Korean Food Basics
Koreans usually have rice (pab), soup (kuk), spicy pickled vegetables (kimchi), and other side dishes (panchan) for almost every meal. They normally eat with a spoon and chopsticks. The popular Korean dishes are usually very low in calories, being made of various vegetables. These also have unique aromas and tastes for seasonings including garlic, red pepper, green onion, soy sauce, fermented soybean paste (toenjang), ginger, and sesame oil. A taste explosion not for the faint hearted.
Korea is a land where the past and the present are often found side by side. While some Koreans live in modern high-rise apartment buildings, others have homes in thatched-roof cottages. Modern skyscrapers shade five-hundred-year-old shrines. Young people honor their elders, and ancient traditions still have an important place in modern Korean society. One of the traditions that has been passed from generation to generation is a varied cuisine that is both healthy and delicious. Here is a brief introduction to this cruisine
Koreans on both sides of the border have a common history, you will find the same kinds of foods and cooking methods in Pyongyang in the north as you will in the southern city of Seoul.
Many of the ingredients—such as cellophane noodles, soy sauce, tofu, and a variety of fresh vegetables—as well as some of the cooking methods, including stir-frying, steaming, and braising, are used in other countries in the Far East. But there are also elements of Korean cuisine that make it deliciously different.
The way that Koreans eat their meals has been called “grazing.” At the table, family and friends pick and choose from among the many foods set out in little dishes.
With white rice as the basic food, diners may add something fiery—usually kimchi, the famous pickled vegetable. Next they might pick a food that is spicy with sesame oil, pepper, soy sauce, and garlic. The wide choice of vegetables, salads, and pickles is called panchan. It is limited only by the cook’s skill at mixing and matching basic foods.
Korean food is often highly seasoned, usually with a combination of garlic, ginger, red or black pepper, green onions, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. These dishes are served with a bland grain to cool the heat of the spices.
Koreans eat less meat than people in other parts of the world. Red meat is expensive in both North and South Korea, so it is usually reserved for special occasions. Chicken and fish are more plentiful.
Korean cuisine offers a vast assortment of vegetarian dishes. Protein-rich soybean products are often eaten instead of meat. The soybean is the main ingredient in tofu, a common meat substitute.
Charcoal grill — A type of stove in which charcoal provides the heat and food is placed on a metal grate above the coals
Colander — A bowl-shaped dish with holes in it that is used for washing or draining food
Pastry brush—A small brush with nylon bristles used for coating food with melted butter or other liquids.
Skewer — A thin wooden or metal stick used to hold small pieces of meat or vegetables for broiling or grilling.
Steamer — A utensil designed for cooking food with steam. Asian steamers have tight-fitting lids and racks for holding the food.
Wok — A pot with a rounded bottom and sloping sides, ideally suited for stir-frying foods. A large frying pan will work as a substitute.
Beat — To stir rapidly in a circular motion
Boil — To heat a liquid over high heat until bubbles form and rise rapidly to the surface
Broil — To cook directly under a heat source so that the side of the food facing the heat cooks rapidly
Chill — To refrigerate a food until it is the desired temperature
Fluff — To gently separate small pieces of food, such as grains of rice, that have gotten clumped together
Garnish — To decorate with a small piece of food
Grill — To cook over hot charcoal
Marinate — To soak food in a liquid to add flavour and to tenderize it
Shred — To tear or cut into small pieces, either by hand or with a grater
Simmer — To cook in liquid kept just below its boiling point
Steam — To cook food with the steam from boiling water
Stir-fry — To quickly cook bite-sized pieces of food in a small amount of oil over high heat
Toss — To lightly mix pieces of food together
Barley — A small, oval grain used in soups, stews, and side dishes
Bean sprouts — Sprouts from the mung bean. For best flavour and texture, use fresh sprouts.
Black mushrooms — Dried, fragrant mushrooms available at Asian groceries. Black mushrooms may also be labelled black fungi.
Cayenne pepper — Hot pungent powder made from dried tropical chili peppers. Cayenne may also be labelled red pepper.
Cellophane noodles — Fine, clear, thin noodles made from mung beans. Cellophane noodles are also called mung bean threads, transparent noodles, or sai fun. They are sold in bundles.
Chinese cabbage — A pale green vegetable with broad, tightly packed leaves. It may also be called celery cabbage or Napa cabbage.
Cod — A freshwater fish with lean, firm flesh
Crushed red pepper flakes—Dried pieces of hot red peppers used to give a spicy flavour to food
Daikon radish—A large Asian radish with sweet or sharp flavour
Ginger root—A knobby, light brown root which is grated or sliced to add a peppery, slightly sweet flavour to foods. To prepare fresh ginger root, peel skin off a section and use a grater to grate the amount called for. Do not substitute dried ground ginger in a recipe calling for fresh ginger, as the taste is quite different.
Haddock — A low-fat saltwater fish with mild flavour and firm texture
Millet — A tiny, round, golden grain that is a staple in the diet of one- third of the world’s population. It is cooked with water like rice. Millet is sold at health food stores and food co-ops.
Oyster sauce — A thick, dark brown sauce made from oysters, brine, and soy sauce. It adds a richness to foods without changing their flavour.
Pine nuts — Nuts that grow inside pine cones. Keep them in the refrigerator and use within three months.
Rice cakes — Cooked sticky rice that has been pounded and formed into rounds. Frozen precooked rice cakes are sold in Asian markets.
Rice vinegar — A mild vinegar made from fermented rice
Romaine lettuce — A lettuce with long, crisp, upright leaves
Seaweed or sea vegetable — Kombu, laver, and nori are the names that various types of seaweed are sold under. Seaweed has been harvested from the sea by Asian cultures for centuries. Sheets of the blackish green nori are widely available thanks to the popularity of sushi.
Sesame oil — The reddish brown oil pressed from toasted sesame seeds. It is used for seasoning, not frying.
Sesame seeds — Tiny beige seeds with a nutty, somewhat sweet flavour
Sole — Lemon sole and other types of sole sold in fish shops are actually members of the flounder family. They are popular and versatile fish.
Soy sauce — A dark brown, salty sauce made from soybeans and other ingredients that is used to flavour Asian foods.
Thick Soy sauce — This Soy is thicker than normal soy sauce, and is usually used to garnish and decorate dishes.
Tofu — A processed curd made from soybeans. Tofu is an important protein source in Asia. It may be labelled soybean curd or bean curd, and sold in blocks labelled soft, silken, or firm.
Whitefish—A member of the salmon family. It is named for its firm, white flesh. This fish is high in fat and mild in flavour.
Wonton skins — Small, thin squares or rounds of soft dough made from flour, water, and eggs