What do Koreans Eat? Famous Korean Cuisine by Region
How does Korean food differ?
Korean cuisine varies by region depending on the environment and what is found naturally in the regions, as well as which level of society lived in area (i.e. working class or ruling class). The north is a mountainous region, and they tend to eat salted or dried fish, seaweed, and mountain plants. Because of the mountainous terrain, wet farming (how rice is farmed) is not always a viable option, and so they dry-field farm and grow cereal crops. The Central and Southern regions geographically consist mostly of plains, therefore they grow more rice crops, and the coastal region cuisine consists of fresh fish, shellfish and seaweed. There are 9 main provinces in Korea, each with a very unique story told by their food. They tend to overlap and influence one another.
The Cuisine of Seoul, or Korea's Royal Cuisine
Seoul has been the capitol of Korea for 600+ years, and so even today the food is influenced by the traditional royal court. They tend to serve a variety of small attractive dishes, and favor a high quality/lower quantity philosophy. Traditional dishes from this region include: ox bone soup, platter of nine delicacies, and mung bean jelly with veggies and beef.
Gyeonggi Province's Culinary History
The Gyeonggi Province is located in Northern South Korea. Here the local food style is plane and simple, yet diverse. The food is moderately salty and considering the proximity to Seoul, it is similar to the food from there. Spices are used in moderation. Historically, there was a cattle market located in Suwon, and this led to an increased popularity of barbecue beef.
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Food from ChungCheong Province
The ChungCheong Province is south of the Gyeonggi Province and is located in the central region of the country. Their cuisine features salted fish due to its increased preservation, as well as easily found mountain herbs and vegetables. The food is very lightly seasoned, allowing the natural flavor of the food to be enjoyed. Fresh water shell fish (olgoengi) and oysters are prominent in the food.
Culinary Promise of Gangwon Province
Gangwon Province borders North Korea and the East Sea, it also is a province that tends to favor dry farming due to its mountainous terrain. This means that corn, buckwheat, and potatoes (as well as acorns and wild veggies) are regulars in recipes from this area. The proximity to the sea allows for dried and salted Pollock, squid, and seaweed to makes it way to the dinner table as well. The potatoes are found in dishes steamed or fermented. Sujebi, (a soup with pulled dough morsels), porridge, and half-moon rice cakes are unique dishes prevalent in this region.
While you're here, learn to read a Korean menu.
Traditional Food from Jeolla Province
Jeolla is located in the south and is bordered by the West and South Sea. It is rich in natural resources, and the food tends to be lavish with extravagant food preparation. Traditionally this province has been home to nobles. The climate in this area is warm, so the food is salty, spicy, and pungent. Dishes include Gatssam Kimchi, Godulppaengiji, fermented thornback and bibimbap are all common dishes from this area.
Food from Gyeongsang Province
Gyeongsang Province is located at the end of the peninsula next to Jeolla Province, but bordering the South Sea and East Sea. They have fertile fishing grounds that are rich in marine products. The Nakalelong River runs through the area making the land fertile for agriculture. The food here is spicy and salty as well, however it is more plain and modest. Herbs and Chinese peppers are found in the food from this region, and Sashimi, Makjong, Dambukjong, and Dongrae Dajeon (a seafood and green onion pancake) are eaten here.
The Food of Jeju Island
Jeju Island is the southernmost island in Korea, therefore it has a warm climate. The island is surrounded with fishing grounds, making fish a prevalent part of Jeju cuisine. Also, since the food is so fresh, few seasonings are used and recipes can be made with only a handful of different ingredients. Dishes from this area include Ojingeo hoe, (오징어회), sliced raw squid made with squid and Sangeo sanjeok, (상어산적), Korean pancakes made with shark.
Although varied and diverse, the regional cuisines of Korea work together to form a picture of the history of Korea from its roots. Each region works with the natural elements from the area to form nutritious and delicious foods.