A traditional Korean meal consists of rice, soup and small meat portions with side dishes called banchan; it's all served together.
I grew up in Korea and have fond memories of colourful banchan laid out on the family table. It was a feast for the eyes and soul, yet they're relatively simple to make and eaten at room temperature. There was also jjigae (a thick soup) served in a claypot, called a ttukbaegi. JJigae was always piping hot and bubbling.
Eating was glorious and kept you busy. In winter, the most delicious dish was fizzy, icy-cold kimchi straight out of earthenware called ddukbaegi.
Here's how to create your own Korean spread or bapsang.
Rice is the backbone of Korean meals. Koreans even greet each other with "Have you had bap (rice) today?".
Health-conscious Koreans add multigrain, such as barley, oats and legumes, to white shortgrain rice to make multigrain rice (hyunmi bap). Most rice cookers have built-in pressure cookers to speed up cooking.
Along with kimchi, the heart of Korean cuisine is soup. Soup is served as part of the main meal, instead of as a starter.
Most soups are broth-based and made with either dried anchovies and seaweed, meat or shellfish. They include many vegetables. The broth may be clear or flavoured with soybean paste or chilli. There are also celebratory soups such as seaweed soup (miyeok guk) for birthdays and rice-cake soup (tteokguk) for New Year's Day.
Thicker soups, known as jjigae, are usually shared and served in earthenware that's placed at the centre of a table. They take less time to cook. Most popular and loved are kimchi, soybean paste or sundubu (soft-tofu) jjigae.
Most hangover-cure soups, known as tangs, are served by the bowl. These include oxtail soup, seolleongtang (white-bone broth) and samgyetang (chicken and ginseng), which promotes wellbeing. Seafood-based tangs often contain chilli. One thing to note, though: many tangs actually invite you to drink more soju.
Last but not least, is hotpot or jeongol. These are placed in the middle of the table for sharing. Gregarious friends and family accompany the broth with seafood, meats and vegetables, which they cook on a portable burner on the table.
Koreans often grill or barbecue meat on the tabletop too. This allows them to cook pork-belly slices and different cuts of prime beef to perfection, then eat them straight off the heat. Dip the meat into ssamjang (chilli and soybean sauce) or salt and pepper drowned in sesame oil. Wrap them in lettuce and kkaetnip (wild sesame leaves) and rice. Accompany with pa muchim (spring onion salad) and raw garlic slices.
Marinated meats, such as bulgogi, jeyuk bokkeum (pork) and yang yeum galbi (short ribs), are delicious barbecued or stir-fried.
Slow-cooked ribs and oxtail are braised in soy and eaten especially during special occasions.
Koreans love to eat raw fish or shellfish dipped into chilli sauce and accompany this with soju. Traditionally, fish were lightly salted and sun-dried before cooking.
Some family favourites include sangsun jorim (fish braised in soy and chilli with radish), haemul jeongol (seafood hotpot) and kkotgae tang (crab soup).
Side dishes (banchan)
Most banchan are eaten cold and at room temperature so they can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge for several days, or in the case of kimchi, for several months or even years.
Namul includes vegetables — roots and all —, wild greens, mushrooms and blanched seaweed, which is seasoned with various ingredients and sesame oil. Korea has one of the highest vegetable consumptions per capita, and it's believed that namul is behind this.
Banchan refers to small side dishes of food served with cooked rice in Korean cuisine. The cuisine is famous for an amazing array of banchan recipes, which are made to accompany many Korean meals to complement and accentuate the flavours of the main dishes. Often colourful and varied, banchan is set in the middle of the table to be shared.
Other banchan includes meat and vegetables, which are braised in soy sauce, stir-fried and seasoned. Kimchi is a popular banchan. Kimchi is a super pickle that can be made from any vegetable; there are many different varieties. Although chilli kimchi, made from cabbage and radish, they include water-based kimchi and white kimchi, reigns supreme.
Often people buy kimchi and place it straight into the fridge. However, taste it first to see if it has tang and fizz. If not, leave it at room temperature for a day or two to ferment before storing it in the fridge.
Koreans generally make or buy poggi kimchi (traditional kimchi that hasn't been sliced). These are harder to make but certainly taste better and can last for months or even years in Korean kimchi fridges.
Koreans enjoy noodles made from wheat, soba and sweet potato, which can be served hot or icy cold. Koreans love noodle soups with stock made from dried anchovies and seafood, such as kalguksu (knife-cut noodles). Jjajangmyeon or black bean noodles are so popular that we joke that inflation is measured by the cost of one bowl. Celebratory japchae or sweet potato noodles are seasoned with plenty of soy and sesame oil.
Pan-fried food (jun)
Pan-fried food is one of the most important types of food in Korean cuisine. Seafood, vegetables and meat are added to batter or egg and pan-fried until golden brown.
This type of cuisine is usually served as an entree, but it's best when paired with alcohol. There's nothing better than pan-fried seafood with dong dong ju or alcohol after a day of mountain hiking.
Some sweet Korean food includes sweet rice cakes filled with red or mung beans, which are served between meals. Usually, seasonal fruit is served at the end of a meal.
In summer, Koreans prefer watermelon and berries, and in the colder months, the sweetest and juiciest Korean pears and black grapes.
Hotteok (pan-fried rice cakes) filled with brown sugar syrup are worth lining up for from a street vendor in the cold. Bingu (a shaved ice dessert) is a must after a day spent exploring the city.
Cook with Heather Jeong and her recipes right here.
This is inspired by beef kalbi, a marinated aromatic beef rib dish grilled on charcoals. I use elements of the kalbi marinade to which I add some Korean chili powder and paste to and applied it to the lamb ribs.
When I first discovered Korean fried chicken, it was a revelation: the coating is flakey and crunchy, the skin is thin and crispy, and the meat is super juicy and tender.
These pancakes are one of the easiest things you will ever make. The batter keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so only cook what you need when you need it.
Colourful, crunchy and low-carb, the steak is marinated in soy sauce, garlic and ginger before being stir-fried with plenty of veggies and cauliflower and mushroom 'mince'.