> Korean Traditional Food > Kinds of Korean Food
> Main meals/Side dishes
Korean foods are largely categorized into main meal, side
dish and dessert. Rice, porridge and noodle are normally taken
as main meal, while side dishes include soup, stew, fried
food, steamed dish, Seon, raw vegetable, wild greens, hard-boiled
food, Cho, fried fish, roasted meat, Jeok, raw fish, Ssam,
sliced boiled meat, Jokpyeon, fried kelp, jerky, slices of
dried radish or cucumber, kimchi and salted fish. Dessert
includes rice cake, cookie and pastry as well as tea, juice
Boiled white rice has long been the staple food for
the Koreans. We also eat mixed grains meal cooked
with such ingredients as barley, millet, Indian millet,
bean and red-bean. The cooking method of rice is to
mix it with other grains and water, boil them and
allow sufficient time for settling by its own heat.
Sometimes vegetables, fish, clam and meat are put
into rice cooking to produce special meal. Bibimbap
is a food made with wild greens and meat laid above
rice, and taken after all the contents are mixed together.
thin gruel, mild broth
These are liquid foods made of grains. Porridge is
cooked by boiling grains, mainly rice, in their original
form or after being ground. Thin gruel differs from
porridge in that grains are boiled long in their original
shape and then sieved. 'EungEe' is a mild broth which
is prepared by dissolving starch of grains into water
and then boiling. The broth is so mild that it can
be even drunk up. Vegetables, meat, fish or clam are
sometimes added in cooking porridge. Nuts can be also
put into boiling grains to produce porridge with better
taste and nutrition, such as pine nuts porridge, sesame,
walnut and mung-bean porridge. Examples of vegetable
mixed porridge are pumpkin porridge, pyogo mushroom
porridge and curled mallow porridge. In addition,
porridge can be cooked with seafood such as fish,
ear shell, clam, and also with such meat as beef and
Dumpling, rice-cake soup
There are a variety of dumpling according to ingredients
of cover and stuffing. Dumpling cover is normally
made with flour kneaded and pressed. Sometimes buckwheat
flour is used to give s special flavor. In royal court,
dumplings were cooked as shaped into crescent or sea
cucumber form. Stuffing of dumpling was generally
consisted of pumpkin, vegetable and meat. In the northern
area of Korea such as Pyeongan province, stuffing
was made with Chinese cabbage, pork and bean curd.
The ingredients were packed roundly and put into broth
to be boiled.
Korea has long enjoyed rice cake soup on New Year's
Day, serving the food to ancestor worship and enjoying
it as the first breakfast. Rice cake soup is made
by boiling in broth the small rice cake in proper
quantity. The rice cakes are produced by pressing
non-glutinous rice grains into a machine, and they
are kept at each house ready to be used in cooking
the rice cake soup. In the northern area dumplings
were more favored while in the south cake soup was
the preferred one.
Noodles are served more often on special occasions
like a banquet or treating guests than as a regular
meal. On normal days, noodle is served as a light
Noodles include, according to ingredients of grain
or starch, wheat noodle, buckwheat noodle, starch
noodle and arrowroot noodle. As a meal, noodle is
divided into warm noodle (cooked in warm water), cold
noodle (prepared in cold broth or watery kimchi) and
bibim noodle (non-liquid type). In cooking warm noodle,
sometimes pheasant meat was used in old days but nowadays
brisket or leg bones of cow are used mostly. In cooking
knife-cut noodle, chicken broth is mainly used. Cold
noodle is prepared by mixing flour or starch with
powdered buckwheat flour, then kneading and pressing
them in noodle machinery, to be produced as thin noodles.
Knife-cut noodle is made by kneading flour or buckwheat
flour, pressing and cutting them into thin noodles
by a special knife. In the summer, bean noodles made
by mixing wheat noodles in bean soup have been enjoyed
by the Koreans.
In Korea where rice is the main staple, soup is a
basic side dish indispensable to daily meals. Clean
soy soup, bean paste soup, thick beef soup and cold
soup are the most popular ones. Soups can be cooked
with nearly all ingredients available, such as meat,
fish, clam, vegetable and aquatic plants. In particular,
brisket and shank of beef, rib, tail, leg bones of
cattle, their internals such as tripe and intestines,
and even their clotted blood are used as ingredients
of soup. Clean soy soup is seasoned with salt or soybean
sauce, while bean paste soup uses soybean paste and
hot pepper paste. 'Gomtang' and 'seolleongtang' (ox-bone
stews that are cooked through boiling for a long time)
are seasoned with salt or soybean sauce. In the hot
summer, cold soup made with cucumber, seaweed, kelp,
vegetable gelatin, etc is often enjoyed.
Stew is liquid food in which solids and liquid are contained in similar proportion. It is cooked with
stronger seasoning compared with soup. Stew is largely divided into soybean paste stew, hot pepper paste
stew and clear stew according to ingredients. Foods similar to stew are 'Jijimi,' 'Jochi,' and 'Gamjeong.'
In the royal court of early Joseon dynasty, stew was called Jochi and hot pepper paste stew was named Gamjeong.
Soybean paste stew tastes better when cooked in rice water than in simple water. In particular, soybean
paste stew is an indigenous food most favored by the Koreans, and taste of the food varies upon soybean
paste used. Bean curd, young hot pepper, pumpkin, beef and anchovy are used as solids of the stew. Hot
pepper paste stew is cooked with bean curd and vegetables as solids. Similar to the pepper stew is 'Maeuntang'
(fish stew) which is cooked with fish and a lot of vegetables. Clean stew is normally seasoned with salt
or salted shrimps and added with bean curd, pumpkin, radish or clamp. The stew gives bland taste and is
enjoyed in the central region of Korea.
Jeongol (hot pot) and Bokkeum (stir-fried food)
'Jeongol' is a food taken while meat and vegetables
(prepared on a dish in advance) are boiling at utensils
such as brazier set on table. 'Bokkeum' is a food
using similar materials but cooked in advance by stir-frying
and served on a dish. In cooking Jeongol, such pots
as 'Beonggeojitgol' (made of iron and shaped like
upside-down helmet) and 'Jeongol frame' (made of low
and even stone) are used. The center of Beonggeojitgol
is lowered so that gravy can gather there, and its
edge is wide so that diverse food materials can be
laid there to be roasted and eaten on-site.
Jjim (steamed dish) and Seon
'Jjim' or steamed dish is a food cooked with meat,
fish, clams and vegetables by steam heating or boiling
in water. The dish prepared in boiling water mainly
uses rib, tail, shank of beef and pork rib as ingredients.
They are cooked at weak fire for a long time. Steam
heating is mainly used for dishes of fish, shrimp
'Seon' uses bean curd, vegetable and fish as main
ingredients, and cook them also by steaming or boiling.
Vegetables such as pumpkin, cucumber, eggplant or
Chinese cabbage are put in soy soup to be boiled for
a short time or steam-heated. 'Fish Seon' is a dish
served with white meat of fish while 'Bean Curd Seon'
is served with mashed bean curds that are cooked in
a steamer together with chicken or beef.
Saengchae (raw vegetables)
Raw vegetable is a side dish that can be made easily
without heat-cooking. Fresh vegetables available seasonally
are hand-mixed with vinegared soy sauce, vinegared
red pepper paste or mustard soy sauce, to be served
as raw vegetable dish. Added with sugar and vinegar,
they generate sweet, sour and crisp taste. In preparing
the food are used a variety of edible plants such
as radish, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, dropwort,
'Deodeok' (lanceolate root) and other wild greens.
Sometimes aquatic plants like seaweed, green laver
and jellyfish as well as cuttlefish, clam and shrimp
are seasoned and mixed on the dish. Vegetable with
mustard seasoning and cold vegetable are also included
in raw vegetables dish.
Namul (cooked vegetables)
Namul is one of the most common side dishes in Korea.
Namul originally meant both raw and cooked vegetables
but nowadays it refers to cooked vegetable only. Nearly
all kinds of vegetable are used as ingredients of
Namul. Vegetables with green leaves are first boiled
and then seasoned with various condiments. Such wild
greens as bracken, osmund and balloonflower are boiled,
seasoned and then stir-fried. Dried aster, pepper
leaves and dried radish leaves are soaked in water
before being boiled and fried. Namul becomes softened
and tasty if sesame oil and sesame salt are added
profusely. If seasoned with vinegared red pepper paste,
Namul will taste sour. Besides vegetable, jelly dishes
such as green-lentil jelly, buckwheat jelly and acorn-starch
jelly are also popular. They are made by pouring starches
on a vessel and solidifying them. Mixed with fermented
vegetable and meat, the jelly foods are seasoned with
spices and condiments before being served. Green-lentil
jelly was called 'Tangpyeongchae' in Joseon dynasty,
meaning that various vegetables are mixed fairly.
'Japchae' and 'Juksunchae' are also favored food in
which various vegetables are fried and mixed together.
Jorim (hard-boiled food) and Cho
Jorim is made with meat, fish, clam and vegetables
seasoned strongly with condiments. It is a side dish
normally taken as a complement to rice. Hard-boiled
meat is called 'Jangjorim,' which is stored long and
served little by little. White meat of fish is mostly
boiled with soy sauce, while fish with red meat or
fishy smell is better cooked with red pepper powders
'Cho' originally meant stir-frying, but nowadays it
refers to the food prepared by boiling seafood with
starch till they are clotted. It is normally seasoned
sweetly and not strongly. Sea mussel and ear shell
are mainly used as ingredients of Cho.
JeonyuEo (fried fish)
'Jeon' is a cooking method, i.e. to coat food material
with oil and fry them. Fish fried with oil is called
JeonyuEo, JeonyuA, JeonYa or simply Jeon, and in royal
court it was called JeonyuHwa. Fried fish presented
to ancestor worship table was called by various names
such as Gannam, Gannap or Galrap.
Meat, clam and vegetables are also used to make Jeon.
They are cut into proper size, seasoned with salt
and black pepper, and then coated with flour and egg
to be fried on a pan. Normally more than 3 materials
are fried and served on a dish. Buckwheat powder or
moistened flour can be used for coating instead of
egg. 'Jijim' is a food cooked by mixing materials
into thin dough and frying them with oil. Bindaedeok
(green-bean pancake) and Pajeon (stone-leek pancake)
are the most famous examples of Jijim. In frying Pajeon,
green onions and seafood are profusely inputted. As
another example, Nokdu bindaedeok (mung-bean pancake)
is cooked by grinding and frying mung beans, while
Kong buchim (bean pancake) is cooked by soaking beans
in water and frying them.
GuEe (roast meat) and Jeok (kebab)
'GuEe' might be the earliest food cooked by mankind
since fire had been used. Boiling or frying had not
begun until vessels were invented, however, roasting
or broiling could be done just by exposing materials
at fire, with no need of utensils. Records show that
since ancient times Koreans had roasted meat. Bulgogi
(roast meat) is one of the most representative dishes
of Korea. But its name has not been used until lately.
In the old days, meat thinly minced and roasted was
called 'Neobiani' and meat broiled with salt was called
'Jeok' is a food cooked with meat, vegetable, mushroom,
etc. which are seasoned, pierced through bamboo skewers
and grilled. 'Sanjeok' is made by roasting or frying
raw meat on skewers. 'Nureumjeok' is cooked in two
ways, i.e. food materials are seasoned, roasted and
then threaded into skewers, or materials are first
skewered and then coated to be fried.
Hoe (raw fish) and Ssam (rice wrapped in lettuce or seaweed)
''Hoe' is a dish of fish or meat to be eaten raw
after dipping in vinegared soy sauce, vinegared hot
pepper paste, mustard juice or salted oil. In preparing
raw meat are used tender beef, tripe and wall of stomach,
and liver of ox. Fresh fish such as flatfish and pomfret
as well as clam, oyster and sea cucumber are popular
ingredients of Hoe. 'Eochae' is a kind of heated raw
fish, which is made by putting white meat of seafood
such as squid, octopus, small octopus and shrimp into
boiling water for a short time before serving on a
dish. Vegetables such as parsley, small green onion
and aralia shoots are also cooked as Eochae.
Rice wrapped in leaves of lettuce, Chinese cabbage,
wild aster, pumpkin, sesame and brown seaweed as well
as in dried laver is called 'Ssam.' The Koreans are
very fond of eating bulgogi or raw fish by Ssam.
(slices of boiled meat) and Jokpyeon (calf's-hoof jelly)
'Pyeon-yuk' is lumps of beef or pork that are boiled,
wrapped in cloth and pressed with chopping board,
and then shredded thinly. The food is dipped into
seasoning sauce or pickled shrimps sauce before eating.
Beef Pyeonyuk mainly uses brisket and shank of beef,
ox tongue and head, while pork Pyeonyuk uses three-ply
meat, shoulder and head part. Pork Pyeonyuk can be
enjoyed better with pickled shrimp sauce and wrapped
'Jokpyeon' is made by boiling tough meat such as hoof,
shank, tendon and skin of cow for a long time. Through
the boiling, their gelatins become melted down like
porridge, which are then poured into square vessel,
solidified and cut into thin slices. The slices of
jokpyeon are eaten after dipping in seasoning sauce.
Twigak and Bugak (fried kelp)
'Twigak' is a food made with kelp, sprout of ailanthus,
walnut, etc. by fully stir-frying them on oil. 'Bugak'
is made with potato, red pepper, sesame leaf, laver,
ailanthus leaf, etc. by just drying them or by frying
them after they have been coated with glutinous rice
Meat jerky is chiefly made of beef by seasoning with
soy sauce and drying. Fish jerky is made by drying
whole fish or tearing off meat from fish, seasoning
them with salt and drying them. Pollack jerky is normally
dried without seasoning. In particular, meat jerky
is made by spreading beef jowl, etc. thinly and widely,
then mixing with soy sauce, sugar or pepper powder,
and drying them. 'Pyeonpo' is made by mincing meat,
seasoning and shaping them into big lumps before drying.
Also used as side dish at drinking party are 'Daechupo'
which is made with minced meat by shaping them into
jujube and 'Chilbo Pyeonpo' which is made by forming
minced meat flat and round, inserting pine nuts and
drying. 'Possam' which is made with pine nuts in it
and shaped like a small dumpling, is also available.
As for fish jerky, codfish or other fish is cut into
pieces which are then seasoned with salt and dried.
They are enjoyed as dry food or put into stew. The
Alaska Pollack is dried while being frozen in the
winter. The dried pollack is used as ingredient of
various side dishes. Also available is squid which
is cut into pieces and dried to become jerky.
JangAchi (slices of dried radish or cucumber)
'JangAchi,' also called 'Janggwa,' is a side dish
made with vegetables preserved in soy sauce, hot pepper
paste or soybean paste. In the old days, they were
made in harvest season and, after long preservation,
were eaten little by little when vegetable is rare.
JangAchi is cut into thin slices, seasoned with sesame
oil, sugar and sesame salt before being served on
a dish. To make a good JangAchi, vegetable should
be dried or salted, thereby reducing their moist,
before preservation. Ingredients used mainly for JangAchi
are garlic, stalk of garlic, sesame leaf, radish,
cucumber and deodeok. 'Gapjanggwa' or 'Sukjanggwa
is a food made by cutting radish or cucumber into
small pieces, and then drying, seasoning and stir-frying.
Kimchi is fermented food that mixes salted cabbage
with seasonings such as chilly powder, garlic, ginger,
radish, etc. It is the most basic side dish in Korea.
In its preserving and fermenting process, lactic acid
is generated, creating unique sour taste which, mixed
with hot taste of red pepper, stimulates appetite
and improves digestion. Adding pickled fish, clam,
etc. to the vegetables in making kimchi will help
achieve better taste and nutrition (protein). 'Gimjang
kimchi' that has been made regularly in the winter
is preserved long, however, kimchi made nowadays with
vegetables available seasonally needs not to be preserved
It is a kind of preserved food, made with salted
fish and clam. Unique flavor and taste are produced
while protein contents of fish are being dissolved
during storage. Of the food, pickled shrimp and anchovy
are mainly used as subsidiary materials to making
kimchi, and salted pollack roe, squid, oyster and
clam can be eaten as side dish. 'Sikhae' is a traditional
food made by preserving and fermenting fish, after
mixing with malt and grains and then seasoning with
hot pepper powder, stone-leek, garlic and salt. Flatfish
sikhae, frozen pollack sikhae and sandfish sikhae
are favored examples of the food.