An Introduction to Korean Cuisine

Korean cuisine is taking over. In a string of recent commercials, TGIF restaurants have been promoting their new Korean pork tacos, while Korean-inspired Mexican burritos are popping up on the West Coast, as kimchi-infused desserts are taking the Big Apple by storm. However innovative these creations are, nothing compares to original, authentic Korean food.

The basics

A big part of the Korean culture is the food. In a few words, Korean cuisine can be described as healthy, spicy, fishy, and simply delicious.

Let’s start with two basics: kimchi and white rice. Kimchi and white rice are the cornerstones to a Korean diet, eaten with every meal of the day. Kimchi is fermented cabbage, layered in an abundance of fish and shrimp paste, ginger, garlic, chopped radishes, and salt. Although kimchi is referred to as one of the healthiest foods on the planet, it has a strong, spicy, and bitter taste. This may make it somewhat hard to stomach for breakfast. However, always anticipate there to be kimchi and white rice on the table with any meal.

Also, vegetables in Korea tend to be “kimchied”. This basically means that vegetables are fermented and prepared the same way kimchi is. You’ll find packets of kimchied radishes and pickles as an appetizer, and other vegetable dishes that pack that same kimchi flavor.

BBQ

Besides kimchi, another well-known aspect of Korean food is the barbecue. Korean barbecue is a favorite to Koreans and foreigners alike. There are three main types of meat for Korean barbecue: decadently marinated beef short ribs called galbi, spicy marinated chicken called dak galbi, and thin strips of pork belly called samgyeopsal.

At a Korean barbecue, you are seated around either an electric or coal-powered grill. The wait staff will then bring out plates of the raw meat, which you will cook for yourself. Barbecuing in Korea is quite different, as instead of having different utensils to cook with, you’ll only have a pair of tongs and scissors. You cut the meat with the scissors, finish cooking, and eat off of the grill. Yes, you pick the meat off the grill with your chopsticks and eat from there. Typically, there are no plates given at these restaurants.

On the side, you can anticipate kimchi, large leaves of lettuce, big slices of garlic, and spicy jalapeno peppers. Occasionally, you will have an onion slaw, mushrooms, spices, oils, and dipping sauces made of soy sauce and crushed up peanuts.

Korean barbecue works like this: You take the large leaves of lettuce and use it as a tortilla. You put the meat and all the sides on the lettuce and roll it into a taco of sorts. Then, you eat it in one to two bites.

The best part of Korean barbecue, however, is the atmosphere. There is no better experience than grilling with good friends, sharing food, and drinking the Korean vodka, Soju, which you can expect to be the start and end to any trip to a Korean barbecue.

“Learning to Love Kimchi”

Now that you know a little bit about Korean cuisine, take a look at this fun documentary about learning to love Korean food.