Food in South Korea is reflective of the many different cultural influences that have made their way into the lives of the Korean people from the different provinces within South Korea to China, Japan, and other countries on the Asian mainland. Although there are certain hallmarks of South Korea cuisine, one such being the nearly uniform use of steamed short grain rice, there is much variety in the way that the various dishes are combined and served. From traditional favorites like kim chi, which is perhaps the best known dish of all South Korean food, to lesser known traditional favorites like bibimbap, the culinary experience in South Korea is a pleasurable and unique one.
Kim chi is a traditional local favorite that has become popular with westerners enjoying South Korea cuisine as well. It takes many different forms (in that a variety of vegetables and spices can be used), but is essentially pickled and fermented vegetables. The most popular manifestation in the west of this ubiquitous food in South Korea is that made with pickled cabbage and South Korean seasonings. The South Koreans love the dish so much that it is not just served as a side dish (banchan), but rather is employed in the cooking of kim chi fried rice and a whole range of other soups and stews.
The tradition of serving many different side dishes along with the main food in South Korea dates back to the time of Korean court life of the Joseon Dynasty that ruled for more than 500 years. There were very strict applications of rules for dining during this time, one of which stated that there should be twelve dishes served alongside the rice, soup, and meat. To this day, these rituals are largely observed and are manifested in the tendency to serve a wide variety of banchan with every meal.
Food in South Korea employs some basics in nearly every meal. Noodles and rice are nearly ubiquitous, per tradition, and meats and vegetables are cooked in a variety of manners and served along with either the rice or noodles. Many times the kind of sauce or toppings serve to distinguish the dish based on the kinds of spices and flavorings used. Sesame oil, ginger, and garlic are just a few of the predominant flavors that make their way into a wide variety of the most popular South Korea cuisine.
Soy is also an important component of the South Korean diet. From soybeans to soy paste and soy sauce, this valuable crop has long been a standard for consumption in this country. Mandu is a very popular variety of food in South Korea that involves steamed dumplings filled with meats and vegetables. Tang is a very popular soup that uses beef stock, beef intestines, and brisket. Hoe is the word used for raw fish or beef.
The range of dishes and cuisine in South Korea is truly impressive. If you have a chance to make a trip to South Korea you will be amazed by the variety of dishes and the formality with which they are served. Tradition and etiquette play just as important a role in the dining experience as does the food itself in South Korea, whether you're in major cities such as Seoul and Busan or are spending time in the country.