South Korean Cuisine sounds exotic, but it is actually pretty basic. Most of the foods are divided into three categories: rice, meat, and vegetables. Koreans include foods from each of these categories in almost every meal of the day. Korean food is so popular that the Korean Restaurant industry is growing faster than the economy itself. One of the only downfalls of Korean food is that some of the foods can be considered unhealthy. Foods such as kimchi are high in sodium and pickled, which make them pretty unhealthy. So you shouldn’t eat a strictly Korean diet all the time.
We knew this was coming.
Not only do Koreans eat rice at almost every meal, but rice is also a big part of Korea’s economy. Rice alone makes up 90% of all grain production and 40% of all farm income. In 2015 the average Korean ate 65.1 kilograms of rice – that’s a lot of rice! Some rice dishes include fried rice, rice cakes, rice rolls, rice balls, sweet potato rice, sweet pumpkin rice, and sweetened rice with nuts and fruit.
There are many types of meat, so we’ll talk about a few.
The most important meat in Korea is beef. Beef can be prepared in several ways including roasting, grilling, or boiling in soups. Beef can also be dried into jerky for soups. Before the 20th century, Koreans actually did not eat a lot of beef because they believed slaughtering a cattle would create issues in farming the land. Cattle were so important they were given their own holiday on the first cow day of Lunar New Year.
Another type of meat Koreans eat is chicken. Chicken is a good protein source for most Korean dishes. Chicken is usually served roasted or braised and served with vegetables in soups. Koreans use every part of the chicken in their meals, including the feet!
Another type of meat Koreans eat are fish and seafood. This is a big part of Korean cuisine since Korea is a peninsula and surrounded by oceans, it wouldn’t make sense not to fish. In the 12th century, commoners usually ate fish and seafood while meat such as pork was reserved for the upper classes. Fish can be served raw, grilled, broiled, dried, or served in soups and stews.
There are a lot of vegetables Koreans use – here are most of them.
Most dishes include a wide variety of vegetables, which are usually served uncooked. They are served in salads, stews, stir-fried dishes, and other hot dishes. Some commonly used vegetables include cucumber, potato, sweet potato, spinach, bean sprouts, scallions, garlic, chili peppers, Korean radish, seaweed, zucchini, mushrooms, and lotus root. One major vegetable dish is Kimchi. Kimchi is one of the most popular foods and the national dish in Korea and eaten at almost every meal. Kimchi includes fermented vegetables (usually cabbage) with several spices.
This doesn’t fall into any other category but it is still a major part of the Korean diet so I might as well address it.
Unlike other cultures, Korea serves soup as the main course instead of an appetizer or a side dish. Soup is usually served with rice; soups can be made with meat, shellfish, or vegetables.
South Korea has more more foods to offer than what I’ve outlined here. If you ever go to South Korea to see some K-Pop or something like that, don’t go to a McDonald’s or Mario’s Italian Pizza Palace – go to a restaurant and experience all the Korean tastes and flavors for yourself!