Bibimbap (literally “mixed rice”) is essentially a dish of cooked rice served after mixing it with an assortment of fresh and seasoned vegetables, fried egg, minced beef and other ingredients before cooking. The dish is closely related with Jeonju, a UNESCO-designated “City of Gastronomy,” where food-related festivals, including the Bibimbap Festival, are held every autumn, attracting gastronomes from across Korea and beyond. Bibimbap has recently begun to attract worldwide attention for its nutritional balance, which is said to help keep those who eat it free from geriatric diseases, and is now generally cited as one of the three most representative dishes of Korean cuisine along with kimchi and bulgogi.
Bulgogi, which literally means “fire meat,” refers to a traditional Korean dish made by grilling beef or (rarely) pork after shredding or slicing it and marinating it in sweet soy sauce mixed with a great variety of condiments.
It is one of the rare meat dishes to have developed in Korea, where people were generally more accustomed to eating vegetable dishes, and has won many enthusiasts outside the country. Bulgogi has recently been adopted by fast-food restaurants in Korea, resulting in the emergence of bulgogi hamburgers and pizzas.
Tteok (Rice Cake)
Tteok, or Korean rice cake, refers to a range of sticky cakes made by steaming powdered rice with other grains, usually beans, or by pounding boiled rice into different shapes and textures. While tteok was sometimes eaten as part of a meal, it was more often one of a variety of special foods served at special family or communal occasions such as birthday parties, wedding receptions, memorial services and traditional holidays. Rice is the main ingredient of tteok, but it is often mixed with other grains, fruits, nuts and herbs such as mugwort, red bean, jujube, soybean and chestnut.
Korean people in the past assigned various symbolic meanings to tteok and made and ate it according to those meanings. They made (and still make) baekseolgi (white steamed rice cakes), for instance, on the first birthday of a baby as it symbolizes a long life, and they made patsirutteok (steamed red bean and rice cake) whenever they started a business as its red color was believed to help repel evil forces. They celebrate New Year’s Day with tteokguk, consisting of a broth with rice flakes, and Chuseok (the 15th Day of the Eighth Lunar Month) with songpyeon, bite-sized half-moon shaped rice cakes stuffed with a honey, chestnut, soybean, or sesame mixture. There are many famous tteok houses in Nagwon-dong in downtown Seoul.
Juk is a Korean-style porridge made of various grains that is usually served to children, the elderly, or people suffering from digestive problems. In recent years juk houses have begun to appear in many parts of Korea. They usually prepare the dish with a wide range of ingredients, mostly grains and vegetables, and it has also been developed into numerous varieties, some of which are now served at small specialty diners.
Korean people have developed a wide range of noodle dishes that are full of symbolic meanings. One such dish is janchi guksu (literally “banquet noodles”), which is served in a hot anchovy broth to the guests at a wedding reception (hence the name). This dish is so closely related with the idea of a happy marriage in Korea that a question such as “When can we eat noodles?” would readily be understood to mean “When do you plan to get married?” It is also eaten to celebrate birthdays because it symbolizes a long, healthy life.
Korean people also have a long established tradition of eating naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), served in either cold beef broth (Pyeongyang naengmyeon) or with a spicy chili sauce (Hamheung naengmyeon).
Hanjeongsik (Korean Set Menu)
Hanjeongsik, otherwise known as the Korean set meal, originally consisted of cooked rice, soup, and anywhere from three to five, (largely vegetable,) side dishes. As people are gradually becoming better off due to the thriving national economy, today’s set meal tends to be much more luxurious with tens of new dishes, meat and fish included, although the three basic dishes, i.e. rice, soup, and kimchi, still remain. Two cities in the southwestern part of Korea, Jeonju and Gwangju, are particularly famous for this traditional Korean meal.
Korean Temple Cuisine
Korean Buddhist temples have maintained their own culinary traditions, creating a wonderful range of vegetable dishes and ingredients and developing recipes to provide the proteins and other substances required for the monks and nuns to remain healthy. Temple foods are now enthusiastically received by vegans and other people who follow special diets for health-related reasons.
A wide variety of alcoholic beverages have been developed across different parts of Korea to meet the needs of local communities during holidays, festivals, memorial rites and other commemorative occasions. Currently some 300 traditional beverages have survived, including Munbaeju (wild pear liquor) and Songjeolju (pine knot liquor) in Seoul; Sanseong Soju (distilled liquor) in Gwangju of Gyeonggi-do Province; Hongju (red liquor) and Leegangju (distilled liquor) in Jeolla-do Province; Sogokju (rice wine) in Hansan of Chungcheong-do Province; Insamju (ginseng liquor) in Geumsan; Gyodong Beopju (rice liquor) and Andong Soju (distilled liquor) in Gyeongju of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province; and Okseonju (distilled liquor) in Hongcheon of Gangwon-do Province.
One of the most popular traditional alcoholic beverages across Korea today is makgeolli (rice wine), which is also known by other names such as nongju (farmer’s wine), takju (cloudy wine) and dongdongju (rice wine). It is made by a process in which steamed rice, barley or wheat is mixed with malt and left to ferment, and has an alcohol content of 6-7%, making it a fairly mild drink. As the fermented liquor receives more recognition for its healthy aspects, it is gaining popularity among foreign tourists visiting Korea. Another hugely popular alcoholic beverage of Korea is soju which is made by adding water and flavoring to alcohol extracted from sweet potatoes and grains. With an alcohol content that varies but is significantly higher than makgeolli, it is much appreciated by ordinary citizens across Korea and is rapidly gaining enthusiasts outside Korea.
Source: Korean Culture and Information Service 'Facts about Korea'
Image source: Korea Open Government License