In Korea, Korean food is called '한식' (han-sik) and there are actually a lot. I’ll just give you some (most probably, those I already tasted.. ~~ ^^ ).
Let’s start with…
1. 김치 (Kimchi)
I can hear this food from my students almost every day when I ask them what they have for a certain meal that day. I also have this ALWAYS on my table when I go to a Korean restaurant to eat. Well, this is the beloved spicy side dish of fermented vegetables (cabbage, radish, spicy red peppers) at every Korean table, as they say. Korea has more than 200 types of kimchi.
Kimchi is usually made in quantity in late autumn and then eat it until the next autumn season. It's prepared by salting and preserving fermented cabbage in a bed of pepper, garlic, ginger and scallion. They call it Kimjang Kimchi. (I just heard from my student that company workers receive their bonus before this time so that they can buy a lot of ingredients they need for making kimchi.) Right after making a lot of kimchi, they usually have some for dinner with bossam which is boiled pork.
However, kimchi is only a side dish and is meant to compliment the meal rather than be eaten on its own. It is usually a tasty dish with rice or another dish.
2. 잡채 (Japchae)
This is one of my favorite Korean foods, even at my first taste of it. It looks like pancit (a Filipino noodle with mixed vegetables).It is actually made of cellophane noodles, pork, and assorted vegetables fried separately in a small amount of oil then sautéed in soy sauce. Usually it has carrots, mushrooms, onions and leeks. However, some other vegetables may be added.
Japchae is one of the most common Korean dishes at Korean celebration parties and special occasions. It is also very popular in and outside Korea.
3. 비빔밥 (Bibimbap)
Bibimbap is also a Korean dish which is popular even in other countries as it is served on airlines. It’s a combination of mixed vegetables, rice, beef, and egg, with sesame oil and a dollop of red pepper paste or some other distinctive form of marinade.
My student once told me that if I visit Korea, I should go to Jeonju region and taste their Jeonju bibimbap. She said Jeonju’s specialty is bibimbap so it is very delicious there.
I remember the first time I ate it. I didn’t mix everything and just ate separately so I was not satisfied. Hahahaha! I should have used my chopsticks to mix the red pepper paste thoroughly with the rice, then, ate with a spoon, along with the available choices of side dishes.
4. 불고기 (Bulgogi)
Bulgogi is made from thin strips of beef or thinly sliced beef which is marinated in soy sauce honey (or sugar), green onions, garlic, sesame seed salt, and black pepper, then grilled to perfection. You can also add doenjang or bean paste for flavour.
I really like the meat because it’s typically sweet and tender. I often have it with rice (it’s usual in Korea) and never tried to eat it solely.
5. 삼겹살 (Samgyeopsal)
Oh! I love this so much! Hahahaha! This will never be forgotten on my table every time I eat in a Korean restaurant with my colleagues.
Well, maybe you are all familiar with this one because it is always seen in Korean dramas especially when the scene is all about eating out or drinking soju (Korean alcoholic drink in a green bottle). It is often enjoyed during the late evening or after work (as Koreans usually eat out or drink after work with friends and co-workers.)
To eat it, you need to wrap the meat first in lettuce along with the vegetables that you like including perilla leaves, sliced onions, raw garlic, kimchi, green peppers, and more. It’s smudged in ssamjang (a mixture of soybean paste called 'doenjang' and chili paste called 'gochujang') or sometimes salt and pepper in sesame oil.
6. 떡국 (Ddeok-guk)
In Korea, everyone turns a year older with the start of each New Year (and not on their birthday). Because of that, many people tell their children that they will not become a year older unless they've eaten some ddeok-guk for New Year’s.
This dish of cylinder-shaped rice cakes about 2 cm in diameter are cut diagonally into thin slices, soaked in water and in a meat-based broth is eaten all year round but it is actually a specialty dish for the New Year Holiday to signify good luck and as I mentioned earlier, to gain another year in age.
Ddeok, translated as rice cakes, is a very tasty and traditional snack enjoyed by most Koreans. It is mainly made of rice complimented with various ingredients such as grains, pine nuts, chestnuts, jujubes, fruits, sagebrush, wild aster, and other vegetables to make a diverse variety of rice cakes. It's quite enjoyable choosing from a selection of over 100 different kinds of rice cakes to eat. It is usually seen on birthdays, large feasts, or religious rituals.
In Korea, there is a pan-fried rice cake or ddeok and we call it ddeok-ko-chi.
There is also a special rice cake which is called 송편 (songpyeon) eaten for 추석 (Chuseok - Korean thanksgiving day). Songpyeons are half-moon-shaped rice cakes made from a dough of rice flour and are stuffed with sesame seeds sweetened with honey. These are also often exchanged between neighbors during the said special day.
8. 미역국 (Miyeok Guk)
(미역국) Korean Seaweed soup is also known as the ‘birthday soup’ because Koreans do eat it during their birthdays. Well, compared to cakes that we usually have almost every year that we celebrate our birthdays, seaweed is a probably a no-no especially to non-asians.
In Korea, this seaweed soup is traditionally a must for women after delivering a baby. Eating it for at least three weeks straight will help them recover their health quickly. Because of that, a birthday celebrator should eat this seaweed soup on his/her birthday.
And what’s the taste of it?
Well,as the name implies, it is a soup made with mi-yeok (seaweed) . It is a mild and tasty soup typically made with beef broth or seafood (such as clams or mussels) based broth.
9. 김밥 (Kimbap)
Kimbap is a very common dish in Korea especially for lunch (according to my students) or when going out on a picnic. Simply because it is made up of rice (bap) and nutritious vegetables, rolled in sheets of dried laver seaweed (kim) so it is also good for the body. Though traditional fillings include vegetables, egg, meat and/or crab, you can put whatever you want into them these days. There are also different kinds of kimbap. Koreans (including my students) frequently have this dish on their lunchboxes.
10. 자장면 (Jajangmyeon) or 짜장면 (Jjajangmyeon)
Jajangmyeon is a black sauce pasta that tastes sweet and contains lots of vegetables.
It is actually a Korean-Chinese dish that is, I guess, most popular noodle dish in Korea especially this month of April. Have you ever heard of the ‘Black Day’? If not, then probably you’re missing something particularly if you’re a single. Jajangmyeon is usually eaten by singles on a day called “Black Day” (Ugh, I think, this will be the topic for my next blog.) Also, parents often take their kids outs to eat this dish on special occasions like birthdays, graduations, etc. (Well, let’s just say it’s a Korean version of spaghetti that children do really enjoy.)
How about you? Which one have you tried? Have a taste and feel free to leave a comment! ^^
(Note: I'll continue to try some other Korean dishes and update this blog from time to time. ~~)