The Korean Wave continues to hold sway over popular culture, whether it’s Netflix’s vast array of binge-worthy Korean dramas, the onslaught of hits from K-pop stars like BTS, the success of Korean movies such as Parasite, or the rise of Korean beauty and its multi-step regimes. Korean food is also having a moment. To round out your K-wave cultural awareness and ensure you know the hottest Korean dishes and what they consist of, we’ve prepared a primer including key Korean dishes, from the small plates that begin a Korean feast, known as banchan, to that classic Korean side, kimchi. We want to make sure you know your japchae from your jjigae, and your jajangmyeon from your galbi jjim.
In Korean dramas, you might see small dishes resting on the table, adding splashes of colour to a meal. These are known as banchan, a collective term for the cold side dishes served at the start of a Korean meal. The concept of banchan is thought to date back to the era of the Three Kingdoms when Buddhism was introduced to the country. As eating meat was prohibited, Koreans came up with creative ways of cooking vegetarian dishes, and these endured to become banchan, served in small sharing portions and eaten either as an appetiser or condiment. A traditional Korean meal will include at least three banchan and as many as 13 or more—though usually an odd number of dishes. Kimchi, steamed aubergine, seasoned bean sprouts, spiced radish, braised potato, seasoned spinach are among the most common.