Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (2023)

Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (1)

Photo by Jun Michael Park

No Korean meal is complete without a bevy of banchan, the small shareable dishes that come before the main courses. While multiple origin theories and infinite banchan varieties exist, custom dictates highly specific preparations, such as blanched, braised, stir-fried, dried, fermented, and roasted.

Banchan is influenced by Eastern philosophy, says food blogger Kim Chan-Sook, so it should encompass five colors, symbolizing, among other things, the directions: green (or blue) for east, red for south, yellow for center, white for west, and black for north. And it should be served in dishes of three, five, seven, or nine types (in yin and yang principles, odd numbers are yang, considered good luck), alongside rice, soup, sauces, and, of course, kimchi—which doesn’t count as banchan. “Kimchi just comes automatically,” Kim says. “It’s expected, like a glass of water.”

Banchan is served prior to the main course. Tables are typically set with a spoon—used to eat rice and any soups or stews that come with the meal—and a pair of flat, metal chopsticks. Most people eat a bit of banchan right away, alternating bites with bites of rice, and save some to mix and match with the main course(s). There are many rules that govern banchan. Two big ones? Never pick up a rice bowl or banchan dish and eat from it—that’s considered rude—and never stick your spoon or chopsticks vertically into your rice when not using them.

15 popular Korean banchan

Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (2)

Photo by Dylan + Jen; styling by Jeni Afuso

(Video) 8 Korean side dishes Banchan | SOULFOOD


Seasoned soybean sprouts

One of the milder options you’ll find in a banchan spread, kongnamul is also one of the most popular and ubiquitous Korean side dishes. Composed of soybean sprouts, sesame oil, garlic, and a light sprinkling of chile flakes, kongnamul has a light, nutty flavor and an irresistible crunch.

Oi muchim

Spicy cucumber salad

This deceptively simple dish packs in a lot of bright and tangy flavor. “Oi muchim” translates directly to “seasoned cucumber” in English and features thin slices of cucumber tossed in hot pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and sesame oil.

Maneul jangajji

Pickled garlic

It’s no secret that Koreans love garlic. In maneul jangajji, cloves of garlic are quick-pickled in a vinegar and soy sauce brine and served cold. The remaining sweet, pungent liquid can be used as a dressing or an impromptu dipping sauce.

Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (3)

Photo by Dylan + Jen; styling by Jeni Afuso

Hobak bokkeum

Stir-fried zucchini

(Video) Intro to Korean Side Dishes (Banchan)

This dish is traditionally served in the summertime when zucchinis are the most sweet and tender. Zucchini is quartered and then seasoned with saeujeot (salted shrimp), garlic, scallions, and sesame oil. It’s traditionally made with aehobak (Korean zucchini), which has a thinner skin and more delicate flesh than Western varieties.


Sweet and salty black soybeans

Kongjaban is a favorite dish among kids and is frequently packed in lunch boxes—but it’s not just for children! To make kongjaban, black soybeans are stewed in a mix of soy sauce and anchovy broth until they’re soft (but not mushy) and then seasoned with a generous amount of sugar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds, making for the perfect sweet and savory treat.

Yeongeun jorim

Sweet soy-braised lotus root

The unusual, lacy appearance of lotus roots make yeongeun jorim a showstopper on the table. For this dish, lotus roots are thinly sliced and braised in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and either rice or corn syrup—the syrup gives the roots a pleasing texture. A sprinkle of sesame seeds and sesame oil finish the dish.

Myulchi bokkeum

Stir-fried anchovies

Myulchi bokkeum offers a holy trifecta of sweet, savory, and nutty flavors. An intriguing mix of dried anchovies and toasted peanuts, this dish also packs a spicy kick with slices of green chile peppers.

(Video) What is Korean Side Dishes | BANCHAN | ART OF MIX


Stir-fried glass noodles

Japchae is traditionally prepared during big holidays such as Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, but it is also enjoyed year round. Japchae actually translates to “mixed vegetables”—when the dish was first created during the early 17th century, it was served without noodles and consisted of beef stir-fried with carrots, onions, mushrooms, and green onions. Now, nearly 400 years later, japchae’s main attraction is, arguably, its delightfully chewy potato noodles. Soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and sugar are combined to create a sweet and savory sauce while slender strips of egg provide color.

Gyeran mari

Egg roll

Gyeran mari is like the Korean answer to Japan’s tamagoyaki—a sweet, layered omelette that’s rolled into a boxy, rectangular shape. Gyen mari, however, is more savory than tamagoyaki. In this dish, thoroughly beaten eggs are mixed with finely diced vegetables and meat and then rolled into a tight spiral. Sometimes chefs line the omelette with a sheet of dark green gim (seaweed) before rolling to accentuate the spiral shape.

Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (5)

Photo by Dylan + Jen; styling by Jeni Afuso

Mu saengchae

Spicy shredded radish

If you love a good crunch, this is the banchan for you. The secret to mu saengchae is a fresh, firm Korean daikon radish, which is a bit more sweet than its Japanese counterpart. The daikon is julienned using either a mandolin or a sharp knife and then tossed with rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, and gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes). A generous pinch of salt helps draw out excess liquid from the daikon and gives it its crispness.

Gaji namul

Steamed eggplant

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With its purple color and lustrous sheen, you can’t miss gaji namul—a popular summer dish—in a banchan spread. To make it, eggplants are steamed just until the flesh turns soft and sweet and the skin becomes tender. Then the eggplant is tossed in gochugaru, garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

Sigeumchi namul

Sautéed spinach

Sigeumchi namul is one of the simplest banchan: gently blanched spinach is dressed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic and sometimes garnished with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Often, you’ll find sigeumchi namul in bibimbap as well.

Everything You Need to Know About Korean Banchan (6)

Photo by Dylan + Jen; styling by Jeni Afuso

Dotorimuk muchim

Seasoned acorn jelly

This dish is made with a rather unconventional ingredient: dotorimuk—acorn jelly. After being ground into a fine powder and mixed with water, acorns will naturally set without the need for gelatin or agar. Acorn jelly is soft, chewy, and slightly bitter and in dotorimuk muchim (“muchim” simply means seasoned), it’s topped with a drizzle of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and hot pepper flakes and garnished with green onions and sesame seeds.

Ueong jorim

Braised burdock root

Ueong jorim is similar to yeongeun jorim but features burdock root instead of lotus root. Thinly sliced burdock root is braised in a soy sauce and corn- or rice-syrup concoction and then stir-fried in either sesame or perilla oil. Ueong jorim is best enjoyed in the fall when burdock is in season.

(Video) 5 Ways to Enjoy Korean Breakfast Side Dishes BANCHAN


Scallion pancakes

To make pajeon (“pa” means scallion while “jeon” means fritter) green scallions and (frequently) a colorful ingredient like carrots are combined in a flour batter, and then fried into thin pancakes. There are many variations of scallion pancakes throughout Asia, such as Taiwan’s cong you bing, so what really distinguishes Korea’s take on the popular Asian street food is its dipping sauce. Pajeon is usually accompanied by a sweet and savory soy sauce–based dip that’s been sweetened with honey or sugar and topped with chile flakes.

>>Next: Inside the Culinary Renaissance of Korean Banchan


What is the important banchan in Korean food? ›

Kimchi is fermented vegetables, usually baechu (Napa cabbage), seasoned with chili peppers and salt. This is the essential banchan of a standard Korean meal. Some Koreans do not consider a meal complete without kimchi.

Why do Koreans serve banchan? ›

Why do Koreans have so many side dishes? The idea of banchan dates back to times of Korean royal court cuisine, where a meal was said to be twelve dishes and accompanied with rice and soup. Today, banchan can consist of anywhere from two to twelve dishes; although cheaper restaurants serve less.

How many types of banchan are there? ›

There are generally three main types of banchan – fresh vegetable banchan like namul or muchim; braised or soy sauce-based banchan called jorim; and well-preserved mit banchan like kimchi or jeotgal, that's usually on hand in large batches.

What is the purpose of banchan? ›

The Korean small plates called banchan (which literally translates to "side dishes,") are served ahead of the main course, but they're not appetizers. They represent a category unto themselves: snacks-within-a-meal that function as complements, contrasts, and condiments all at once. And they're totally necessary.

Is banchan healthy? ›

The trick to eating healthy Banchan is to simply stick with the vegetables. They offer a ton of flavor and are going to be low in calories while rich with micronutrients. Korean offers a ton of variety of healthy foods and we haven't even gotten to the main courses yet.

How long can you keep banchan? ›

Quick pickled vegetables will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Other fresh vegetable banchan, be it raw, braised or seasoned, can last about 2-4 days in the refrigerator. This varies because some vegetables are simply more durable than others.

Is it rude to ask for more banchan? ›

Don't ask for more banchan in a Korean restaurant, unless you're with a regular. Banchan, if you're not familiar, is a collection of traditional Korean side dishes that include kimchi, pickled vegetables, soup, and a few egg dishes, according to Tripzilla.

Is Korean side dishes healthy? ›

Korean cuisine is characterized by plenty of vegetables, rice, and meat or fish. Meals are often served with a variety of small sides, broth-based soups, and fermented cabbage (kimchi). It's generally considered healthy and known for incorporating many health-promoting ingredients like fermented foods.

Do you eat banchan cold? ›

Because many of the banchan are served cold, rather than preparing many for a meal at once, a couple of banchan might be prepared each day, and then enjoyed in small portions over several days. The flavours are fresh, simple, light, and spicy – food to feel good after.

What do you drink with banchan? ›

And for white meats like pork belly, there is no better pairing than with a bottle of béarn blanc. The idea to start pairing wine with Korean food was built into the concept of the restaurant: a Korean barbecue spot in West LA.

What does Bonchon mean in Korean? ›

Founded in South Korea in 2002, the word “Bonchon” means “my hometown” in Korean and represents the company's mission to be a constantly reliable source of familiarity and comfort for our customers by serving up a delicious, premium food experience wherever they are.

Are Korean side dishes unlimited? ›

One of the most appealing things about eating out in Korea is the unlimited free refill on the side dishes, known as banchan.

How do you pronounce banchan in Korean? ›

BANCHAN: Korean Sidedishes (KWOW#26) - YouTube

What does banchan mean in Korean? ›

What Does Banchan Mean? Banchan is a collection of Korean side dishes that dinner guests enjoy in Korea and around the world as a prelude to the main meal. Examples of banchan dishes include pickled radishes, scallion pancakes, and fermented cabbage, to name just a few.

Will I lose weight eating Korean food? ›

First, traditional Korean meals are naturally rich in vegetables, which contain a lot of fiber. Fiber-rich diets can help you lose weight by reducing hunger and cravings while promoting feelings of fullness ( 1 , 2 , 3 ).

What is the healthiest Korean dish? ›

7 Healthy Korean Food for Spring and Summer!
  1. Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) A mild yet addicting taste! ...
  2. Bibimbap (“mixed rice”) ...
  3. Gimbap (Korean Sushi) ...
  4. Bulgogi (marinated beef barbecue) ...
  5. Japchae (stir-fried noodles) ...
  6. Jangeo-gui (Grilled Eel) ...
  7. Haemul Jeongol (Spicy Seafood Hot Pot)
Mar 12, 2019

Is gochujang unhealthy? ›

Gochujang is considered a diet-friendly superfood because it's rich in protein, antioxidants and vitamins, but low in fat and calorie content.

Can you make banchan ahead of time? ›

This recipe not only comes together in minutes, but it also can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 3 days. So whether you need some more greenery in your bringing-lunch-from-home routine or an easy, tasty side dish for your next dinner party, sigeumchi namul has got you covered.

How long can you store Korean side dishes in the fridge? ›

Also known as Oi Muchim (오이무침), this Korean side dish (banchan) is crunchy, spicy, fresh, and toasty all at the same time! From Erica Kastner of Buttered Side Up. Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix very well so that the gochugaru is evenly distributed. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

How long does spinach side dish last in the fridge? ›

A fast and delicious way to get in your greens for dinner, lunch and this works well for meal prep too as you can store it in the fridge up to 4-5 days!

Is it polite to burp in South Korea? ›

You might have known about slurping with the amount of Korean dramas you consume regularly. But burping, or even farting, in public is not frowned upon. Burping is actually considered a sign of appreciation for the food. Chefs like it if you do it.

Do you eat Korean side dishes first? ›

Banchan is communal, so everyone dips their chopsticks into their favourites — whether it's the baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi) or kongnamul muchim (seasoned beansprouts), Park says. Anyone can go first, although deference towards your elders is part of Korean culture, he adds. The rest is up to you.

Is it rude not to finish your food in Korea? ›

It's also a great way to combat too much spice in a dish. It is not considered rude not to finish every grain of rice, so don't feel pressured. Eat what you're comfortable eating and no more.

What do Koreans eat for breakfast? ›

A typical Korean breakfast is not that much different than the other meals of the day, except maybe a bit on the lighter side (or with fewer banchan, or side dishes). Rice, a small bowl of soup or stew, and any number of banchan would typically make up the first meal of the day.

Why is Korean food so salty? ›

Korean dishes that are high in sodium include kimchi, salted seafood, ramen, and Korean soups and stews, said Cho. “When you eat soups or stews, try to add spring onion or peppers instead of salt,” Cho said.

How do you ask for more banchan in Korean? ›

반찬 더 주세요. Banchan duh juseyo. Please give me/us more side dishes.

Are side dishes free in Korea? ›

Banchan -- side dishes served at all Korean restaurants -- are included in the cost of the meal and include “free refills.”

What does Bapsang mean? ›

Bapsang means a table setting for meals to be enjoyed. The word Bapsang is made up of two words: Bap (Cooked rice or meal) and Sang (table). Every meal is built around rice. It's the foundation of the meal The typical Korean table consists of rice, soup or stew and several side dishes.

What sides go with bulgogi? ›

The best dishes to serve with bulgogi are fresh kimchi, grilled bok choy, kimchi fried rice, braised baby potatoes, and yachaejeon. You can also serve japchae, fish cake stir fry, stuffed peppers, and baked potatoes. Try chilled oi naengguk, scallion salad, and pickled daikon for healthier options.

What should I eat before soju? ›

Salty snacks like pretzels are claimed to help absorb the alcohol. Dried or fresh fruits are also common foods served to complement soju cocktails. Basically, anything that's salty or sweet — not hard to get before your date with soju shots.

What should I eat after soju? ›

A blend of dried fruit and nuts is another anju. Since there are many soju drinks that use fruits like strawberries, lemons, oranges, and apples, fruit is a good complement to soju cocktails. Other finger foods like sweet dried squid or dried anchovies and nuts are served as anju as well.

What alcohol goes best with Korean food? ›

A dry, light Riesling or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc are choices for Korean meals that are heavier on the spice than usual. Nothing too sweet, fruity, or complex. Avoid heavy red wines.

Why kimchi is important in Korea? ›

Kimchi is the most important traditional fermented food in Korea. Historically, the tradition of making kimchi among Koreans started as a necessity of storing and preserving vegetables during the long harsh cold winters when many people died of starvation.

What does Bapsang mean? ›

Bapsang means a table setting for meals to be enjoyed. The word Bapsang is made up of two words: Bap (Cooked rice or meal) and Sang (table). Every meal is built around rice. It's the foundation of the meal The typical Korean table consists of rice, soup or stew and several side dishes.

What do you drink with banchan? ›

And for white meats like pork belly, there is no better pairing than with a bottle of béarn blanc. The idea to start pairing wine with Korean food was built into the concept of the restaurant: a Korean barbecue spot in West LA.


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