It is an observed fact that people in the West have been quite familiar with the Korean culture and Korean cuisine than people in the South Asian countries and Middle Eastern countries. Korean restaurants are widespread in the West compared to the latter countries. But recently, many people all over the world have started to ape Korean culture and most importantly, they have started to love Korean cuisine. Korean cuisine mainly involves rice, meat, and vegetables, but the preparation is traditional and originates from their own land. Just like Japanese and Chinese cuisine, Korean food incorporates a variety of aged seasonings. The blend of various ingredients makes the combo delicious and delightful. Thanks to the internet, foodies can now try Korean recipes at their own home. But firstly, there are five traditional Korean dishes one must definitely try when being introduced to Korean cuisine.

Kimchi, a staple in Korea is known as one of the national dishes. It is fermented in room temperature for a few days and later stored in the refrigerator. In olden days, people used to store it underground in jars during summer. It smells after fermentation, but it is considered as one of the healthiest foods in the world. The dish contains vitamins that help in digestion and may prevent cancer. Variations of Kimchi exist, but the common recipe includes the mixing of Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage), Korean red chili pepper flakes, radish, scallions, garlic, ginger, salted fish sauce and sugar. Kimchi is mostly consumed as a side dish and as a combination with other dishes.

Bibimbap means “mixed rice” and is a signature dish. In this dish, white rice is served with seasoned vegetables like cucumber, zucchini, mushrooms, tofu, lettuce, spinach, and red chili pepper paste, soy sauce, salted soybean paste, sesame oil, sesame seeds and fried egg or meat slices. Every ingredient is mixed together before consumption. The colours of various ingredients represent the following such as black symbolises the North, red symbolizes South, green symbolises East, white symbolizes West and yellow symbolises Centre. Bibimbap also has its variants according to different regions.

Tteokbokki, a spicy Korean snack is known to be a popular street food in Korea. It is commonly made with Korean rice cakes, red sweet chili paste, garlic, scallions, onions, salt, sugar, and seasonings. Some places serve the variation of this dish with boiled eggs, noodles, Korean dumplings, seafood, meat, vegetables, walnuts, melted cheese and soy sauce. The English name of this dish is ‘Topokki’.

People in the West often mention the phrase “Chinese hot pot and Korean BBQ”. Bulgogi represents one of the Korean BBQs and is available in any Korean Barbecue restaurant. In this dish, beef is grilled or pan cooked with garlic, scallions, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms. Before grilling, the meat is marinated in soy sauce, pear puree or sugar, salt and sesame oil. The grilled slices of beef are usually wrapped in a lettuce leaf and consumed.

Japchae is a dish served at special occasions and get-togethers in Korea. It literally means “a mixture of vegetables”. It has many variations but is usually made by stir-frying sweet potato noodles mixed along with vegetables and beef. It is seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds and chili flakes and served hot or cold as a main dish or as a side dish with rice.

 – Dona B. Paranayil, Correspondent (Food)