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5 Essential Ingredients of Korean Cuisine

Koreans have a special relationship with food. They consider it a way to express their culture. This is why many dishes are influenced by local traditions and etiquette.

Korean cuisine has many bold flavors thanks to fermentation. Kimchi, gochujang, and doenjang are just a few examples. Seafood is also a staple of the diet.


Bites of Busan: unique eats in Korea's seaside city – Lonely Planet - Lonely Planet

Seafood is a major component of Korean cuisine due to the peninsula’s coastal location. It was also the main protein source in ancient times, and many fish dishes are still enjoyed today. The common people consumed fish and shellfish as staples, while sheep and pigs were reserved for the upper class.

Many seafood dishes are made in the form of stews or soups. These are often hearty and filling, while others feature fresh seafood that is steamed or lightly grilled. Some popular grilled fish dishes include mackerel, hairtail, and croaker. Other types of seafood, including shrimp, clams, and abalone, can be salted as legal or jjimjilbang.

A wide variety of seafood is enjoyed in the form of gimbap, rice rolls stuffed with a mixture of tuna, and other ingredients. This dish is a perfect example of the delicate balance between sweet and savory flavors prevalent in Korean cuisine.

Skate, a stingray-like fish that’s commonly used in barbecue cutlets, is enjoyed in the form of fermented raw filets called Hongeohoe, which are served with kimchi and Makgeolli rice wine. The fermentation process converts the uric acid in the skate to edible ammonia, which helps minimize the fishy smell that can turn away some diners.

Another way of enjoying seafood is through the tteokbokki, which are steamed or deep-fried balls of dough that contain a mix of pork, beef, and/or vegetables. They are topped with gochujang or doenjang for a savory and spicy kick. They are a popular street food and can be found everywhere, from restaurants to subway stations.

Dried Cuttlefish

Seasoned dried shredded squid (Ojingeochae-muchim) recipe by Maangchi

Unlike many Asian cuisines that use it as a seasoning or garnish, Koreans add dried cuttlefish to their foods as a main ingredient. This pantry staple provides umami to many dishes, including bibimbap, bulgogi, and jajangmyeon. Dried cuttlefish can be minced for flavoring or used whole in slow-braised foods and home-cooked stews. They are also essential in making sundubu jjigae, a satisfying tofu soup.

Garlic is also a staple in many Korean dishes and can be added raw or cooked. It is often minced for marinades, used whole in slower-braised foods and stews, and pickled as a flavourful banchan to accompany barbecued meats. It is also key in the savory hot pot dish of kalbi (beef short ribs).

The most commonly eaten legume in Korea is mung bean or green beans. They are served as side dishes, blanched or sauteed, and are found in pancakes, noodles, soups, stews, jeans, and even jelly foods! They can be steamed or stir-fried and are often seasoned with garlic, chili peppers, onion, or spring onions.

Another common Korean condiment is ssamjang, which can be used as a dip or a base for grilled meats or seafood. It is a mix of gochujang, doenjang, and other spices and flavorings that give dishes their characteristically rich umami taste.


Kimbap Recipe | Korean Bapsang

Seaweed is one of the most important parts of Korean cuisine. It is used for various dishes, garnishes, and even savory snacks! The most common type of seaweed in Korea is gim (; also known as laver). It is eaten wrapped around rice, on top of soups, or as a snack. It has a delicious flavor and texture!

In addition to gim, many other types of seaweeds are used in Korean cuisine. Building-Vasari and Semogasari are species of red algae that are used in dishes like ha echo shellcode or ha resonate much. They can be found either in dried or pickled form. They have a unique color and shape that is eye-catching! They look like miniature shrubs with countless branches!

Another popular seaweed is Parae (; also known as green laver). It has a papery and thin structure, similar to a gym. It is used in a variety of dishes, including kimchi. It is also a popular ingredient in tteokbokki, a spicy rice cake dish. Parade is a staple of the Korean diet, and it is a favorite among foreigners as well!

Another popular type of seaweed is Dasima (; also known as Kashima). This is a kelp that is often used in broths and soups. It has a very strong and fishy flavor. It is also used to wrap sushi and other Japanese dishes! In addition to enhancing the flavor of foods, seaweed is also very nutritious. It is high in protein, iodine, and vitamins, especially vitamins B and C! This makes it a great addition to any meal. For this reason, it is a staple in the diets of many people worldwide!


Doenjang Jjigae (Soybean Paste Stew with Pork and Vegetables) - Korean Bapsang

A fermented soybean paste that is incredibly assertive, Doenjang (pronounced DEEN-jang) gives any dish an umami boost, enhancing its savory properties. This versatile kitchen ingredient elevates soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. Whether used as a condiment or added to recipes, it’s a must-have for any Korean cook.

A popular use for doenjang is to prepare the traditional doenjang jjigae. This salty, hearty stew can be served with almost anything, including meats like beef brisket or pork belly, seafood such as shrimp and shellfish, vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms. It’s usually eaten with the accompaniments of bibimbap and samgyeopsal or at a barbecue restaurant to complement grilled meats.

To make doenjang, start by boiling soybeans and mash them. Then, form the soybeans into brick-like shapes and let them dry. This first fermentation process can take upwards of a month and be sped up by hanging the bricks in a sunny place with plenty of airflow. Next, rub the surface of each brick with a piece of raw garlic to help it ferment further. Once complete, it should be washed clean of any fungus that grows on the surface and then smoked to infuse it with more flavor.

This process can be made at home but requires a lot of time and patience. Most people buy ready-made doenjang in the grocery store or at well-stocked Asian markets. To make your own, you need a crock and some dedicated time to commit to the long process. A year is a good estimate for how long it takes to make doenjang, but you can cut that down by following this schedule:


korean ramen - this is not instant noodles - glebe kitchen

The use of noodles is an essential part of Korean cuisine. The variety of flavors and textures make them the perfect complement to other dishes. This is why noodles are often served with meat, fish, or vegetables. They are also a popular choice as an ingredient in cold soups. Some of the most famous noodle dishes in Korea include jjajang, bibimbap, and gomguksu.

One of the most common Korean noodles is Kajang, usually made from thick wheat flour noodles (similar to udon). The sauce, based on chunking, is mixed with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. It can also contain pork, squid, or mussels. Other ingredients, such as scallions, hard-boiled eggs, zucchini, seaweed, and pickled radish, are commonly added to this dish.

Another popular type of noodle in Korea is gomguksu, which is typically made from buckwheat or sweet potato flour. It is served with a spicy broth that contains beef bones or cartilage. The broth is often seasoned with kimchi and other vegetables.

Aside from being a staple in Korean cuisine, noodles are also used to celebrate special occasions and holidays. For example, they are a common dish for weddings. Another word served at special events is namnamyeon, which consists of thin buckwheat noodles with a sweet and savory sauce.

The proximity of Korea to China and Japan has heavily influenced its cuisine. This is particularly true regarding noodles, as both countries use wheat and buckwheat flour for their noodle dishes. However, buckwheat noodles are more common in Korea than their Chinese counterparts, as they are traditionally served cold.

Elizabeth R. Cournoyer

Web enthusiast. Internet fanatic. Music geek. Gamer. Reader. Hipster-friendly coffee practitioner. Spent 2001-2007 merchandising human hair in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Spent 2001-2007 short selling tinker toys in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Spent 2001-2007 importing acne in Phoenix, AZ. Spent several months importing methane in Mexico. Spent the better part of the 90's creating marketing channels for wooden horses in Bethesda, MD. Lead a team implementing toy monkeys in Deltona, FL.

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