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Food Magazine

The history of Korean cuisine

Whenever we talk about a country, it isn’t long before the conversation turns towards food and eating! Korea is no exception, with a vast array of traditional dishes that are available alongside a new wave of influences to the cuisine as a consequence of development and globalisation.

Korean cuisine is ‘sharing orientated’ so a typical meal can consist of several large communal platters and umpteen numbers of side dishes all served at once! Did you know that historically the number of side dishes you had, reflected your social status? Only the King was allowed to be served twelve of them! Rice (and often soup) are viewed as necessary staples at the table, and sometimes noodles are eaten too.

Of course we must also mention kimchi, which are fermented vegetables that are consistently eaten with meals. There are so many varieties of kimchi, but the most basic type is made with Chinese cabbage and it is actually quite labour intensive to make! Small amounts are picked up with chopsticks and added to rice to act as a nice complement to the main dishes. Kimchi is so versatile that it is even found as a prominent ingredient in stews! You may notice a balance between contrasting temperatures and textures amongst the variety of food served; for example, there may be a subtly flavoured broth, a highly spiced yet comforting stew, hot seafood pancakes and a few cold crunchy pickles and kimchi available in one sitting.

The ingredients in Korean cookery have similarities to China and Japan, which isn’t surprising considering the geographical proximity of the countries, but what makes Korean cuisine different is in the flavouring of dishes and the way the ingredients are used. There is an emphasis on achieving highly seasoned dishes with depth of flavour, by common use of strong ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and chillies in addition to powerful condiments such as salted shrimp and anchovy extracts, and fermented pastes. These seasonings help to elevate humble fresh ingredients to a great tasting experience.

What of modern Korean eating? Korea has a plethora of different restaurants these days, and also amazing street food! Anyone for tteok-bokki or hotteok? Barbecue-style eating is also very popular, and can be viewed as an extension of their traditional sharing way of conducting meals. You can even experience this way of eating indoors! Pieces of marinaded meat, fish or vegetables can be ordered and cooked by diners on a grill in a restaurant. Stacks of lettuce leaves are then provided to wrap up the piping hot ingredients that you’ve just cooked!

Korean cuisine has evolved to modern trends like fried chicken (crispy, spicy and very moreish) and patbingsu (a shaved ice dessert that can be topped with condensed milk, syrups and fruit). Examples of fusion cookery, such as modern Korean which are essentially western dishes with Korean touches, and even Korean Mexican have been exploding onto Korea’s bustling restaurant scene. In essence, Korea is a real melting pot of traditional and modern eating! If you are lucky enough to travel to Korea, we are sure that you will find many interesting dishes that you will love tasting!

Featured image source: © Bibimbap. Fudowakira0. 24.02.2017. Pixabay.

Louisa Lee

Enthusiastic writer, scientist, and foodie. Enjoys discovering new music, films and books, as well as travelling, trying various cuisines and learning about different cultures. My music player is never too far away - life just isn’t complete without music!

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