From spicy to salty, Korean food is not just about the taste, but also the presentation and experience involved with the cuisine. The main courses are flawlessly made with various side dishes as complements to the taste, texture and appearance.
Korean cuisine is enjoyed as raw, pan-fried, steamed, fermented, stewed, or simmered. Apart from being classy and delicious, Korean food is highly nutritious when served with the right dish combinations.
What to eat with Korean food? Korean food is generally served with bowl of rice, small side dishes called banchan, and a soup or stew. Along with the sides, variety of kimchi are served based on the season.
The main dish such as marinated beef barbecue called bulgogi or soft tofu stew will ultimately determine the side dishes to enhance the flavor and texture.
Korean recipes emphasize vegetables and meat using different ways of preparing them, making the meals very nutritious and mouthwatering compared to other Asian cuisines. But what gives Korean foods their distinct flavor? Well, stick around to find out!
What is a typical Korean meal?
A Korean meal is deemed incomplete without a bowl of rice or noodles, a bowl of stew or soup, and several side dishes. Side dishes can be spicy vegetables, meat, seafood, and crunchy potatoes.
Typically, Korean meals consist of these core ingredients:
- chili peppers
- noodles, especially buckwheat
- sesame seeds
- soy sauce
- pickled vegetables such as kimchi
In general, most Korean meals are extra spicy, and few are non-spicy. The spices are a signature flavor for Korean cuisine.
What side dishes do Koreans eat?
Korean side dishes have a special meaning from the period of royal courts, where a meal was served with twelve side dishes.
These side dishes range from vegetables to seafood, noodles, fruits, rice, various stews, soups, and dipping sauces. They also have unique and bold flavors, which leave you asking for more.
Some of the most popular Korean side dishes include:
- kimchi or spicy pickled vegetables
- pan fried zucchini (hobak jeon)
- egg roll (gyeran mari)
- marinated beef (bulgogi)
- kelp noodle salad
- cucumber kimchi (oi kimchi)
- spicy bellflower root salad (doraji muchim)
- kimchi pancakes (jeon)
- braised potatoes (gamja jorim)
- dipping sauce (ssamjang)
- fried tofu (dubu jeon)
What are the sides that come with Korean BBQ?
There is no such thing as Korean barbecue without side dishes. The banchan or side dishes are not appetizers, instead they complement Korean meals when served alongside the main entree, rice, and soup.
Korean BBQ consists of either grilled beef, pork, or chicken served with different side dishes based on the selection.
Some of the dishes paired with Korean BBQ include:
- Kimchi: The fermented food is a typical side dishes for Korean barbecue. Flavors like chili powder, red pepper, garlic, sugar, and fish sauce make this fermentation extra spicy and savory.
- Soybean sprout: This dish is an excellent accompaniment to spicy Korean barbecue. It adds a little bit of crunchiness to the meal, and is also less spicy and suitable for people who prefer non-spicy meals.
- Lettuce and Ssamjang: Eating Korean barbecue with lettuce makes the meal extra classy. The meat is wrapped on a lettuce leaf then dipped in a side dish of ssamjang, a thick and savory soybean paste combined with chili paste and topped with sesame seeds, scallions, and minced garlic.
- Kelp noodle salad: Try this mixture of sweet and tangy flavors, and you’ll forever yearn for the taste. This salad is also gluten-free, which is very important for some.
- Rice: Brown or white rice based on personal diet, bowl of rice is great addition to a Korean BBQ dinner while kimchi fried rice is a modern twist. Plain white rice is often served, but brown rice gives a nuttier and heartier taste.
What flavor goes well with Korean food?
Korean meals are marked by bitter, sour, salty, sweet, and spicy flavors. Chili pepper is an essential ingredient to make Korean foods spicy, for instance kimchi.
Apart from peppers, Koreans use sesame oil, chili flakes, soybean paste, ginger, and garlic to impact their meals.
Here are classic flavor combination that goes well with Korean food:
- chili peppers + garlic + soy sauce
- chili peppers + sesame seeds + soy sauce
- chili peppers + soy sauce
- garlic + sesame seeds + soy sauce
- garlic + soy sauce
Eat with Korean Cuisine: Conclusion
Colorful and deep flavor, Korean food has a rooted connection with every ingredients whether it is fermented or slow cooked for hours. Koreans preserve traditional recipes and cooking styles, giving the meals a unique taste that everyone is looking for.
The main classic ingredients are chili peppers, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. These make excellent garnishments as a final touch or useful during the cooking process.
Accompanied by main dish, Korean side dishes give the meal a signature look making them delicious. These banchan are small dishes that contain kimchi, pan fried zucchini, egg roll, kelp noodle salad, cucumber kimchi, dipping sauce, and fried tofu.
However, when serving Korean BBQ whether it is pork, beef, or chicken, always add on kimchi, soybean sprout, lettuce and ssamjang, and a bowl of rice to make a fulfilling meal.
With this guide, you should be able to serve a Korean meal with many of the classic dishes and sides. Korean cuisine may seem intimidating at first, but once you get a handle on the basics the food pairings magically come together.