Culture

K-food: Vegetable-based Banchan

Korean generally eat Bap(a bowl of rice), main dish with Banchan(side dish), and korean-style soup or stew: a nutritionally well balanced diet. Main dish is usually meat or fish and people add some vegetables on them. The classic side dishes are Kimchi and Namul(seasoned vegetables). Sometimes Bap has various grains other than mere rice in it and so does the soup.

Due to the OECD Statistics, Korea ranked the first place in daily vegetable consumption among other countries. Dietary habits of eating side dishes like Kimchi should take credits for this result.


Well-known Kimchi represents vegetable-based korean food. You know, we cannot make huge meals everyday but Kimchi is always on the table. ‘Bap and Kimchi’ is ‘bread and butter’ in Korea. Kimchi is a great dish in itself and an essential part of Korean meals. Also, it is superfood with its fermentation process making gut-healthy bacteria.

There are hundreds of kinds of Kimchi since it is made with different vegetables as the general ingredients:Napa cabbage, Korean radish, and cucumber. We called each of them Cabbage Kimchi, Kkakdugi/Chonggak Kimchi, and Cucumber Kimchi. The variation of Kimchi is unlimited using any edible vegetables for it. The other ingredients come to mix are also vegetables: garlic, ginger, garlic and the red pepper powder for the seasoning. This is why Kimchi is considered as the representative vegetable-based food.

Cabbage Kimchi and Kkakdugi

The taste of Kimchi is various due to the recipes whether it is a family recipe or local based recipe. It is because each recipe contains different ingredients and seasoning matched. The ripening period influences the Kimchi tastes as well. The longer it has been fermented, the sourer it turned into. The well-fermented Kimchi is often cooked as Kimchi Jjigae and Kimchi fried-rice. 


There are lots of vegetable-based korean foods other than Kimchi. Let’s look into some of them.

- Namul the seasoned vegetable
Korean people make Namul with any edible vegetables. The recipe is all different depending on who makes it. It is usually lightly blanched in water and spiced up with salt or soy sauce. Commonly eating namul are Kong-namul(bean sprouts), spinach and some special vegetables like Dureup in season.

Various Namul

The most famous dish containing namul is Bibimbap. Mix the rice and various namul with one spoonful of Gochujang(red pepper paste) and sesame oil. Bibimbap is one of the Korean comfort foods. You can see K-drama characters eating it. I think the reason this scene came out is to make the audience get sympathy for characters. Because most of Korean families have namul in their refrigerator and they have experiences making Bibimbap at home.

- Muk
Muk is one of the general foods in East-Asia countries. It is made with starch powder from various ingredients such as buckwheat, mung bean, and acorn. The recipe is quite simple: Mix the powder with the water and boil it. When the mixture comes into thick liquid, pour it into a case to firm up. Few hours later, it turns into Muk. All you have to do is just enjoy the soft Muk like pudding.

Acorn Muk with red pepper seasoning

Acorn Muk has been consumed only in Korea for many years. Korean like its slightly nutty flavour and usually eat it with red pepper/soy sauce based seasoning or have a cold or hot Muk broth. These days, not only does Muk go well with vegetables but the fact that Muk has low-calorie has intrigued people on a diet.

Other than these, there are many different side dishes using vegetables: Kongjorim(braised soybeans), Gamja Bokkeum(stir-fried potatoes), Kkwari-gochu Bokkeum(steamed pepper). You will find them being served with the main dish in korean food restaurants.


As such, Korean eat a lot of vegetables without noticing, since the ingredients of most side dishes are vegetables. Whereas these side dishes are served after they are cooked, there are dishes eaten with fresh vegetables. ‘Ssam’, the korean DIY-style wrap, is really popular here. The difference from general wrap is that korean people used to wrap it up in lettuce, beefsteak plants instead of tortillas. You might wonder what it tastes like, right? Of course we have special sauce for it, too. This ssam culture will be discussed in the next article.

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