Korean cuisine is known for its variety of side dishes, or banchan. These small dishes are typically served alongside rice and the main dish, adding flavor and texture to the meal. Among the many banchan options available, there is one that stands out as the most essential: kimchi.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, most commonly baechu (Napa cabbage), and seasoned with chili peppers and salt. It has a signature tangy, spicy flavor that Koreans consider a staple in their diet. Kimchi can be made with a variety of other vegetables, such as scallions, gat (갓), and radish (무; mu), but the most common and essential form of kimchi is made with baechu.
How is kimchi made?
Kimchi making is a long-standing tradition in Korean culture, passed down through generations. It involves a process of mixing salted vegetables with seasonings, packing them tightly into jars, and letting them ferment for days or even weeks.
The initial process of making kimchi involves preparing the main ingredient, baechu. The cabbage is first cut and soaked in water, then salted thoroughly to remove water and soften it. Other vegetables and seasonings, such as garlic, ginger, Korean red pepper flakes, scallions, and fish sauce, are prepared and mixed with the cabbage. The mixture is then packed into jars and left to ferment at room temperature. The longer the fermentation period, the stronger the flavor develops. Once it has fermented enough, it is refrigerated to stop the fermentation process and retain its flavor.
Why is kimchi such an important banchan?
Kimchi is often considered a national dish in Korea because of its cultural significance and unique flavor. The taste of kimchi is strongly linked to the history and culture of Korea, where fermentation has been used as a preservation method for vegetables for centuries. Kimchi is also known for its numerous health benefits, as it contains vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics that help boost the immune system and improve gut health.
Another reason why kimchi is so widely consumed is its versatility. It can be eaten as a side dish on its own, mixed with rice, cooked into stews and soups, or used as a topping for various foods. Many households have their own special recipe for kimchi, passed down from generation to generation, showcasing the regional and cultural diversity of the dish.
Kimchi is the quintessential banchan of Korean cuisine and an essential part of the Korean diet. Its distinct taste and nutritional benefits have made it popular around the world, with enthusiasts often attempting to replicate the recipe at home. Whether as a side dish or as a main ingredient in a dish, kimchi’s versatility and cultural significance make it a beloved staple in Korean food and a must-try for people interested in discovering new flavors.
What is served on the side of Korean BBQ?
Korean BBQ is a popular and delicious way to enjoy grilled meats, often paired with a variety of side dishes to complement and balance out the flavors. While there is no one definitive list of side dishes served with Korean BBQ, there are a few that are commonly found in restaurants and homes.
Ssam-mu, or pickled radish paper, is a staple Korean side dish that is often served with Korean BBQ. Made from thinly sliced radish that is then pickled in a sweet and tangy brine, ssam-mu provides a refreshing and crunchy complement to the rich and meaty flavors of Korean grilled meats. Ssam-mu is often wrapped around a bite of meat to add texture and a burst of flavor.
Kimchi is another popular Korean side dish commonly served with Korean BBQ. Made from fermented vegetables such as cabbage or radish, kimchi is known for its tangy and spicy flavor, making it a great compliment to the bold flavors of grilled meat. Often eaten as a palate cleanser in between bites of meat, kimchi is also a great source of probiotics and other health benefits.
Other side dishes that may be served alongside Korean BBQ include pickled vegetables such as cucumbers or carrots, rice cake stir-fry known as tteokbokki, and a bean sprout salad known as kongnamul. Depending on the region, season, and individual preferences, the specific side dishes served with Korean BBQ can vary widely.
The side dishes served with Korean BBQ are intended to balance out the strong flavors of the meat, provide texture and crunch, and add additional layers of flavor. Whether you are dining out or preparing Korean BBQ at home, be sure to explore and experiment with different side dishes to find the perfect combination that suits your taste.
Do you eat Korean side dishes first?
In Korean cuisine, banchan refers to a variety of side dishes that are served alongside the main course. These dishes are usually intended to be eaten in small portions and are meant to complement and enhance the flavors of the main dish. It is common practice to start your meal with banchan. In fact, you will find that most Korean restaurants will serve banchan first before any other dish.
The reason for this is twofold. First, banchan is a great way to whet your appetite. By providing a variety of flavors, textures, and colors, they stimulate the senses and get your mouth watering in anticipation of the main course. Second, banchan serves a functional purpose. The various vegetables, fermented foods, and seasonings used in banchan can aid in digestion and help you get the most out of your meal.
Traditionally, banchan is served on small plates that are meant to be shared amongst the diners at the table. This encourages socialization and emphasizes the communal nature of Korean cuisine. As you enjoy your banchan, you can chat with your dining companions and share your thoughts on the different flavors and textures.
If you are dining at a Korean restaurant, it is customary to start your meal with banchan. These small side dishes are meant to be eaten before the main course and serve both a functional and social purpose. So, go ahead and dig in, and don’t be afraid to try something new!
Why do Koreans have so many side dishes?
Korean cuisine is known for its abundance of side dishes, also called banchan. In most Korean meals, there are usually multiple banchan served alongside a bowl of rice. The number of side dishes can range from three to even a dozen or more, depending on the occasion and the type of restaurant. Koreans take their banchan seriously, and it is an essential component of their culinary culture.
There are several reasons why Korean meals typically have many side dishes. Firstly, Korean cuisine is unique in that it is rice-based. Koreans eat rice for every meal, so they require various side dishes to enhance the flavor of the otherwise bland rice. Banchan helps to break up the monotony of eating plain rice by providing a range of flavors, textures, and colors.
Another reason for the abundance of banchan is related to Korean social culture. In Korea, meals are often shared in communal settings, and it is customary to have many dishes available to share with others. The variety of banchan allows for multiple diners with different tastes to find something they enjoy. This practice has a long tradition in Korea and is considered an integral part of the dining etiquette when inviting guests or dining out with friends or colleagues.
Additionally, banchan serves as a way to use up leftovers or preserve food, which is a practical solution in a culture where resourcefulness and frugality are valued. Traditional Korean home cooking has always focused on finding ways to preserve food through fermentation, pickling, and other preservation methods, which often result in the creation of side dishes that last for a long time and are reused in subsequent meals.
The abundance of side dishes in Korean meals has deep roots in the country’s culinary culture, social culture, and practical need to preserve food. The tradition of banchan has persevered through generations and has helped to make Korean cuisine unique and distinctive.