Traditional Korean Food (2023)

Hansik is renowned the world over for its exceptional use of fresh local, seasonal ingredients to create a wide variety of delicious dishes shared with family and friends.

The history of Korean cuisine (Hansik) from home style cooking to Western favorites like Kimchi and Bibimbap.

<Bibimbap (rice mixed with meat, vegetables, egg, and chili pepper paste), the most popular Korean cuisine, is a traditional Korean dish that combines various tastes in a single mouthful.>

Hanjeongsik, a Korean full-course meal with five surprises

Foreigners who have experienced hanjeongsik, the Korean equivalent of the Western course meal, are usually surprised a total of five times. The first surprise is the immense size of the table. When seated, it is impossible to reach the opposite end of the table with one's arm. The second is the fact that the table is so completely covered with dishes that there is no space left on it; each dish holds a different food.

Traditional Korean Food (1)

<Hanjeongsik table served for two people.>

The third surprise is that of all the foods present, the only ones that are for one's exclusive consumption are rice and soup. The other foods are to be enjoyed with the other people present at the table in a communal interaction of spoons and chopsticks. There is no such thing as spooning out food for oneself on a separate dish. Recently, it has become common to take portions of food onto individual dishes for the sake of hygiene, but the original way of eating Korean food was the shared dipping of utensils into stews, soups and side dishes. Because of this practice, Westerners who are accustomed to eating only the food on one's plate experience a profound culture shock.

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<Hobakjuk (pumpkin porridge) and kimchi served with a traditional Korean metal spoon and chopsticks.>

The fourth surprise is the chopsticks. The act of using two thin sticks to bring food to the mouth is no easy task. It takes several years even for Korean children to become accustomed to this utensil. To many foreigners seeing Korean chopsticks for the first time, the fact that people actually eat with them alone is quite unbelievable. The last surprise is the taste of the food. It is within this fifth surprise that the characteristics of Korean food shine.

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<A recreation of a typical king's meal during the Joseon Dynasty.>

(Video) [Hansik of The Day] Korean traditional home meal (평범한 일상, 밥상)

Korean food is not served in a time-based format of soup or salad, appetizer, and main dish in sequential order. Instead, all foods of the meal are placed on a single table at once in a "space-based" format. As a result, the Korean meal is not a single table spread in which a person eats only what is placed in front of them, but a shared table that everyone enjoys together. The Korean meal does not involve passive enjoyment of food that is served one after the other, but is an "active" table in which each person may choose what he or she likes from the diverse dishes on the table. These characteristics of the Korean meal resulted in a unique culinary culture that is rarely seen anywhere else in the world.

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<Foreigners enjoy a variety of foods at a Korean food experience event.>

Korean food: The taste of nature from the mountains, the sea, and the four seasons

Seventy percent of Korea's land is covered with mountains, while three of the country's sides touch the ocean. Korea is also characterized by four distinct seasons. The diversity and abundance of ingredients provided by the mountains, fields, rivers and sea of its richly diverse geographical features are the starting points and the blessings of Korean food.

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<Gujeolpan (nine sectioned dish), an ancient Korean royal dish comprised of meat, seafood, egg and vegetables, is eaten by wrapping the ingredients in a small flat rice pancake (similar to a tortilla).>

With the changing of spring to summer and fall, there are different types of namul (seasoned vegetable dishes) created from ingredients found on the mountains, in the fields, and in the rivers and seas. It is literally impossible to exclude any one taste from this array of delicious tastes, which has resulted in large tables completely filled with food.

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<Bulnack Jeongol, a stew made with small octopus, beef and vegetables, served with various kimchi and gejang (marinated crab).>

Everyone uses chopsticks to eat the food they enjoy best, whatever that may be. If it is too much work to pick and choose one-by-one, all can be combined in a large bowl and mixed together, which produces a new taste that is entirely different from the taste of each individual ingredient. This mixture of ingredients is called bibimbap. Koreans love to mix foods together. Even fermented bean stew can be mixed together with several side dishes on a whim. If one has lost all desire to eat, hot pepper paste is added to the mixture to reactivate one's taste buds. Bibimbap, which recently became popular after being added to the in-flight menu of a Korean airline company, originates from the plentiful quantities of Korea's diverse local and seasonal ingredients.

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<Dolsot Bibimbap (left) and Bibimbap (right). Dolsot Bibimbap is a Bibimbap arranged in a stone bowl called a Dolsot, which is heated until the rice turns golden and crispy on the bottom. You mix everything together when you eat it.>

The most prominent feature of Korean food is its fermented dishes. There is virtually no country with as wide a variety of fermented dishes as Korea, with not only kimchi and jeotgal (fermented seafood) but also gochujang (pepper paste), doenjang (soybean paste) and soy sauce. This diversity was borne out of the long and cold Korean winter. For the winter, when it was difficult to obtain the fresh vegetables and namul (seasoned vegetable dishes) available in the spring, summer and fall, ancient Koreans came up with the ingenious solution of fermentation. Most countries have at least a few fermented foods, like yogurt or cheese, but Korea is the only one in which cabbages, radishes and vegetables are fermented to be consumed year round.

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<Minmul Maeuntang (spicy fresh water fish stew) made with gochujang (pepper paste).>

The most famous of these is kimchi, and no Korean meal is complete without it. Even today, before the start of winter, Koreans partake in kimjang: pickling cabbages and radishes in salt and jeotgal, and placing these inside large earthenware pots to ferment. Kimchi-making methods vary per household, with countless methods of pickling and types of kimchi. No matter how filled a table may be with the delicacies of land, sea and air, if kimchi is not present, the meal is not complete and feels empty. This is the nature of the traditional Korean meal.

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<Kimchi, Korea's most famous fermented dish, comes in an array of types.>

Another representative Korean fermented food is jang. Jang is a collective term for sauces including doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (pepper paste), ganjang (soy sauce) and cheonggukjang (fast-fermented bean paste). Jang is an important seasoning for all Korean dishes as well as a major source of protein.

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<Doenjang (soybean paste) and gochujang (pepper paste).>

Folk customs provide evidence of the importance of jang to ordinary Koreans throughout history. The saying "a household falls if the taste of jang is changed" points to just how critical it was to maintain the taste of the family jang through the generations. The day for making jang was chosen ahead of time from among auspicious dates. After jang was made, a rope of twisted rice straws was draped around the earthenware pot to protect the jang inside from harmful spirits. A sock pattern was sometimes pasted upside-down onto the pot, another attempt to protect the jang from harm or evil.

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<Manduguk (dumpling soup) with ganjang (soy sauce).>

The process of making of jang was an important yearly event that involved the hanging up of meju (blocks of fermented bean paste), making jang and waiting for it to ripen from early winter to early summer of the following year. Soy sauce is a solution extracted from doenjang, which is based on meju, with water and salt as the main ingredients. It is made through the activity of microorganisms that break down carbohydrates and protein. In the fermentation process, microorganism cultures are formed that produce a variety of flavors. Due to the use of such microorganisms in homemade jang, its taste and quality vary depending on the climate, environment and production method of the region in which it is made. It is also the flavor of this jang that determines the taste of the family's meals for an entire year.

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<The first step in making traditional Korean jang is the making of meju (blocks of fermented soybean).>

In a sense, it is no exaggeration to say that Korean food begins with jang and ends with kimchi. It is between these two bookends that the taste of Korea resides, with its diverse and abundant ingredients and long history of 5,000 years.

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<Jangdok (traditional Korean earthenware) is the vessel in which Korean fermented foods such as kimchi, doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (pepper paste), ganjang (soy sauce) are preserved.>

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<Korean Buddhist Temple Food table served for two people.>

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<Samgyetang (Korean Chicken Soup with Ginseng).>

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<Ganjang gejang (Korean raw crabs marinated with soy sauce.>

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<Ssambap (Korean lettuce wraps with sliced pork).>

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<Gamjatang (pork bone soup with potato).>

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<Bibim Naengmyeon (spicy Korean cold noodle with sashimi).>

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<Mul Naengmyeon (Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodle).>

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<Tteok (Korean rice cake) and refreshments dessert with tea).>

The history of Korean cuisine (Hansik) from home style cooking to Western favorites like Kimchi and Bibimbap.

(Video) Korean traditional wedding food making process

* Photos courtesy of Korea Tourism Organization.

FAQs

What is the traditional food of Korea? ›

The most well-known are kimchi (fermented cabbage), ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), and gochujang (Korean chili paste). Popular dishes among international visitors include bulgogi, bibimbap, and hanjeongsik (Korean table d'hote). Bulgogi is a marinated beef dish that is sweet and tender in texture.

Is traditional Korean food healthy? ›

Considering the ingredients and cooking methods of the traditional Korean diet, it's generally considered healthy. Because they're often high in vegetables and cooked without much oil, Korean meals are often lower in calories than traditional American meals (2, 3 ).

Why is Korean food culture important? ›

Korean food culture is another, and it's one of the best ways to gain insight into Korea's history and identity. To get to know South Korea, you have to know its cuisine — the history and philosophy behind it, the customs, staples and traditional Korean dishes, dining etiquette, and food trends!

What is Korean daily food? ›

Short grain sticky rice is the staple food of the Korean diet, and virtually every meal is served with kimchi, a fermented cabbage, garlic and pepper dish (think sauerkraut with hot sauce).

What is the fact about Korean food? ›

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, seafood and (at least in South Korea) meats. Dairy is largely absent from the traditional Korean diet. Traditional Korean meals are named for the number of side dishes (반찬; 飯饌; banchan) that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice.

What is the healthiest Korean food? ›

What are the healthiest Korean food options?
  • Kimchi. Kimchi is supercharged with nutrients. ...
  • Stir-fried and steamed vegetables which retain most of their nutrients due to the cooking method (as part of a main dish and as side dishes).
  • Bulgogi. ...
  • Bibimbap. ...
  • Soondubu jjigae. ...
  • Jangeo-gui. ...
  • Kongguksu. ...
  • Gimbap/kimbap.
30 Sept 2022

Is Korean food the healthiest in the world? ›

Korean cuisine is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Korean people have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world, second only to Japan. Most of the main ingredients in Korean cooking are protein-based, with condiments that are very flavorful and use very few calories.

Why traditional food is important? ›

Traditional foods are nutrient-rich and have a long history of supporting health and wellness. Indeed, these foods have been consumed for thousands of years. Traditional foods are simply prepared and basic – from vegetables and fruits, to meat, poultry, and fish, to dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

What makes Korean culture special? ›

Korean culture is profoundly influenced by Confucian principles and this pervades not only personal lives, but also business. Confucianism supports group harmony, respect for elders and authority, the importance of family, friendship and ancestors, and also, tradition.

Why is traditional food important to us? ›

To achieve wellness, the body needs nutrients from real food. Eating traditional foods helps to avoid many health issues including allergies, asthma, digestive and cardiovascular health issues, obesity, and auto-immune disorders like lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and even Diabetes.

How many times do Korean eat? ›

Koreans don't distinguish among breakfast, lunch, or dinner, so it's not unusual to eat rice three times a day. In addition to individual bowls of rice, you may get a single serving of soup. Hot pots (jjigae or jungol), which are thicker and saltier, are set in the middle of the table for everyone to share.

What is Korean main dish? ›

Traditionally the main dish of any Korean meal is rice, which is supported by soup and banchan. However, in Korean restaurants these dishes are often presented to customers as main dishes.

What makes Korean food Popular? ›

Korean food is some of the healthiest on earth, with an emphasis on vegetables, meats cooked simply and without much oil, and a near obsession with the fermented vegetable kimchi, which can be something of an acquired taste for non-Koreans.

How Korean maintain their weight? ›

  • Jan 17, 2022. BY: Shivanshi Tomer. ...
  • ​Lots of veggies. Koreans follow a well-balanced diet that contains more of veggies and less of processed foods which keeps them in shape without any hassle. ...
  • ​Sweets in moderation. ...
  • ​Tea instead of soda. ...
  • ​Love for tofu. ...
  • ​No-bread diet. ...
  • ​Soups and stews. ...
  • ​Fermented foods.
17 Jan 2022

Why is Korean meat so good? ›

Raised free-range in the South Korean countryside, Hanwoo cattle are known for their high marbling, beefy flavor and slightly sweet taste – a result of an organic mixed grain and grass diet. In South Korea, locally bred Hanwoo is the meat of choice – and it's priced accordingly.

Which country has the healthiest food? ›

1. Japan. You might have noticed that Japan frequently tops wellbeing lists online and in the press – and its population is indeed the oldest in the world. Diet plays an important role in this: as an island, there's a natural abundance of fresh fish on the menu, balanced by carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit and meat.

What culture eats the healthiest? ›

These are the healthiest cultures and diets in the world
  • The Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean Diet has long been touted as one of the world's healthiest diets. ...
  • Japan. Japan has one the world's longest life expectancies and it 05/be due to its diet. ...
  • South Korea. ...
  • France.

How do Korean people stay healthy? ›

Korean people love their vegetables, which is one of the key reasons behind their slim, healthy body. Given that most vegetables are fibrous, wholesome and low in calories, it helps tremendously in weight loss. The fibre in the veggies helps in feeling satiated, keeping other high caloric foods at bay.

Is Korean spicy food healthy? ›

Research has found that eating spicy food made with gochujang, which contains the compound capsaicin, may lower body weight, speed metabolism, help burn fat and suppress appetite. Capsaicin has been shown to increase the breakdown of fat by inhibiting certain enzymes linked to fat cell formation.

Why do people love traditional food? ›

Traditional cuisine is passed down from one generation to the next. It also operates as an expression of cultural identity. Immigrants bring the food of their countries with them wherever they go and cooking traditional food is a way of preserving their culture when they move to new places.

Why traditional food is better than modern food? ›

Eat balanced meals

Traditional foods, with good proportion of healthy fat, carbs and fibre, are usually balanced meals. Hence, they are also considered nutritious, compared to the food eaten now.

Is traditional food healthy? ›

It has a great benefit on health as well. Uses of seasonal and local vegetables and fruits also promote good health and better immunity. Indian food uses a lot of grains like bajra, jowar along with different rice grains and pulse making traditional Indian food loaded with goodness.

How do Koreans show respect? ›

Respect should always be shown to those that are older than you. This involves deferring to their opinion, waiting for their input and lowering your gaze if they are an elder. Objects, gifts and food should be offered and received with two hands.

What is Korean culture all about? ›

Korean culture is deeply influenced by the Buddhism as Buddhism has become inherent aspect of the Korea culture, including the secular Korean traditions followed by the non-Buddhist Koreans. A 2005 government survey indicated that about a quarter of South Koreans identified as Buddhist.

Why traditional life is important? ›

We intentionally create and continue traditions because they provide a sense of belonging and meaning to our lives. Family rituals nurture connection and give us comfort. The special customs and rituals we have give us something to look forward to and something to hope for. They help us anticipate what is to come.

What is BTS Favourite food? ›

Hence, it is no surprise that one of his favorite Korean dishes to eat is Kimchi Fried Rice. He has mentioned this fact during various BTS interviews. Kimchi fried rice is very similar to ordinary fried rice.

What is a popular Korean dish? ›

One of the oldest and probably the most essential dishes in Korean cuisine, kimchi is a spicy and sour dish made up of fermented vegetables. It is prepared with various kinds of ingredients, but the most common main ingredient is cabbage.

What are 5 foods that are eaten in South Korea? ›

Food In South Korea
  • Kimchi. Kimchi has always been part of South Korea's cuisine, and can be all sorts of different types of fermented vegetables. ...
  • Mul Naengmyeon. ...
  • Japchae. ...
  • Jjimdak. ...
  • Samgyeopsal. ...
  • Bibimbap. ...
  • Bulgogi. ...
  • Pajeon.

What does JK love eating? ›

Samgyeopsal is a grilled pork belly dish that is wrapped in lettuce leaves and then dipped in sauce before eating. It is said to be one of Jungkook's most favourite dishes.

What is V's favorite color? ›

V's favorite color is gray. 14. His favorite songs include “Hello in There” by Joan Baez, “Blue Room” by Chet Baker and “Every Kind of Way” by H.E.R.

Who eats a lot in BTS? ›

Each BTS member has unique and interesting food habits! RM has a sweet tooth and loves eating Jajangmyeon, Suga loves garlic in all his meals, J-Hope enjoys his Kimchi fried rice and Jin loves his steak a lot! The maknae line of BTS are big foodies as well.

What is unique to Korean food? ›

Korean cuisine is one of the world's healthiest because of the wide use of natural and seasonal components of their food sources, like tofu, beans, garlic, and their all-natural kimchi. Rice is a precious staple in the Korean diet, preferring the starchier short grain rice with its stickier texture.

What is Korean comfort food? ›

Of course, kimbap (김밥) had to make the list as it's a classic go to comfort food. Made with seasoned vegetables and meats and wrapped in rice and seaweed, it is commonly referred to as the Korean version of sushi. Kimbap is especially perfect for when you need a quick, easy to eat meal.

What does Korean says before eating? ›

잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgetseumnida)

Explanation: Koreans say this before eating to show appreciation to the person who prepared for the food. It's kind of like saying “thanks for preparing this, I'm going to have a good meal because of you”.

What is a normal Korean dinner? ›

Most Simple Korean Meals:

Rice + Main Meat or Seafood Dish + Kimchi. Bibimbap or Rice Bowls + Kimchi. One dish meals (Kimchi fried rice, Curry rice, Kongnamul bap) + soup (optional) + Kimchi and/or pickled radish (Danmuji)

What do South Korea eat for breakfast? ›

Breakfast in South Korea

In South Korea breakfast may consist of soup, side dishes, and rice. Favorite breakfast soups include galbitang, kongnamul bap, kimchijjigae, or manduguk. There is also a side dish meal called baekban which consists of a small bowl of soup with many side dishes.

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