Cuisine of the Week: Korean

Cuisine of the Week: Korean

Korean Cuisine (or Hansik) is world-renowned for its exceptional use of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients to create a wide variety of dishes that are enjoyed by local Koreans and people all over the world. Korean food that exists today and much of the customs surrounding it have come from royal Korean cuisine and its complex traditions of ancient court.

Korean food is some of the healthiest among other cuisines as it emphasises vegetables, meat that is cooked without much oil, and an obsession with fermented cabbage or kimchi, which is somewhat of an acquired taste for non-Koreans.

History and Food

Since the country was divided into North Korea and South Korea, the North Korean government has not welcomed any outsiders. Because of this, not much is known about the culture and cuisine in North Korea. Most of what is popularised globally come from South Korea, though it is presumed that most of the food is probably enjoyed by North Koreans as well as Koreans all over the world.

The Korean peninsula is surrounded by seas that provide bountiful of seafood such as tuna, squid, king crab and also plenty of moisture that makes the soil fertile for a variety of crops including rice and grains.

Around 2000 B.C., Koreans began growing grains and cultivating rice. At around the same time, they also cured and preserved fish, fermented wine and bean paste and commonly used honey and oil for cooking.

The invasion of the Chinese and Japanese in the twentieth century gave rise to foreign influences on the culinary styles and practices in Korea, that are still apparent in modern times. For instance, everyday meals in Korea are usually served with rice and the usage of chopsticks during mealtimes. Due to the usage of chopsticks, food is usually cut into smaller pieces to make it easier to pick up.

The smaller pieces of food cook faster which reduces the consumption of fuel. Koreans differ from China and Japan in their tea-drinking habits as Koreans rarely drink tea, but their pure water has led them to prefer other beverages such as ginseng and ginger drinks, wines and spirits.

The locals tend to place great importance on the medicinal benefits of food which led them to include ingredients such as dried persimmons, red dates (jujubes), gingkos, tangerine and ginseng in their dishes and brewed tea.

The Koreans have perfected the art of preservation of food, so much so that many of their side dishes are spicy, pickled, salted or fermented. Korean’s near-obsession with their spicy cabbage (kimchi) has more than a hundred varieties and is served at almost every meal. It is a local favourite due to its tangy, sharp taste and crunchiness. Not to mention, it is an effective digestive aid.

Iconic Korean Food and Popular Street Foods

  • Bibimbap 

This dish is a delicious mix of rice, beef (or chicken), vegetables cooked with garlic and sesame oil, usually topped with egg yolk and Korean chili paste (gochujang). The ingredients are cooked separately then artfully arranged in a stone bowl called dolsot, which is heated until the rice is cooked golden and crispy at the bottom.

  • Bulgogi

A dish that consists of tenderised, marinated beef that is flavoured with a blend of onion and nashi pear and cooked on a hot plate. It is commonly eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves and sometimes with steamed rice too. Condiments such as kimchi, gochujang and soybean paste (doenjang) are also served together.

  • Tteokbokki

These are commonly found in street vendors all around Korea. It is a dish of spicy rice cakes that are cooked in gochujang. It can also be found in a combination of fish cakes, boiled eggs and scallions. The rice cakes are chewy, and the sauce is sweet and spicy.

  • Eomuk Tang 

It is also known as “odeng” in Japanese. This local favourite is fish cake on a stick that is also served with a cup of broth. There are many variations of eomuk tang such as combining it with chillies, gochujang and scallions.

  • Hotteok

 Stuffed pancakes, these are the Korean variation of pancakes, it which they are stuffed with various fillings. This includes red bean paste, sweet potatoes, onions, noodles (japchae) and many more.

  • Hweori Gamja

Commonly known as tornado potato, it is a popular street food that is both visually pleasing and tasty. A whole potato is cut into a swirl and fried on a stick. It is then seasoned with various flavours.

  • Mandu 

These are Korean dumplings that are filled with meat and vegetables, and pan-fried until it is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It is similar to the Japanese dish, gyoza.

  • Pajeon 

A different type of pancake, the batter contains eggs, wheat flour, rice flour, scallions and various ingredients depending on the regional taste. Popular toppings of pajeon include chicken, pork, beef, kimchi and seafood.

  • Gimbap

Similar to sushi rolls, it is made from cooked rice and other fillings that are rolled in sheets of dried laver seaweed. It differs from sushi rolls because gimbap rice is mixed with sesame oil while sushi rice is often mixed with vinegar.

  • Jajangmyeon

It is noodles served with sweet bean sauce (chunjang), pork (or beef) and topped with vegetables. Other variations of the dish include seafood toppings.

  • Bingsu

Popular worldwide, this shaved ice dessert can be found in various cafes. The original dessert is shaved ice with red beans, rice cakes and syrup toppings. Currently, trendy flavours such as coffee, matcha green tea with ice cream and fruit as toppings have appeared.

Malaysians can definitely find Korean cuisine everywhere as plenty of restaurants such as Mr. Dakgalbi, Shinmapo Korean BBQ, K Street and countless more. Discover plenty of other establishments on foodpanda and get them delivered right to your doorstep!

Article Written By Marcovy

Marcovy is a passionate writer who thinks life is about living to eat and enjoying it to the fullest. He wanted to explore the restaurants around Malaysia and the idea of documenting those food experiences was what inspired him to start writing food blog.

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