling hot in a stone pot along with an assortment of small dishes known as banchan.
Mandu : Korean fDumplings
Mandu is a delicious type of dumpling often filled with various meats, tofu, ginger, or vegetables and is usually served with dipping sauces and soy sauce. Mandu is similar to other types of dumplings such as gyoza in Japan, pierogi in Eastern Europe, pelmeni in Siberia, manti in Turkey, and buuz in Mongolia.
It is believed that this food was brought to Korea in the 14th century from Mongolia. Others believe it arrived much earlier from the Middle East by way of the Silk Road.
Stuffing often includes meat, onions, garlic, ginger, and tofu. They are usually served with kimchi and dipped into soy sauce when being eaten.
Variations include grilled, fried, steamed, and boiled.
Surprisingly, you can find this dish on the streets of Seoul, in subway stations and near busy schools, as a quick snack to go. The cost is usually around 1,000 won which makes it a great value for the price.
Naengmyeon is a cold dish of thin, long handmade noodles made from the flour and starches of ingredients such as buckwheat, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Naengmyeon, originating from North Korea, literally means “cold noodles.”
A basic bowl of naengmyeon involves placing noodles in a stainless-steel bowl with a cold but tasty broth. Usually added to the broth and noodles are sliced cucumbers and pears, a hard boiled egg, and pieces of sliced beef. Condiments such as spicy mustard sauce, vinegar, or sugar are often added before eating to enhance the flavor of the dish.
The are two main variations, mul naengmyeon and bibim naengmyeon.
Mul naengmyeon originates from the city of Pyongyang, North Korea. The noodles are made using the starches from buckwheat. The noodles are then placed in a cold broth of beef, chicken, or pheasant. Dongchimi, a watery and salty broth with kimchi, is usually mixed in along with sliced radish.
Bibim naengmyeon originates from the city of Hamhung, North Korea. The noodles are usually made from the starches of potatoes or sweet potatoes. This makes for a chewier noodle. The broth and noodles are then mixed together and seasoned with gochujang, which is a spicy red pepper paste.
One of the best places in Seoul to eat this tasty dish is at Naengmeyon Street. The street is located across the street from Jungbu Dried Seafoods Market in Ojang-dong. To get here, take Line 2 or Line 5 to Euljiro 4(sa)-ga Station (Exit 8). From the exit, walk about 200 meters to Mareunnae-ro Street, and turn left. Continue another 200 meters to reach the restaurants across the street from the market.
Samgyeopsal : Thick Pork Belly Slices
Samgyeopsal is a popular barbecue dish similar to uncured bacon that consists of thick and fatty slices of pork belly that is unmarinated and unseasoned. Literally meaning “three layered flesh”, samgyeopsal is a thick and fatty cut of meat very similar to bacon.
When cooked on a grill the meat is usually eaten with perilla (sesame) leaves, lettuce, green chili peppers, and sliced garlic along with dipping sauces such as chili paste or ssamjang (soybean paste).
After the meat is cooked, the larger pieces are cut up into smaller pieces with a pair scissors where it is placed inside of the perilla (sesame) leaves or lettuce, topped with sauces, rolled up, and eaten.
Samgyeopsal is by far one of the most popular pork dishes both in restaurants and inside the homes of Koreans. Though one of the more expensive parts of parts of the pig, a recent survey found that around 70% of Koreans eat the dish at least once a week.
Samgyetang : Ginseng Chicken Soup
Samgyetang is a chicken soup consisting of a whole young chicken in a Korean ginseng broth that is stuffed with glutinous rice, garlic, nuts, and dates. The dish is a type of Korean guk, or soup. The name samgyetang literally means “ginseng chicken soup.”
Koreans often eat it on the three hottest days of summer. These three days are known as chobok, jungbok, and malbok.
The nutrients in the soup are believed to replenish lost stamina during the hot summer days when excessive sweating is common.
The dish is a great source of nutrients and vitamins which are believed to help prevent and cure sicknesses and other health problems. It is also believed that the nutrients in samgyetang can cure and prevent common colds and other minor ailments.
Sundae is a blood sausage dish consisting of boiled or steamed pig’s or cow intestines stuffed with ingredients such as noodles, barley, and blood. The dish is similar to black pudding found all across the united Kingdom.
The first mention of sundae, or sondae, can be found in 19th century Joseon Dynasty cookbooks such as “Gyuhap Chongseo” and “Siuijeonseo.”
The most common preparation involves using pig’s intestines stuffed with dangmyeon (cellophane or potato noodles), barley, and pig’s blood. Variations include stuffing the intestines with sesame leaves (perilla), soybean paste, scallions, rice, kimchi, and sprouts.
The dish can also be made by using seafood such as squid (ojing-eo) and Alaska pollock (myeongtae).
The dish is a popular snack food found on the streets and in the markets of Seoul. There is also an area in Sillim-dong known as Sundae Town that has a high concentration of restaurants serving the dish.
Tteokbokki : Spicy Rice Cakes
Tteokbokki, or topokki, one of the most popular street foods in Korea, is made with boiled tteok (rice cakes) mixed in a spicy red chili pepper paste. Tteokbokki is sold by street vendors, known as pojangmacha, all across Seoul and Korea. Tteokbokki is quite possibly the best representation of Korean street food.
The exact origin of tteokbokki is debatable. It can be traced back to the late Joseon dynasty. Tteok, the main ingredient of the dish, was produced as far back as the Three Kingdoms period around 2,000 years ago.
Prior to the Korean War, the dish was known tteok jjim. This traditional dish was made using garaetteok (cylindrical rice cakes), beef, a variety of vegetables, and soy sauce. This savory, not spicy, dish was often served and eaten at the royal palace.
The tteokbokki enjoyed today became popular only after the Korean War. This version of the dish is much spicier as it uses gochujang (fermented spicy chili pepper paste). Other ingredients often added include fish cakes, eggs, sundae (Korean blood sausage), mandu (Korean dumplings), ramyeon (ramen) noodles, and even cheese.
Today, demand of tteokbokki is higher than ever. The dish has spread from street vendors to many restaurants and businesses across Korea. The Korean government hopes that in the near future the popularity of the dish will spread internationally.
One of the most popular places in Seoul to try tteokbokki is at Tongin Market.