Korean cuisine culture


Korean food to many in America means grilled meat, or Korean barbecue. The amazing feature of Korean cuisine, however, is its variety. Koreans eat a dizzying range of grains, beans, legumes, fruits, wild and foraged vegetables and roots, and every type of meat and seafood. Koreans use just about every method of food preparation: braising, grilling, drying, stewing, frying, parboiling, smoking, infusing, fermenting, and serving foods raw. And Korean dishes are served at varying temperatures, from ice cold to room temperature to bubbling hot.
Korean cuisine is often praised for its boldness and layered flavors, but it can also be restrained, refined, playful, soothing, and refreshing. Just like the bustling city of Seoul, modern Korean cooking is a mix of the very traditional and the very modern and international. In this book, I’ve included some of the most beloved dishes that showcase the diversity of Korean spices and preparations, from icy cold noodles to piping hot long-simmered braises. Through these recipes, you’ll discover the balance and layers of flavors that you’d find on the most carefully created Korean menu.
Food permeates every aspect of Korean culture. Hansik, which means Korean cuisine, is more than just sustenance to Koreans; food is family, community, culture, and medicine. The idea of food as medicine is still strong in Korea, where traditional herbal medicine is still practiced. The “you are what you eat” philosophy has a big impact on what Koreans eat, what they value, and how food companies market their products.
Most Westerners, when they think of Korean food, think of grilled short ribs or spicy fried chicken, but rice, not meat, is the centerpiece of the Korean meal. The Korean word for rice (bap) is actually also used as the word for “meal.” Rice is not only the staple of the Korean diet; it’s also used to make rice cakes, desserts, porridge, vinegar, and alcohol. On some occasions, noodles will replace rice, but most often, a bowl of rice accompanies each person’s meal. Each person at the table is also usually served their own bowl of soup or stew. All other dishes are served family style, including small side dishes, meat or seafood dishes, and kimchi. Sometimes, a large stew is served family style and replaces any other main dishes.


The simplest way to describe Korean cuisine is to say that it is spicy and bold. It certainly can be. But the real defining quality of Korean food, I think, is its variety. Sit down at the table in a Korean restaurant or a Korean home and what you’ll get is a wide variety of flavors, dishes, colors, and preparations. Traditionally, the Korean table was a balance of yin and yang, and the five colors that represented the elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). The yin and yang refer to the contrast you will get of crunchy and soft textures, hot and cold temperatures, and spicy and mild seasonings.
The five colors are green, red, yellow, white, and black, and the rainbow of colors makes sure that your meal is not only gorgeous, but also nutritious.
The idea of balancing flavors and colors is something that Korean mothers and grandmothers do by instinct—not something they necessarily think about when cooking. Many Koreans might not even recognize the need for five colors and flavors when eating, but they will certainly notice if their meal feels incomplete. What’s important is balance, so some spicy kimchi and crunchy vegetables will balance the flavors and textures of a milky soup with rice. In the same way, some sour pickles and a hot steamed egg dish will balance a bowl of cold noodles.


You don’t have to invest in a lot of fancy cookware or tableware to make excellent Korean food at home. If you cook at all, then you’ll probably have the most essential cooking equipment, like pots, pans, cutting boards, wooden spoons, and colanders. The most important things you need for making great Korean meals are a good rice cooker and good knives.
However, there are a few products I recommend that will make your cooking and eating life easier. You can also use these to cook any other food (not just Korean dishes).


If you’re going to be making and enjoying Korean food (or any Asian cuisine, for that matter), then a rice cooker is an essential tool. You will be glad you invested in one. Rice cooks quickly and accurately in a rice cooker, and the cooker will automatically turn off when the rice is done, keeping it warm until you serve it. Rice can stay warm in a rice cooker for up to two days, and in modern rice cookers, you can make porridge and soups, and you can use the rice cooker as a mini slow cooker. For information on preparing perfect rice with or without a rice cooker


An outdoor grill is always useful in warmer weather, but a grill pan makes delicious Korean barbecue meals possible indoors during the colder months. If you like to grill often, then a grill pan or indoor grill will recreate a Korean restaurant experience better than a sauté pan can. You don’t need a special Korean grill; a George Foreman grill works perfectly fine.


aving at least one good chef’s knife will make cooking any dish easier. Look for one that is about 8 to 10 inches long, not too heavy, and that feels comfortable in your hand. It’s very important that you feel comfortable holding a knife and using it. If you have a small hand, for example, you might not feel comfortable using a heavy or thick knife, no matter how expensive or how highly rated it is. You should also have a honing steel in your kitchen to sharpen your knives, and use it often to hone the blades, keeping them sharp.


If you’ve ever kept kimchi in your refrigerator, you know that its scent can take over all foods after a while. To prevent juice, milk, and other foods from taking on the smell of kimchi, most cooks in Korea have special kimchi fridges to hold their kimchi and other pickled side dishes. These fridges are colder, less humid, and equipped with different temperature-regulated compartments.
I keep my kimchi and other pickled side dishes in a small refrigerator (dorm room size) on my patio. You can also double-bag your kimchi jars and keep them in your regular refrigerator, or bag them and then put them in a large plastic tub with an airtight lid. Using an open container of charcoal and baking soda in the fridge will also keep it smelling nice and fresh in general.


These are not essential and you can certainly cook without them, but a good garlic press, a steamer basket or steamer attachment for your pot, and a mandolin slicer will make Korean cooking easier and faster, too.


Although Korean cuisine is regional and seasonal, there are some ingredients that are used all the time. Soy sauce, soybean paste, chile paste, toasted sesame oil, crushed chiles, garlic, and ginger are some of the
essential ingredients that you’ll use in different ratios and in different ways.
Once you’ve stocked up on some pantry essentials, the great thing about Korean cooking is that you can easily swap vegetables and meats in recipes as you wish. Don’t spend lots of time looking for bok choy if you have cabbage instead, and feel free to use tofu for beef or chicken if you don’t eat meat.
You can keep the following basic items in your pantry, but I like to store almost all of these ingredients in the refrigerator. Most will keep for many months in your refrigerator and even years in the freezer.


You’ll use gochugaru all the time when cooking Korean food, and it is an essential ingredient in kimchi. I also use it in other cuisines, in place of the usual chili powder found in American spice racks, so it’s very versatile and keeps for many months in the refrigerator and for more than a year in the freezer. You can buy it in different textures, including finely ground or coarse flakes, and in different levels of spiciness. Most gochugaru varies in spiciness (even if you choose one with medium heat), so taste and adjust accordingly. For side dishes, use a fine gochugaru. For kimchi and stews, you can use one with a coarser grain. But if you are buying just one kind, purchase coarse gochugaru, and then you can grind it to a fine texture in the food processor if you need to.


Gochujang is not a liquid hot sauce like Tabasco or Sriracha, which you pour or squeeze out of a bottle; it has a consistency similar to barbecue sauce. It’s sticky, spicy, and slightly sweet, and adds a layer of depth and heat to soups, stews, marinades, and stir-fries. You can also use it in sauces, dipping sauces, and salad dressings.


This fermented soybean paste resembles Japanese miso to Westerners, but is darker and stinkier. It’s an essential soup and stew base, and is also used in dipping sauces and marinades. Doenjang means “thick paste.”


This might also be labeled “sweet rice powder,” “sweet rice flour,” or “glutinous rice flour” on the package. It is used as a thickening agent. It’s called “glutinous” because it has a glue-like and sticky texture after you cook it, not because it has gluten in it. Chapsal is gluten-free.


This pungent and deeply flavored sauce made from anchovies is used for making kimchi and for flavoring sauces and cooked dishes. I like Vietnamese fish sauce, but you can choose any Korean or Thai fish sauce you like.


One of the most important ingredients in Korean and East Asian cooking, soy sauce is actually a by-product of making doenjang (or miso). It adds a salty, savory flavor to soups, stews, stir-fries, meat and fish dishes, dips, dressings, sauces, and marinades. Korean cooking generally requires either regular soy sauce or soup soy sauce, which is saltier but lighter in color. I like the Sempio brand, but the Kikkoman at your local grocery store will work, too. In some soups, I use soup soy sauce, which is soy sauce that is a lighter in color but saltier than regular soy sauce. You can use regular soy sauce instead, when you don’t have soup soy sauce, but you just have to adjust the amount used.


Korean toasted sesame oil has a strong aroma and a nutty flavor, and it’s used to flavor and enhance different dishes. Because it has such a distinctive taste, a little goes a very long way. Don’t pour with a heavy hand!


Mirin, or Japanese rice wine, is a little bit thicker than regular rice wine and adds a slight sweetness to marinades and sauces. If you don’t have mirin, you can use sake or another rice wine as a replacement. Mirin also might be labeled in the Korean store as “mirim.”


This clear vinegar is widely used because it’s mildly acidic and has a hint of sweetness. You can use it in sauces, marinades, and salad dressings.


The most common rice in Korean cuisine is short-grain rice, which is also sometimes labeled in the West as sticky rice, sushi rice, Korean rice, or Japanese rice. Koreans also use brown and multigrain rice, and regularly mix nuts and beans into their rice while steaming it.


Rice is an essential part of a Korean meal. Keep your short-grain rice in a dry, dark place like your pantry or cupboard.
Two cups of uncooked rice usually makes four servings. The water-to-rice ratio generally is about: 1.1 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. But even if you buy the
same brand over and over, you’ll notice that crops differ. Some rice is drier and requires a little more water, and other harvests are much more sticky. You will discover this the first time you make a new pot of rice from a new batch.
To prepare rice: Rinse the rice in a pot under cool, running water while gently running your fingers through the rice. Do this three or four times until the water runs clear.
You can cook the rice in your rice cooker with the above proportions and with the press of a button. Or, you can prepare it on the stove if you don’t have a rice cooker or want to create a crunchy bottom layer of rice.


1. In a medium to large pot, combine the rice and water (using the formula given above). Set the pot over high heat, cover, and heat until the water starts to bubble.
2. Cook it for 3 to 4 minutes at a strong simmer, watching the pot carefully to make sure the water doesn’t boil over.
3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
4. Reduce the heat even further, if possible, and simmer for another 5 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner, covered. Let sit for another 10 minutes without removing the lid.
6. Remove the lid and gently fluff the rice by mixing it with a wooden spoon.
7. Serve immediately or cover until ready to serve.
8. You can store cooked rice in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


This stock is the basic one you’ll use for Korean soups and stews. It’s very easy to make and you can get the dried anchovies and dried kelp at any Asian grocery store. When making stock, use the larger dried anchovies; the smaller ones are used for side dishes.


  • cup dried anchovies
  • small sheet of dried kelp (dashima on a Korean label or kombu on a Japanese label)
  • 10 cups water


1. Soak the dried anchovies and kelp in cold water for 2 hours to rehydrate.
2. In a large stockpot, bring the 10 cups water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the anchovies and kelp and simmer briskly for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat.
3. Discard the anchovies and kelp. You can do this with a soup strainer or pass the stock through a sieve to remove particles.
4. Use the broth immediately, or for later use, store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.


A versatile beef-based broth, this stock can be used as the base for soups, stews, and for enhancing the flavor of savory meat dishes and stir-fries.


  • Gluten-Free
  • 2 pounds beef brisket, rinsed
  • 8 quarts water, or enough to fill a large stockpot


1. In a large stockpot over high heat, bring the beef and water to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours until fork-tender, skimming the top occasionally to remove the foam and fat.
3. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board. You can slice it, shred it, and use it immediately or reserve it for later use.
4. Use the broth immediately, or for later use, store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.


Pa is the Korean word for scallion and jun, or jeon, means any food that is coated in batter and pan-fried. This Korean scallion pancake recipe works as a hearty snack, an appetizer, or a side dish in a Korean meal. As with most Korean dishes, you can tweak it to your own tastes. Red chiles, onions, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and kimchi are all popular additions in pajeon. Serve these pancakes with Seasoned Soy Sauce  or Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce .
Serves 6 as a side dish PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES / COOK TIME: 20 MINUTES


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1½ cups water
  • 6 scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable oil for cooking


1. In a medium bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except for the vegetable oil, and let sit for about 10 minutes. Check the consistency before cooking. The batter should be a little bit runnier than American pancake batter, so the pajeon cooks quickly and evenly.
2. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and coat with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
3. Pour the batter into the skillet, coating the bottom of the pan in a thin layer (about one-third of the batter should fill a medium skillet).
4. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the batter is set and golden brown on the bottom. Turn over the pancake with help of a spatula or plate (or flip it in the air if you are good at that) and finish by cooking 1 to 2 more minutes, adding more oil if necessary. Transfer the pancake to a warm plate. Repeat, to cook the remaining pancakes.
5. Before serving, cut into triangles (like a pizza). Serve with seasoned soy sauce or spicy dipping sauce.

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