Samgyeopsal, Kimchi, Tteokbokki. Are you ready for a mouth-watering lesson about Korean food (음식 – eumsik)? Then, grab your chopsticks enjoy learning!
Korean food is definitely one of the most highlighted parts of Korean culture in K-dramas. In fact, it is advised not to watch any K-drama while you are hungry because you will definitely crave the Korean dishes they eat. It’s not only their dishes that will make you crave but also how Koreans. It seems like everything is delicious, even if it is just a fried egg or sweet potatoes.
Korean foods are now one of the trending Asian cuisines all over the world. For example, you can see many Korean barbecue restaurants in different countries. Korean stores are also spread all over the world to make your Korean meal.
Because of its exposure in different K-dramas and ads, people want to grab a bite of these mouth-watering South Korean meals. Imagine how awesome it would be to finally taste what your favorite K-drama actors/actresses taste like? I bet it’s superb. So, in this lesson, get ready to learn some common Korean food!
History Of Korean Cuisine
Since ancient times, did you know that Koreans believed that both health and illness are caused by the food individuals eat and how they eat it? Korean history is really colorful. Tracing from 8,000 BC, where they are known as pottery makers, then the city-states and kingdoms evolution, to modern-day, we cannot deny the fact that Korean culture has always been colorful and rich. Part of their culture that has been passed through generations is Korean cuisine.
Korean people started as bands who were hunter-gatherers, and as the population increased, they had formed into tribes who settled down in a place where there was abundant food that could supply their needs. These open doors developed small-scale agriculture and began to domesticate a few animals.
- Fighting and peaceful trade coexisted as the settlements expanded.
- more extensive agriculture and further domestication of food animals resulted from the growth in population in these places
- The increased number of people opens doors for a faster exchange of ideas.
- Woodworking, toolmaking, and ceramics began to advance at a quicker rate.
- New methods of preparing and storing meals arose as a result of these advancements.
- The discovery of salt as a preservative and the milling of grains and cooking utensils that could be placed over fire or coals began to modify the foods that were made and consumed by the people.
- Trade with people and regions further away began to take place, both on land and on the water.
- More changes in cooking, as unusual foods and practices from far-flung regions, found their way into the kitchen.
Korean Temple Cuisine
- Buddhism came to Korea. Because of this, eating meat is banned in a large portion of the country, causing the people to be vegetarians.
- When the Mongol invasions happened in Korea and Manchuria, the Buddhist influence slowly faded.
- New food influences were brought.
- From Korea, traders and explorers traveled to other countries, bringing unique objects, delicacies, and animals back to the Royal houses.
- Because of the continuous contact with the west, the chili pepper was introduced to Korean and to Korean cuisine.
- Because eating meat is completely forbidden in Buddhism, Korean temple food does not contain any animal products other than dairy.
- Monks and nuns are also forbidden from eating five pungent vegetables: onion, garlic, chives, leeks, and green onions. Buddhists feel that these plants obstruct spiritual development.
- There are three types of food eaten in Korean temples: natural food, preserved food, and fermented food.
- Architecture advancements and the prevalence of heating technologies from aristocratic houses to average homes affected Korean home food.
- There’s a wide increase of commoners who use ondol heating (floor heating method). This brought changes to the community-style cooking areas. It became private.
- Refrigeration, the introduction of gas heating and cooking, and worldwide trade are examples of modern advancements which brought change to the whole Korean cuisine.
Basic Korean Food Etiquette
We all know how Koreans value their culture and traditions. So, before well learn different Korean food, let us learn some basic Korean food etiquette that you should remember:
- Elders first. Do not take up chopsticks or a spoon before them. What if you were the oldest child? So, don’t make everyone wait!
- Do not refuse to eat or drink something presented by an elder.
- Say “I will eat well” (잘 먹겠습니다 jal meokgesseumnida) as a sign of politeness and appreciation to someone who made or offered you food.
- Start your meal with a cup of soup or a bowl of stew. This will warm your tongue and prepare your taste buds for the upcoming flavorful dishes.
- Chopsticks are used to eat dishes, while a spoon is used to eat rice and soup. Never hold your chopsticks and spoon together, never use them as skewers, and never plunge your chopsticks into your bowl of rice — this is a funeral rite. Pick what you want and eat it from your own personal dish plate instead of poking or digging around with your chopsticks.
- Always use both hands to demonstrate respect while passing bowls, glasses, or dishes. Always pour for others at the table and let others fill yours. Do not fill your own.
- Korean meals contain a wide range of tastes and flavors from the combination of soup/stew, rice, meat, and vegetable dishes. At the table, savor each and every dish. Being picky means missing out on opportunities.
- Always take only what you need from each meal, and don’t pile food on your plate or bowl.
- Concentrate on your food and table chats with your loved ones.
- Koreans prefer calm enjoyment to slurp, which displays the love for the dish in various cultures. Soak up every last drop of your soup or stew gently.
- Finish by placing your chopsticks and spoon beside, not on top of, your bowl or plate. Make sure to avoid leftovers and say “I ate well” (잘 먹었습니다 jal meogeossseupnida) to show your appreciation.
Korean Food Of All Times
Have you heard the term Meokbang (먹방)? If you’re an avid Korean culture fanatic, you are indeed familiar with this. The word 먹방 (Meokbang) is a web-based audiovisual show in which a host consumes varying amounts of food while communicating with the audience. It came from two words which are 먹는| meongneun which means “eating” and방송 | bangsong, which means “broadcast.” This is one of the first vocabularies that you should know when learning about Korean food.
Of course, we should also learn how to say the word “food” in Korean. You can use the Korean word 음식 (Eumsik).
The following vocabulary about Korean food that we need to learn is “eat.” For this word, you can use 먹다 (Meokda). Easy right? Now, let’s proceed to our main course, the Korean food of all times.
What’s your favorite traditional Korean food? I know there are a lot to choose from because Korean foods are tasteful. Even if you’re not in Korea, you can have an opportunity to eat your favorite Korean food because there are lots of Korean restaurants and stores all over the world. So, here’s an essential Korean food guide if you want to different Korean food.
Do you remember how Mi Ho loves the meat in “My Girlfriend is a Gumiho”? How about how Se-ri craved meat while she was in North Korea, and there’s Captain Ri to the rescue? Meat 고기 (Gogi) is one of the most important ingredients in this modern times. It is used in Korean bbq, which is a global trend right now. So, what are the Korean dishes that use meat?
English Meaning: Grilled Pork Belly
Of course, the first Korean food that we will learn is 삼겹살 (Samgyeopsal). If you already know this word, give yourself a tap on the back! Did you know that Koreans call Samgyeopsal “Korean Soul Food” because it gives them comfort and makes them happy when time is rough? It is usually eaten with Soju (a Korean alcoholic beverage).
Pork belly is the most popular cut of pork among Koreans. Samgyeop means three layers’ in Samgyopsal, alluding to the layers of fat on the pig belly. Samgyeopsal is the most popular Korean food among foreigners, and it is featured in most of their modern K-dramas.
English Meaning: Braised Beef Short Ribs
Now, let’s recall the scene where Jung Hwan surprised his mother with a mini wedding celebration. They were in Dong Ryong restaurant which they said that the 갈비찜 (Galbijjim) is really delicious. Remember that because the next word about Korean food that we will learn is 갈비찜 (Galbijjim).
This Korean dish is a really popular food to serve at different celebrations like birthdays and holidays. Do you know what the ingredients are? Galbijjim (갈비) is a Korean meal which they made primarily of braised beef short ribs. Soy sauce, minced garlic, ginger, green onion, and sesame oil are used to marinade and stew beef short ribs.
English Meaning: Korean Barbeque Beef
If you’re not into pork, then you may try the Korean Barbeque Beef. I know who you’re thinking upon hearing the word “beef.” It’s Mi Ho, right? Do you remember how she would finish a whole plate of beef in just a few seconds? It’s really hard to say no to a Korean Barbeque Beef. It is tasteful, it is easy to chew, and most of all, it is fast to cook.
First, let us know where the word Bulgogi comes from. “Bul” means “fire,” and “Gogi” means meat. At first, it means meat grilled on fire, but it refers to the seasoning used in marinating as time goes by. Bulgogi is a typical Korean meat dish made with grilled beef and sauce. Bulgogi is made with tender cuts of meat such as sirloin.
English Meaning: Korean Fried Chicken
We cannot talk meat without talking about Korean Fried Chicken. If you remember the scene in “Crash Landing on You” when Chi soo became a part-time chicken delivery guy, you’ve definitely craved with their fried chicken.
Yes, fried chicken can be found anywhere globally, but Korean fried chicken changes the game for fried chicken. They really set the standards because they use more complicated seasoning to make their fried chicken tasteful.
Another thing that you need to know about Korean fried chicken is they usually partner it with a beer hence the term “chimaek,” which means chicken (chi) and beer (maekju). You can see lots of scenes in different K-dramas which involve “chimaek.”
English Meaning: Korean Boiled Pork Wrap
Have you been to the center of Seoul, where the street is full of restaurants? You might pass by the Bossam Alley. Yes, Bossam is one of Koreans’ long-time favorite food; that’s why it’s no surprise to have the Bossam Alley.
Bossam 보쌈 (Bossam) is created by simmering pig belly or pork neck in a broth with garlic, ginger, and herbs.
We are through with the meat dishes. Now, let us go to rice-based Korean food. The Korean word for “rice” is –밥 (bap). You can see that most of the rice-based dishes have this word to indicate that Korean food is rice-based. So here’s a list of common Korean rice-based food.
English Meaning: Mixed Rice with Vegetables
First is the 비빔밥 (Bibimbap). This might not be new to you because it’s one of the first Korean dishes that has been known globally.
Bibimbap is a bowl of mixed ingredients that includes rice, namul (seasoned and sautéed veggies), mushrooms, meat, soy sauce, gochujang (chili pepper paste), and a fried egg, among other things. But, you should also know that the ingredients vary depending on the region.
English Meaning: Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls
Do you want Korean food that’s easy to prepare for traveling and picnic? Well, Gimbap 김밥 is perfect for you. You just need spinach, pickled radish, carrot, egg, and burdock are rolled up with dried seaweed and white rice. After this, you can just cut it into bite-sized pieces, and there you have it, you can enjoy it anytime and anywhere you want.
If you think that the process of making Gimbap is familiar well, you are right. Gimbap is made in a similar way to millefiori, an Italian glasswork technique, and the completed product frequently seems too gorgeous to eat.
The next Korean word for food that we will learn is “국수 (guksu).” You might also encounter the Korean word 국수 (guksu), which means a dish cooked with noodles, while 면 (myeon) is the noodle itself. Here is some Korean food that has noodles.
English Meaning: Korean Instant Noodles
We cannot deny that 라면 (Ramyeon) has always been one of the most featured food in different K-drama. You can enjoy it alone or with your friends anywhere and anytime because it can be easily found in convenience stores. When we talk about 라면 (Ramyeon), there’s no other place that you can enjoy this dish aside from Choi Taek’s house in Reply 1988. Kidding aside, did you know that Koreans have a high individual consumption of 라면 (Ramyeon)? Well, it’s no surprise since it’s instant noodles.
English Meaning: Glass Noodle Stir Fry
On Hong Banjang’s birthday, in “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” 잡채 (Japchae) is one of the Korean dishes that was served. 잡채 (Japchae) is stir-fried glass noodles and one of Korea’s most well-known noodle dishes. ‘Noodles blended with various vegetables’ is what japchae signifies. Glass noodles are created from mung beans or sweet potatoes, and they turn transparent like glass when cooked.
Fun fact, during the Joseon Dynasty, a civil official produced a dish as a present for the monarch, which became known as japchae. The king is claimed to have loved the taste of 잡채 (Japchae) so much that it became his favorite dish, and it is also said to have helped officials advance in their careers.
English Meaning: Seaweed soup
There is a must-eat dish in Korea for someone celebrating a birthday or for women who have recently given birth to newborn babies, which is the 미역국 (Miyeokguk). If you can still remember the first episode of “Hometown Cha-cha-cha,” Hye-jin requested this to remember her mom’s birthday, who had passed away.
Miyeokguk (seaweed soup) is the name of the dish. It’s a soup made with soaking brown seaweed, shredded beef, and a flavor of soy sauce.
English Meaning: Cold Buckwheat Noodles
When we think of noodles, we are used to them being hot. But, 냉면 (Naengmyeon) is different because it is served with ice. 냉면 (Naengmyeon) means “cold noodles.” The noodles are topped with cucumber, pear, and pickled radish slices, as well as a half-boiled egg. For added zing, white vinegar and mustard can be used.
Tracing back its origin, it came from North Korea, but it is widely available in South Korea.
English Meaning: Noodles in Black Beans Sauce
This is a Chinese dish that the Koreans have adapted by thickening the noodles; it is such a significant dish for Koreans that they eat it at least once a week.
If you’re a K-drama fanatic, you’ll notice that there’s this one important dish, soup aside from rice. This one scene in Reply 1988 where Mi-ran made a Hamburg Steak with soup which is a total surprise for everyone.
Soups in Korea are split into four categories:
- 국 (Guk) – made of broth
- 탕 (Tang) – longer cooking time compared to 국 (Guk)
- 찌개 (Jjigae) – contains more solid ingredients
- 전골 (Jeongol) – cooked directly at the table
English Meaning: Ginseng Chicken Soup
Who would want a hot soup during hot days? Of course, the soup will not be our go-to choice, but since soup is part of a Korean meal, 삼계탕 (Samgyetang) is the perfect soup to eat during these types of days. In its name, the ‘sam’ refers to the ginseng root, which is necessary for this well-known chicken soup. 삼계탕 (Samgyetang) is a thick, glutinous soup with a whole stuffed chicken floating in its boiling depths.
김치찌개 (Kimchi Jjigae)
English Meaning: Kimchi Stew
The 김치찌개 (Kimchi Jjigae) is another favorite Korean dish not just for South Koreans but also the foreigners who visit South Korea or a Korean restaurant near them. Napa cabbage kimchi is simmered with fatty pork chunks and a few other seasonings and ingredients before being brewed into a stew with powerful tastes that will leave your stomach begging for more! Kimchi for kimchi jjigae is fermented because the distinct flavors are brought out more than when Kimchi is produced fresh.
부대찌개 (Budae Jjigae)
English Meaning: Army Stew
Here’s an interesting Korean food because of its history. The Korean word Budae means “military unit.” There was a food scarcity following the Korean War (1950-1952). When Koreans came across unusual goods like canned ham and sausage served at a US military unit in Korea, they began to construct their recipes to suit their preferences. Do you remember when Jung Bong in Reply 1988 ate the “ham” stored by his mom for a special occasion? This is somehow related to this history.
English Meaning: Pork Back-Bone Soup
The soup made with pork neck bones, which is pretty cheap, is known as Gamjatang. The soft, fatty meat from the spaces between the bones is particularly delicious. The stock’s fully cooked cabbage and bean sprouts soften while maintaining a crisp texture. 감자탕 (Gamjatang) is perfectly paired with a bowl of rice. If you love drinking during late-night hours, a bowl of 감자탕 (Gamjatang) will be your perfect companion. Because the soup is well-known for being a hangover cure when consumed early in the morning, many Gamjatang eateries are open 24 hours.
English Meaning: Korean Rice Cake Soup
The Korean culture has particular foods eaten on different occasions, and 떡국 (Tteokguk) is one of them. Initially, 떡국 (Tteokguk) was strictly consumed on the first day of the Korean New Year, the biggest holiday in Korea, to symbolize good luck and to gain another year in age. However, the ritual makes more sense if you consider it in Korean: idiomatically, growing a year older is expressed as “eating another year.”
Tteokguk is a beef broth with rice cake that has been boiled. Tteokguk is prepared by slicing ‘Garae Tteok,’ a long strip of rice cake dough that symbolizes longevity. You know how Koreans value their traditions, right? It can, however, be sliced into circular coin-like shapes, which represent prosperity.
순두부찌개 (Sundubu Jjigae)
English Meaning: Korean Spicy Soft Tofu Stew
Want some comfort during a rainy day? Grab a bowl of 순두부찌개 (Sundubu Jjigae). Sundubu Jjigae is a tasty Korean meal served in a blazing hot pot. It is usually made with broth and tofu but, 순두부찌개(Sundubu jjigae) is significantly more well-known and popular all over the world, thanks to its hot flavor of red pepper oil and red pepper powder.
If you look at Korea’s geographical location, you can see that it faces the ocean, which gives them easy access to seafood. Did you know that Koreans are really high consumers of seafood? It is no surprise because their traditional way of cooking like boiling, grilling, fermenting, seasoning, and pickling are perfect for seafood. One of the pieces of evidence that Korea has abundant seafood is when “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” featured Gongjin, a city in the North Gyeongsang province. From this, you can see how locals process the squids: catching, cleaning, and drying.
So, here’s a list of the common seafood dishes in Korea.
간장게장 (Ganjang Gejang)
English Meaning: Raw Crabs Marinated in Soy Sauce
The next Korean food that we will learn is called the “rice thief.” Are you wondering why? It is because 간장게장 (Ganjang Gejang) can make you finish your rice in a short period of time. That’s how tasteful it is. 간장게장 (Ganjang Gejang) is used fresh raw crab that is mariniated in soy sauce. The best way to eat this dish is to put hot rice with the crab shell then mix it with roe and dried seaweed. But, you should know that not all people are into eating raw crabs.
해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon)
English Meaning: Korean Seafood Pancake
Getting cozy during the rainy days? Loving th sound of the rain? The perfect food for you is the 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon). On rainy days, people commonly eat 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) with Makgeolli (traditional rice wine). 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) is a savory Korean pancake with green onions and seafood, such as squid and clams, that is eaten with a vinegar soy sauce.
Jeon, commonly known as Korean pancakes, refers to various foods prepared by slicing ingredients and coating them in wheat flour and an egg wash before frying them in oil. It can be prepared with a variety of ingredients, including meat, fish, and vegetables. Hwajeon are a type of Jeon made with glutinous rice flour and edible petals from seasonal flowers like azaleas and chrysanthemums.
낙지볶음 (Nakji Bokkeum)
English Meaning: Korean Spicy Stir-fried Octopus
For those who love spicy food, 낙지볶음 (Nakji Bokkeum) is perfect for you. Did you know that even if you eat it with rice, it is still so spicy? Nakji Bokkeum is a spicy stir-fried octopus dish. It can be brought to the table, or you can cook it yourself on the table. It is best paired with rice.
고등어조림 (Godeungo Jorim)
English Meaning: Braised Mackerel
Do you want to try Korean seafood but don’t like the smell of fish? Then 고등어조림 (Godeungo Jorim) is perfect for you. The seasonings used will remove the smell. What makes it also popular is that it’s pretty simple to make. First, slice radish and put it in a pot. Then, get your mackerel fillets and put them on the top with the seasoning, red pepper powder, chopped green onions, and minced garlic on top. It will take you 15-20 minutes of braising to make it taste perfect.
English Meaning: Chili Pickled Cabbage
If you’re an OG Korean food lover, it is impossible to miss out on 김치 (Kimchi). This is one of the most used side dishes and seasoning. There are different kinds of Kimchi, but the most common is the napa cabbage kimchi preserved and fermented in red chili flakes. If you watch K-dramas, you can notice that they eat Kimchi to pair up in almost any dish, even in a ramyeon.
오이무침 (Oi Muchim)
English Meaning: Cucumber Salad
To make oi muchim, lightly salt the cucumber slices and set them aside for a few minutes to take out the water. This technique adds a bit of crunch to it. The word “oi” means cucumber, and “muchim” means mixed with seasonings.
무생채 (Moo Saeng Che)
English Meaning: Radish Salad
Salad-like foods created with raw vegetables are referred to as Saengchae. Musaengchae is a radish-based meal. There are various varieties, such as sweet and sour radish salad and non-spicy radish salad. A more typical form is this spicy version.
감자조림 (Gamja Jorim)
English Meaning: Potato Side Dish
A braised potato dish is known as 감자조림 (Gamja Jorim). It’s a common side dish in homes and restaurants, as well as in lunch boxes. Jorim is a term used to describe dishes that are produced by cooking the main ingredient in a sauce until it is reduced. This meal is made with quick braising in a soy sauce-based sauce that is slightly sweet.
숙주나물 (Sukju Namul)
English Meaning: Bean Sprouts
This dish’s cooking procedure and seasonings are remarkably similar to that of its soybean counterpart. The most apparent difference is that mung bean sprouts take less time to cook since they lack the bean components.
Your Korean food experience is not complete without trying some Korean street foods. It is one of the most exposed kinds of Korean food in K-dramas because it can be easily found in the streets. Here is some Korean street food that you might want to try when you go to South Korea.
English Meaning: Spicy Stir-fried Rice Cakes
Let’s start with a Korean food that has always been in the top 10 Korean food, and that is 떡볶이 (Tteokbokki). It is a rice cake-based dish produced by stir-frying it with various ingredients.
English Meaning: Korean Sweet Pancakes
If you love pancakes, 호떡 (Hotteok) is perfect for you. You can easily see pancake vendors in the streets. It is one of the most popular street foods and snacks in Korea. It’s filled with a sweet syrup prepared with cinnamon, brown sugar, and peanuts and formed from a simple flour batter.
English Meaning: Korean Sausage
Soondae is a distinctive Korean meal made of pig’s intestines packed with noodles, pork blood, and barley.
English Meaning: Steamed Mandu Dumplings
Mandu dumplings in Korea are noodle-like wrappers filled with a variety of fillings. Pork, onions, cabbage, carrots, and mung bean noodles are all popular ingredients in these delectable pillows.
After the main and side dishes, of course, we will now go to the dessert. If you want to learn about Korean drinks, check this out. There are lots of Korean desserts that you mostly hear and see, so here are some:
English Meaning: Korean Milk Ice Sorbet
Remember in “Record of Youth” when Minjae is convincing Hye-jun to let her be his manager? They are eating 빙수 (Bingsu). It is the most popular Korean dessert, especially during summer. Bingsu is made from ice shavings and sweetened red beans. There are different kinds of Bingsu that you can try:
- Pat Bingsu – sweetened red beans added to the top of the milk flakes
- Gwahil Bingsu – with fruit cocktail on top.
- Greentea Bingsu – served with green tea ice cream.
English Meaning: Sweet Rice Punch
식혜 (Sikhye) is also a popular traditional Korean beverage. It is made of malted barley powder and rice. What makes Sikhye good to drink after meals is that malted barley powder has a lot of enzymes that help the digestive system function. Sikhye is slight, soft, cool, and sweet that’s why many Koreans love it.
Korean Food Vocabulary
After learning the different Korean food, here are some Korean vocabulary related to food and eating. You can also check different Food-themed K-dramas to pick up some Korean food vocabulary like Chocolate, Jewel In The Palace, Oh My Ghost, My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, King Of Baking, Kim Tak Goo, and Let’s Eat.
|뭐 먹을래요?||mwo meogeullaeyo?||What shall we eat?|
|어때요?||eottaeyo?||How is it?|
|같이 먹자!||gati meokja!||Let’s eat together!|
|저는 아직 안 먹었어요||jeoneun ajik an meogeosseoyo||I haven’t eaten yet|
|이 게 맛있어요||i ge masisseoyo||This is delicious|
|아직 배고파요?||ajik baegopayo?||Are you still hungry?|
|더 시킬까요?||deo sikilkkayo?||Shall we order more?|
|더 먹고 싶어요?||deo meokgo sipeoyo?||Do you want to eat more?|
|그 식당이 어디에 있는 지 알아요?||geu sikdangi eodie issneun ji arayo?||Do you know where that restaurant is?|
|맛집을 핸드폰으로 검색해보자||masjibeul haendeuponeuro geomsaekhaeboja||Let’s search for a good restaurant on my phone|
|어떤 종류 음식을 먹고 싶어요?||eotteon jongryu eumsigeul meokgo sipeoyo?||What type of food do you like the most?|
|제일 맛있는 게 뭐에요?||jeil masissneun ge mwoeyo?||What is the most delicious thing?|
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Your trip to South Korea won’t be complete without trying Korean food. But, the most important of all is learning some basic Korean words and phrases that will help you talk to the locals in South Korea. If you’re an avid K-drama fan, I’m pretty sure that you already have some in your pocket, but it is still nice to learn more.
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