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An Idiots Guide to: KOREAN FOOD!

Rumor has it that Korean is the new “it” food, and it’s no coincidence that the South Korean government recently announced plans to its cuisine as popular as Japanese food by 2017. Last month, the first lady of South Korea came all the way to New York to promote her native cuisine in a cooking demonstration.


As seen in the history of the farming of rice, barley, and other grains on the peninsula, grains have long been the main staple in the Korean diet. These grains are eaten not only in steamed forms (most commonly white rice and/or mixed grains), but also in other various forms such as Jook (porridge), Guk Su (Noodles), Ddeok (Rice cake), Yeot (candy), Sool (alcohol), and Jang (sauce or paste).

Fermented dishes are a big part of Korean food and its history. Developed in dishes using vegetable and seafood sources, these fermented dishes have unique tastes and usages and serve as sauce and side dishes.  Daeon Jang (soybean paste) especially has been an importance source of protein in conditions when people lacked meat. Also, Kimchi has been an important preservation dish for Koreans to preserve vegetables in large amounts in preparation for winter.

kimchi, courtesy of

kimchi, courtesy of

In addition, Korean cuisine uses various vegetable ingredients. The Korean peninsula has many mountains, facilitating the use of various vegetable ingredients from both the land and the sea. These vegetables include greens, mushrooms, and seaweed. Either natural or farmed, these vegetables are used for all kinds of Korean food such as Namul (see definitions below) and Chi Gae. Vegetables have developed into essential ingredients that are not only good sources of fiber and vitamins but also texture and flavor in Korean cuisine.
Soup dishes are essential in Korean cuisine. Usually, all three meals are accompanied by a type of soup dish: Guk, Chi Gae, and Tang.

Many Korean dishes are associated with a certain subtype of Korean cuisine, such as holiday food, street food, seasonal food, temple food and palace food. Influenced by Buddhist traditions, Temple food emphasizes vegetables, Kimchi, rice and tofu instead of meat; it is very healthy and vegetarian-friendly. Many types of Korean street foods are linked to the seasons. For example, Bun Geo Pang (fish-shaped pastry) and Ho Ddeok (pancakes with sweet filling) are most popular in the winter, while Pat Bing Su (crushed ice with various toppings) is popular in the summertime.

Last but not least important characteristic of Korean food is all about comprehensive variety of flavors. These flavors include not only include the basics such as sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and sour, but also the comprehensives tastes that also encompass flavors such as savory and chewy. Some of the popular spices include salt, soy sauce, scallion, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and pepper powder and sauce. One Korean dish uses at least five to six of these spices at once to express the comprehensive tastes.

The spiciness and foreign ingredients of Korean dishes take some getting used to, but 20 years ago, many Americans found sushi uneatable. No doubt Bi Bim Bap will become just as popular.

Useful  Terms and Recommendations

Language Note: When Korean words are romanized, they can be spelled in different ways. For example, Ddeok may also be spelled Tteok or Dok. Double consonants denote emphasis on that part of the word.

Tang and Guk: both terms refer to soups; Guk is more like “home-style soup”, whereas Tang is usually served in restaurants. We Recommend: Gam Ja Tang (potato soup). If you can’t handle spicy food, you may like Ddeok Guk (rice cake soup).

Gal Bi: barbequed dishes. Usually refers to marinated beef ribs, but can also be made with pork or chicken. If you like barbecued ribs, this is for you. We recommend: Gal Bi Tang (beef rib soup).

Gal Bi Chicken, courtesy of

Gal Bi Chicken, courtesy of

Bulgogi: a popular form of galbi; thin pieces of grilled or pan-fried beef flavored with a marinade of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and sesame oil.

Bi Bim Bap: rice topped with various vegetables, red chili paste, and sometimes egg or strips of beef. We recommend: Ok Dol Bi Bim Bap (Bi Bim Bap served in a hot stone bowl).

Ddeok: chewy cakes made out of glutinous rice flour. Tteok can come in steamed, pounded, boiled, and pan-fried varieties. They may be sweet or savory, depending on the added ingredients. We recommend: Ddeok Bok Ki (rice cakes in spicy-sweet red pepper paste).

Mandu: Korean dumplings. The pan-fried versions are called gunmandu, similar to Japanese gyoza.

Myeon and Guk Su: many different kinds of noodles fall under this category, including Dang Myeon (cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch), and Me Mil Guk Su (buckwheat noodles). We recommend: Mool Nang Myun (cold noodles in beef broth), Bi Bim Nang Myun (cold noodles with red pepper sauce), Japchae (Dang Myeon stir fried with vegetables and beef), and Kal Guk Su (knife-cut wheat flour noodles in soup). If you like Japanese soba noodles, you might like Nang Myun or Me Mil Guk Su.

Banchan: a variety of side dishes meant to be eaten throughout the meal. Fancier meals have more Banchan.

Kimchi: the most popular type of Banchan, known for its spiciness and nutritional value. Kimchi may refer to several different kinds of fermented vegetables, though cabbage is the most common.

Namul: refers to a wide range of different vegetables which can be prepared and seasoned in different ways. For example, Kong Namul (cold boiled bean sprouts with sesame oil) and Mi Yeok Muchim (seaweed with sweet vinegar).

Jeon: pan-fried pancake dishes, usually served as appetizers or Banchan. We recommend: Pa Jeon (scallion pancake) and Hae Mool Pa Jeon (seafood pancake).

Soju: Korean alcohol made primarily out of rice and other starches that tastes similar to vodka.

Sik Hae: a sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from rice, often served after meals.

Recommended Restaurants in the Boston Area


Specialty: Gam Ja Tang, other spicy/non-spicy stews, large stews for two or more people
168 Harvard Ave
Allston, MA 02134-2701
(617) 779-7907

Jang Su Gal Bi

(Korean Barbecue Restaurant)

Specialty: Gal Bi

260 Cambridge St
Burlington, MA 01803-2541

(781) 272-3787‎


Very close! Right next to porter square station.

1924 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140-2102

(617) 497-5656‎



2 Tyler St
Boston, MA 02111-1904

(617) 423-3848


Quick Fix. Right next to Broken Yolk.

132 College Ave, Somerville, MA

(617) 623-9263 ‎

– Rachel Verrengia & Chaeyeong Yoo

One Comment Post a comment
  1. sharmin #

    that looks yuckey!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 11, 2010

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