Pulgogi is perhaps the Korean dish most popular with Westerners. Sometimes referred to as "Korean barbecue," it is usually made from tender slices of beef, or sometimes pork, marinated in a delicious sauce made with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and other seasonings, and then cooked over charcoal grill at you table. galbi is a similar dish made with short ribs instead of meat slices. Many Koreans like to eat meat in a lettuce leaf with pickled vegetables, sliced garlic and hot chili paste.

Other typical Korean dishes include shinsollu (a mixture of meat, fish, vegetables and tofu), galbit'ang (a soup made with slices of beef, thin noodles, rice, scallions and sesame oil), boshin'tang (dog soup), nachi bokum (octopus, vegetables, rice and noodles prepared in a hot red sauce), mandu (Chinese-style dumplings), manduguk (dumpling soup with vegetables and noodles or rice), bibimbap (rice with red pepper paste and bits of vegetables, eggs and meat mixed in) and hameul pajun (a large pancake with green onions, shrimp and diced squid).

You can also get chapch'ae (noodles with meat and vegetables), naengmyyon (cold buckwheat or yam noodles, often served in the summer with mustard vinegar and chili paste), jong-shik (or chong-shik, mini-banquest with 20 or 30 side dishes), hanjongshik (full course meal with pulgoggi and a host of side dishes), jajamyon (noodles with a brown Chinese sauce), jiggae (spicy stew made usually made with fermented bean paste), kimchi jiggae ( jiggae made with kimchi), barbecued chicken anuses and kimbap (sea-weed-wrapped disc of rice with tuna, cuttlefish, prawns, cucumbers, egg and pickled radish in the middle).

Common seafood dishes includes raw fish, live octopus, broiled eel, steamed red snapper, deep fried shrimp, stir-fried octopus, raw fish with soy sauces and a vinegary red pepper sauce, stir-fried cuttlefish, abalone porridge, raw sea cucumber, halibut, mullet, scad, anchovy, eel boiled in hot sauce and garlic, steamed rice and seaweed and octopus, lobster, crab, carp, prawn, shellfish stew, blowfish, pollack, steamed skate, steamed crab, and sea squirt.

Panchons include cooked tofu, fish, steamed and seasoned vegetables, fried silkworm pupas, pickled turnips and multitude of other concoctions. Soy sauce, soy-bean paste, red pepper paste, ginger root and sesame seeds are the essential seasonings added to Korean food. There is a large variety of spiced and pickled foods.

Main Dishes in Korea

Bap (Rice), a staple of Korean food, is steamed rice. It may also include other grains. There are many kinds of bap depending on the ingredients such as huinbap (white rice); japgokbap (rice with barley, millet, and beans); byeolmibap (rice with vegetables, seafood and meat); and bibimbap (rice mixed with namul and beef).

Juk (Porridge) is one of the Korean dishes that was developed in early times. It consists of grains simmered for a long time with 5 to 7 times the volume of water. There are many varieties of juk depending on the ingredients. Juk is not only served as a main dish but it can also be part of a special meal. It is served to patients and eaten for health.

Guksu (Noodles) helped develop the use of chopsticks in Korea. Korean noodles are made by kneading wheat flour or buckwheat flour and drawing the dough into long coils. Mandu are dumplings made with thin wheat flour wrappers stuffed with fillings then steamed, or boiled in jangguk (soy sauce soup). It is a specialty of the northern area of Korea. Chicken eggs and quail eggs are often pan-fried or steamed. They are also used for coating fish or vegetables before frying. They may be fried for yellow or white egg garnishes.

Panchon (Korean Side Dishes)

Panchons (Korean side dishes) include cooked tofu, fish, steamed and seasoned vegetables, fried silkworm pupas, pickled turnips and multitude of other concoctions. Soy sauce, soy-bean paste, red pepper paste, ginger root and sesame seeds are the essential seasonings added to Korean food. There is a large variety of spiced and pickled foods.

Jeok (Pan-fried dish. Brochette) is a dish of pan-fried meats, seafood or vegetables after they have been minced or sliced and coated with wheat flour and beaten egg. Jeok is a dish of pan-fried ingredients after they have been seasoned and skewered. Mareun-chan (Dry side dish) is a dry side dish made of salted and seasoned meat, seafood and/or vegetables that can be stored for a long time. It is enjoyed dried or fried. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Kimchi (seasoned and fermented vegetables) is a dish made by marinating Korean cabbage and Korean radish with salt, seasoning it with red pepper, garlic, green onion, ginger and salt-fermented seafood, mixing it thoroughly and letting it ferment. Kimchi is the quintessential side dish in Korea. It is a typical fermented and storable food.

Jangajji (Pickled vegetables) is a side dish of pickled vegetables that include Korean radish, cucumbers, bellflower roots and garlic in soy sauce, soybean paste or red pepper paste. It can be stored for a long time. Jeotggal (Salt-fermented seafood) is a side dish of marinated shrimp, anchovies or clams with salt that is fermented. It is served as a side dish or used as a seasoning. Sukchae (Parboiled vegetables) is a dish of parboiled vegetables. It may be mixed or fried with seasonings. Sukchae is a popular basic side dish in Korea.

Saengchae (Fresh salad) is a seasonal fresh salad dressed with vinegar soy sauce, red pepper paste or mustard. It is sweet and sour. This method of preparation is best for preserving the taste and most of the nutrition in the ingredients. Hoe, Pyeonyuk, Jokpyeon (Raw fish/Raw meat, Pressed meat, Pressed trotters) is a dish of raw meat, fish or vegetables seasoned with vinegar soy sauce, vinegar red pepper paste, or mustard. It can also be blanched in boiling water. Pyeonyuk is a dish of pressed and sliced beef or pork. Jokpyeon is a dish of long-simmered ox-head and ox-feet that is solidified and sliced.

Describing the panchon-like appetizers at a highly-regarded New York restaurant, Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times: Tofu, kimchi and pork are stir-fried together for another appetizer that, like so many dishes, has exactly as much heat as you want and not a flicker more. In terms of the amount of Korean red pepper paste that Ms. Park puts into the kimchi and the pork marinade, her judgment is flawless. Two of the best appetizers, though, are less fiery ones. A tricolor salad of pickled bell flower root (red), blanched watercress (green) and braised water fern (brown) has all sorts of tart, salty and nutty currents, thanks to strategic deployments of vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds. And a mix of crab and bouncy noodles made from a kelp gelée has a fleeting, fugitive, now-you-taste-it-now-you-don’t sweetness. What’s its source? Cubes of chayote squash are pickled with sugar, and there’s a dusting of crystallized ginger. These dishes spark the appetite without sating it.” [Source: Frank Bruni, New York Times, October 24, 2007]

Popular Korean Dishes

Jeyuk-bokkeum (spicy stir-fried pork) is one of the best-known dishes cooked with gochu-jang. It is a stir-fried dish with thick slices of pork shoulder marinated in hot gochu-jang and minced ginger. Before the 1950s, it was reportedly made using only scallion, black pepper, and soy sauce, but the current form of gochu-jang-marinated jeyuk-bokkeum is believed to have appeared sometime afterwards. Because it is a hearty yet inexpensive meat option, young people on limited budgets favor jeyuk-bokkeum. Youngsters often list it as their favorite food, and many Korean mothers will talk about how their son can “finish a pound of jeyuk-bokkeum in one sitting.” [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Dakgangjeong is made by deep-frying chicken coated with flour. The fried chicken is then smothered in a sweet sauce that has been boiled down to a thick consistency. The dish sold at Jungang Market is unique in that it is served cold. The reason why this dakgangjeong is so famous is because of its sweet and spicy taste, and despite being served cold, it is not soggy, but crisp and chewy.

Dak-galbi (spicy stir-fried chicken) is made with chicken, red pepper paste, pear juice, molasses, sugar, minced garlic, diced green onion. Chicken is seasoned with various spices, then grilled before eating. Chuncheon chicken ribs are famous.

Jjim (Steamed dish) is a dish of main ingredients cooked with seasonings in deep water. It may be boiled with soup just above the solid ingredients, or steamed. Seon (Steamed or parboiled stuffed vegetables) means “good ingredients.” It is a dish of vegetables such as pumpkin, cucumber, eggplant and cabbage or tofu stuffed with beef and/or mushrooms that is steamed or parboiled in broth. Jorim (Braised dish) is a cooking method to braise meat, seafood or vegetables with soy sauce or red pepper paste on low heat. The ingredients are cooked for a long time to allow the flavors to seep in. It may have strong seasonings and can last a long time.

Cho (Janggwa, seasoned and braised seafood) is a dish of boiled sea slugs, abalone and mussels with seasoning on low heat. Then starch liquid is added and boiled. The resulting soup is quite thick and glossy. Bokkeum (Stir-fried dish) is a stir-fry of meats, seafood or vegetables. There are two types of bokkeum dishes; one is just stir-fried in an oiled frying pan, the other one is stir-fried with soy sauce and sugar. Gui (Grilled dish) is a dish of grilled meats, seafood or vegetables as is, or grilled after seasoning.

Big Catsup Soup and Other Korean Soups

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Soup is the second element of a meal” along with rice “and usually comes in a bowl to the left of the rice bowl. It ranges from the bland vegetable soups, one of which, the seaweed soup called miyok-kuk, is often eaten for breakfast, to the fiery tubu chige, a stew made of tofu ("tubu" in Korean) and red pepper paste with the possible addition of boiled clams. Mae'unt'ang is a popular fish soup containing white fish (cod, snapper, or pollock), scallions and other chopped vegetables, tubu, kochujang, and sometimes egg. The variety is very broad. Arranged around the rice and soup are thepanchan, or side dishes. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Soup is an indispensable food in the everyday life of Koreans in China. Koreans usually have soup both at breakfast and supper. There are many kinds of soup. Hot soup is served in winter, while cool soup is prepared in summer. One of the most popular and most frequently consumed soups in North Korean and the Korean areas of China is called big catsup soup. It is made from catsup, vegetables, edible seaweed, shallot, garlic and water. Sometimes, it is also made with meat or fish of various kinds. Big catsup soup, it is said, is not only tasty, but also whets the appetite and invigorates the function of the spleen, which is good for the health. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn]

Guk (Soup) is a soup of vegetables, seafood and/or meats boiled in plenty of water. Some varieties are malgeun-jangguk (clear soy sauce soup), tojangguk (soybean paste soup), gomguk (rich beef soup) and naengguk (chilled soup). The standard Korean table setting always has bap and guk. Guk has helped develop the use of spoons in Korea. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Samgye-tang (Ginseng chicken soup) is made by simmering a whole young chicken stuffed with ginseng, , garlic, chestnuts, hedysarum root, jujubes, and sweet rice. Considered an energy-boosting dish best eaten on hot days, it is a classic Korean dish that has become popular among international diners as well. Many restaurants even add samgye-tang to their menu during the summer, an example of its popularity. Samgye-tang is well known to foreign visitors as well. Japanese author Murakami Ryu and Chinese film director Zhang Yimou have both given extensive praise to the dish.

Seolleongtang (Ox bone soup) is made with rice, beef, beef broth, diced green onion, minced garlic, red pepper power, pepper, salt. Beef is added to beef broth and stewed for a long time before being served with rice and various seasonings. The deep, rich taste of the broth, boiled for over 10 hours, is simply delicious.

Galbi-tang (Short rib soup) is made with beef rib (or pork rib), radish, diced green onion, minced garlic, pepper, sesame oil, sesame seed. Ribs are boiled with radishes to create a savory soup. Eaten together with rice, the broth is a delight.

Juk (Porridge) is made with various grains. Water (6 or 7 times the amount of grain) is poured over grain and boiled for a long time. There are many variations of juk such as pine nut juk, sesame juk, jujube juk, red bean juk, beef juk, pumpkin juk, and abalone juk. Tteokguk (sliced rice cake pasta soup): Tteokguk consists of diagonally sliced white rice cakes that are simmered in jangguk. It is served on the first day of the year.

Korean Stews

Jjigae (Stew) has less water and more solid ingredients than soup, and it is saltier. Varieties include malgeun-jjigae (clear jjigae) and tojang-jjigae (soybean paste jjigae). [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Jeongol (Hot pot) started as a royal court food. It consists of meat, seafood, mushrooms and vegetables simmered in broth at the table just before serving for dinner or as a dish to accompany liquor.

Haemul-tang (Spicy seafood stew) is made with Crab, clam, shrimp, fish, radish, red pepper paste, red pepper powder, green onion, garlic. Various seafood are boiled before adding red pepper paste and red pepper powder. The broth is both refreshing and very spicy.

Kimchi jjigae (Kimchi stew) is made with Kimchi, pork, sesame oil, green onion, garlic. First the pork is browned in the bottom of the pot before water and kimchi are added. If sour kimchi is used, it makes a better tasting stew.


Bibimbap (rice with red pepper paste and bits of vegetables, eggs and meat mixed in) is one of the all time favorite meals of the Korean people, regardless of age or generation. Its popularity has also grown internationally with the spread of hallyu, or Korean “wave.” Bibimbap is made with rice, fernbrake, roots of balloon flower, bean sprouts, vegetables, sautéed beef, twigak (dried seaweed or vegetables fried in oil) red pepper paste and sesame oil. The word “bibim” means mixed. “Bap” is Korean for “rice.” [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Bibimbap is one of the most definitive Korean dishes in the eyes of Koreans and non-Koreans. It can easily be prepared for vegetarians. Restaurants with various versions of the dish have been appeared in different parts of the world. Bibimbap contains a well-balanced combination of nutrients. Rice supplies carbohydrates, vegetables and seafood supply minerals and vitamins, and beef and eggs contain protein and fat. More can be added according to whatever additional ingredients you’d like to throw in! This also represents Korean’s long-held belief in harmony, created by oseak (the five cardinal colors of traditional Korean art).

Bibimbap is served in a hot dish to maintain the high temperature: usually a golden yugi (Korean brassware) or the heavy-duty dolsot (Korean hot-stone). A festival celebrating bibimbap is hosted in Jeonju every year in which a gigantic bowl of bibimbap is made that can feed hundreds!

History and Popularity of Bibimbap

Bibimbap dates back ancient times when rice was mixed with vegetables and other ingredients. In the 16th century, it was first called goldongban, meaning “rice made by mixing various types of food,” and otherwise known as hwaban, meaning “flower to bloom on top of rice.” There are three common beliefs about the origin of bibimbap. One theory is that it stemmed from the practice of mixing bap (cooked rice) with other dishes used for the ancestral rite of eumbok. Others say that bibimbap originated from mixing leftovers together as a midnight snack on Lunar New Year’s Eve. The last theory is that farmers out working the fields would each bring a portion of food to be mixed together for meals and divided out evenly. Today bibimbap and bibimbap to-go are highly appreciated and they can be found anywhere from convenience stores to gourmet restaurants. Bibimbap is also featured in many international in-flight meals.

Bibimbap became all the rage in Los Angeles in the early 2000s. Fancy hotels featured it. Non-Koreans made special rips to Koreatown just to eat it. A chain of bibimbap restaurants was launched. Some Hollywood celebrities praised its nutritional value and talked about how it has helped them maintain a healthy diet.

It also caught on to some degree in New York. Describing the bibimbap at a highly-regarded New York restaurant, Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times: For sating, the superb bi bim bop, a classic Korean rice dish, does the trick. At Moim it comes in a broad, majestic stone bowl that brims with shiitake, zucchini, carrot and chunks of marinated flank steak, not to mention a big poof of fried seaweed on top. A thick sauce with potent blasts of red pepper and garlic generously coats the rice at the bottom of the bowl. [Source: Frank Bruni, New York Times, October 24, 2007]

Types of Bibimbap

Ingredients for bibimbap and the way it is eaten can differ greatly from region to region, but all have one thing in common when it comes to eating it: toss and mix all ingredients together to create a well balanced taste. Jeonju's variation of bibimbap is the most famous. Other variation include gang doen-jang (soybean paste sauce) bibimbap, mushroom pulgogi bibimbap and tuna and kimchi bibimbap. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Jeonju bibimbap is uniquely prepared with an assortment of colors of namul (vegetable side dishes), and is regarded as the most representative example of bibimbap. Fried beef and thin garnish strips of cooked egg whites and yolks can be a good alternative to yukhoe (beef tartare) and egg yolk. The broth from a beef brisket is used to cook the rice, and is garnished with the tartare and egg pair on top, a signature feature of Jeonju bibimbap. It tastes even better with hot pepper paste mixed in with fried beef called yak-gochu-jang, the specialty of Jeonju, as well as bean sprout soup or beef radish soup.

Andong Bibimbap is also well-known. Heot-jesatbap is a combination of the words of hoet, meaning “fake,” and jesabap, referring to the meal that was served during ancestral rites. Confucian scholars in Andong, Jinju, and Deagu used to have this jesabap even when there was no ritual service, which is how its name became heot-jesatbap, inferring that it was a “fake” ritual meal. Andong is best known for its scrumptious heot-jesatbap, which is typically made with namul, jeon (coated and pan-fried fish and vegetables) and guk (soup) from the table for ritual services.

Usually three different colors of namul are served on the top of the rice. Since jesabap is served in remembrance of one’s ancestors, the main spices of Korean cuisine, such as spring onion, garlic and red pepper powder, are not used. Also, the ritual dish is served with a variety of jeon and sanjeok (skewers) made with dombaegi (“shark meat” in the local language), mackerel, and beef. Unlike other bibimbap traditions, diners may adjust the flavor of individual servings by adding soy sauce, sesame oil and its seeds, instead of red pepper paste. It tastes even better with tang-guk (beef and radish soup), a soup flavored with dried sea cucumber, octopus, seaweed, and sliced radish, all of which are diced into pieces and thrown into a clear broth.

Tongyeong Bibimbap comes from Tongyeong, a coastal communit with an abundance of fresh seafood. Namul and vegetables are served on steamed rice and then mixed with shrimp, clams, and mussels blanched in boiling water and seasoned with sauce. If this process is too cumbersome for you, you can throw all the namul and vegetables in a pan and fry them in a rich seafood broth. This dish goes perfectly with clams and tofu soup. Tongyeong is also known for sea squirt bibimbap.

Jinju bibimbap is a unique local food of Jinju in Gyeongsangnam-do. It is served with vegetables including cooked fern brakes and bean sprouts on top of steamed rice. Then, minced beef and jang-guk (clear soybean soup) is mixed in a bowl and served after being garnished with cheongpo (mung bean jelly), yukhoe, and red pepper sauce. Yukhoe is the symbol of Jinju bibimbap, but the cooked beef version is also served. Yukhoe-bibimbap can be commonly found on the menu of restaurants in Jinju, which trace back to the 1920s, when Seoul and Jinju emerged as active markets in the cattle trade.

Korean airlines have bibimbap as one of their in-flight meal choices. It is said Michael Jackson tried bibimbap during his Korean Air flight and liked it so much he ate it almost every meal at his hotels during his stay in Korea. Domestic and foreign airlines offer bibimbap that passengers mix themselves, adding spicy red pepper paste to suit their taste. For those unfamiliar with the process of mixing the ingredients, an instruction card is given by flight attendants to make sure first-time eaters get the full experience of bibimbap.

Jeonju Hanok Village takes fusion one step further by serving bibimbap in cups and making them into croquettes, in addition to the basic form of bibimbap served in lunch boxes. These can easily be eaten on-the-go, similar to the way a sandwich is convenient for eating while traveling. On the other hand, people who prefer fine dining and hope to delve more into genuine Korean tastes, try out gang-doen-jang (soybean paste sauce) bibimbap. For those who are not familiar with the strong scent of the sauces or ingredients, they can choose the level of spiciness.

Noodle Dishes in Korea

Korean noodles are made by kneading wheat flour or buckwheat flour and drawing the dough into long coils. Popular dishes with noddles include galbit'ang (a soup made with slices of beef, thin noodles, rice, scallions and sesame oil), nachi bokum (octopus, vegetables, rice and noodles prepared in a hot red sauce), manduguk (dumpling soup with vegetables and noodles or rice), chapch'ae (japchae, noodles with meat and vegetables), naengmyyon (cold buckwheat or yam noodles, often served in the summer with mustard vinegar and chili paste), and jajamyon (noodles with a brown Chinese sauce),

Japchae (glass noodles with sautéed vegetables) is a classic festive dish made by boiling glass noodles then draining and mixing them with stir-fried spinach, carrots, mushrooms, beef, and onions. The term japchae is a combination of jap, meaning “mix, gather, or plentiful” and chae, meaning “vegetables.” Thus, it can be translated as “assorted mixed vegetables.” No Korean festivity is complete without japchae. It has long been perceived as a luxurious and elegant dish, and was always served on birthdays, weddings and 60th birthday celebrations. Japchae was first created in the 17th century when King Gwanghaegun hosted a palace banquet. It is recorded in the Gwanghaegun Ilgi (Daily Records of King Gwanghaegun’s Reign) that Yi Chung, one of the king’s favorites, had the habit of personally presenting unusual dishes to the king. Gwanghaegun relished these dishes so much that he would not start a meal until they arrived. Among these unique dishes was japchae, which the king favored over all the rest.

The largest consumers of instant noodles in 2019 (servings per capita, total consumption): 1) South Korea (75.6 servings per person, 3,900 millions of servings; 2) Nepal (58.4 servings per person, 1,640 millions of servings; 3) Indonesia (46.8 servings per person, 12,520 millions of servings; 4) Japan (44.5 servings per person, 5,630 millions of servings; 5) China (29.6 servings per person, 41,450 millions of servings; 6) Australia (16.8 servings per person, 420 millions of servings; 7) Saudi Arabia (16.6 servings per person, 560 millions of servings; 8) the United States (14.2 servings per person, 4,630 millions of servings; 9) United Kingdom; (6.3 servings per person, 420 millions of servings; Doesn’t include countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan. [Source: World Instant Noodles Association.

The largest consumers of instant noodles in 1996 were: 1) Indonesia (7.97 billion packets); 2) Japan (5.3 billion packets); 3) South Korea (3.73 billion packets); 4) the United States (2.0 billion packets); 4) Thailand (1.34 billion packets); 5) the Philippines (1.04 billion packets); and 6) Taiwan (840 million packets).

Naengmyeon: North-Korean-Style Cold Noodles

Naengmyeon (noodles in a cold broth) is made with noodles made of buckwheat or starch, beef broth, thin slices of beef, julienne cucumber, julienne pear, boiled egg. The soup is refreshing. There is also bibim naengmyeon, which doesn't have soup but is mixed with red pepper paste instead. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Naengmyeon is considered a summer food, but that wasn’t always the case. It used to be enjoyed over a warm ondol floor (subfloor heating system) during the freezing winter temperatures. The broth was made with the brine of dongchimi (radish water kimchi) scooped out of a large jar half-buried in the ground during the winter. Although its origin remains unclear, based on the fact that buckwheat was introduced by the Mongol Empire during the Goryeo Dynasty, it is theorized that Koreans first began eating it around that time.

North-Korean-style cold noodles are made from buckwheat, wheat, corn starch or flour, corn, jowar plus peels of elms. When making it: 1) put the noodles into a cooking pot with boiled water. 2) When they are cooked, take the noodles out, wash them continuously with cold water and save the water for later use. 3) In addition, stew a pot of soup with thin beef or chicken, and let it cool off for later use. 4) Add the soup into the noodles, and mix it with condiments like red pepper powder, soy sauce, vinegar, monosodium glutamate, sesame, and pickles, together with slices of beef, chicken or egg filaments. The soup plays a key role in making the cold noodle, and therefore the saying "seven parts the soup, three parts the noodle". There are broth types, bean juice types and pickle types of cold noodles. The choicest type is pheasant soup. When the soup is ready, one is supposed to throw out the grease to get rid of the fishy smell. Cold noodle are smooth and stretchy with a sweet, sour peppery taste. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn]

Naengmyeon Restaurants

Elaine Louie wrote in the New York Times: “Jung-hyun Kim was 3 years old when his mother fed him a dish that changed his life. It was a bowl of homemade buckwheat noodles — naeng myun — that she made in their home in Pyongyang, now North Korea. The noodles nested in cold, mild beef broth topped with slices of tender beef brisket, sweet Asian pear, lightly pickled white radish, cucumber and half a hard-boiled egg. Eating it was as close to an epiphany as a little boy can get. “There’s a little bit of sweetness, and a little bit of sourness,” said Mr. Kim, 73, through an interpreter, a daughter, Jenny Cha. “It’s very refreshing and very cool. If you ask me why I love it, I love it. Does there have to be a reason?” [Source: Elaine Louie, New York Times, July 19, 2006]

“In 1961, after settling in Seoul, South Korea, he opened a restaurant named Dae Dong specializing in naeng myun, the first of five of those restaurants he would open in Korea, Paraguay and New York before retiring. “If I want to eat it, I have to spend a lot of money,” he said recently over a bowl at Dae Dong in Flushing. “But if I do a naeng myun business, I can eat it whenever I want, and as often as I want.” He ate it daily, three times a day, until he retired in 1999.

“He is not alone in his love for the cold noodles, one of Korea’s most popular dishes, especially in the summer. The noodles, sometimes called Pyongyang naeng myun, are a light, one-dish meal with bursts of flavor — a crunch of mildly vinegared radish, a spurt of crisp, juicy pear and, of course, the savory noodles. A spicy, brothless version called Hamhung naeng myun, which originated in the city of that name in North Korea, is made with slightly chewier sweet-potato noodles and a sauce of minced fresh red chilies, fresh red bell peppers, garlic, ginger, onions, sugar or honey, ground sesame seeds and sesame oil. It’s topped with the same pyramid of brisket, pear, radish, cucumber and egg.

At Kang Suh, at 1250 Broadway (32nd Street) in Manhattan, and also at the Yonkers branch, the dish is served with a ladle of cold beef broth added to the noodles. A variation is topped with very chewy, raw skate rather than brisket.

Making Naengmyeon and Enjoying It with a Long, Cool Slurp

Elaine Louie wrote in the New York Times: “The best naeng myun are freshly made. At Dae Dong at 17 West 32nd Street in Manhattan, Sang Sup Seo, the chef, mixed the dough from buckwheat flour, regular wheat flour, hot water and a splash of carbonated water mixed with rice vinegar, “to hold the dough together,” he said. With his fingers, he mixed it in the bowl of a machine that kneaded it and then extruded it in a cylinder 14 inches long by 3½ inches across, enough for 6 servings. The chef placed some dough into the steel cylinder of an automated noodle-making machine. He pressed a lever, pushed a button, and a cylinder pressed the dough through a perforated cap in 294 slender strands. The fragile pale beige noodles, each 2 feet long and a scant one millimeter in diameter, dropped out of the machine directly into a pot of boiling water. [Source: Elaine Louie, New York Times, July 19, 2006]

“Mr. Seo twirled the noodles around for a minute and a half, removed them to a sink of cold water to stop the cooking, and then to a sink of ice water to make them firm. He mixed the noodles in a serving bowl with an icy slush of broth from a refrigerated steel tub and then anointed it with the pear, kimchi and beef. When the noodles were presented to Mr. Kim, he added a tablespoon of rice vinegar and a teaspoon of mustard, and gently mixed the noodles. (Waitresses offer to cut the noodles in half with scissors, since a skein of one-foot-long noodles is easier to eat than one of two-foot-long noodles.)

:Mr. Kim of Dae Dong recalled using a wooden noodle-making machine when he was growing up. The apparatus weighed about 30 pounds, and was communally owned by three or four families. When his family wanted to use it, a family member went to the neighbor’s house, dismantled the machine, and carried the parts home. Chang Lai Ahn, the chef at Kum Gang San at 49 West 32nd Street, who has been making naeng myun for 40 years, had to push the dough through the old-fashioned machines using “brute force,” he said through an interpreter.

“Naeng myun is best eaten at restaurants, where it costs around US$12. The noodles are not good for takeout. They will stick to each other, said Soo Lee, the manager of Kum Gang San. “They will become one chunk in 15 minutes.” “If you live next door, and you take this out,” Ms. Lee said, “you will take the noodles separate from the rest of the ingredients, and you can soak the noodles in ice water to separate them. But you would have to be next door.”

“But at Dae Dong, Mr. Lee’s son-in-law, Charles Cha, who manages the restaurants with his wife, Jenny, said naeng myun can last for 30 to 40 minutes. He has a secret. “We wash the noodles differently when it’s for takeout,” he said. “We wash them in ice water, and then add a half teaspoon of soy or canola oil to trap the moisture.” Dae Dong does not cook the noodles until the takeout customer arrives at the restaurant. Then the customer has to race home.”

Pulgogi, Galbi and Meat Dishes in Korea

The Korean dish that Westerners generally like best is pulgogi (bulgogi), thin slices of marinated meat cooked over an open fire and eaten in a leaf of lettuce with garlic and a spicy salad. Pulgogi dipping sauce is made from soy sauce, sugar, garlic, green onions, sesame powder, pepper and sesame oil. The marinating sauce is similar. Koreans enjoy a dozen or so different kinds of pulgogi and also enjoy eating raw beef and raw liver with sesame oil and salt. galbi (kalbi, barbecued short ribs) is like pulgogi spare ribs. It too is popular among both Koreans and foreigners.

In Korea, various meat dishes have been developed, such as grilled and braised meats, as well as dried meat from poultry and livestock. Pork and poultry are also common meat dishes along with fish. Meats are cooked according to a wide variety of recipes: ground, sliced, roasted, fried, or broiled, always with appropriate seasonings. Beef can have different textures and flavors according to its age, sex, amount of physical exercise, cut, and the level of fermentation. A suitable meat should be selected for each particular recipe. Tenderloin and sirloin are good for grilling and frying. Brisket, shank, gristle, tail and chuck short ribs are the best for soups and braising. Top round, shank and ribs are good for steaming and braising. Top round is the best cut for serving raw, dried or braised in soy sauce. Pork is often used for grilling because pork is more tender than beef, and has different fat distributions according to the cut. Chicken is often used in grilling, frying, steaming and soup because the meat is leaner.

Pulgogi can be made with beef or pork using pear juice or sugar, soy sauce, minced garlic, diced green onion and sesame oil as the marinating sauce. Pulgogi is prepared by marinating thin slices of beef before grilling them. In the past, the royal court and yangban (nobles) in Seoul called it neobiani, meaning “wide meat slices.” Traditional grilled meat dishes in Korea originated from a dish called maekjeok. Maek was the name of the northeast region of China, and is also a reference to Goguryeo, one of the earliest Korean kingdoms. Maekjeok is made with barbecued beef skewers, and according to folklore, evolved into present-day pulgogi through the introduction of grills, which made skewers obsolete. Pulgogi type dishes gave birth to popular barbecue-style yakiniku restaurants in Japan.

Galbi is made with beef or pork ribs marinated in , sugar, soy sauce, diced green onion, minced garlic, sesame oil. Ribs of beef or pork are sliced into easy to eat portions, then marinated in seasonings before being grilled. Suwon galbi is popular. Galbi-jjim is made from the finest and most expensive cut of beef. As such, galbi-jjim is usually eaten on special occasions or holidays, when family members come together. Korean cooking consists of a large number of braised dishes that require considerable culinary skill. Galbi-jjim is one such dish, growing in popularity among international diners as well. When making galbi-jjim, the fat on the short ribs is carefully removed before braising. Carrots, ginkgo nuts, and chestnuts are added, and finally pyogo (shitake mushroom) and egg garnish are sprinkled on top to complete the preparation process.

Seafood in Korea

Koreans have traditionally gotten much of their protein from the sea. Because Korea is surrounded by sea on three sides, various fish, mollusk and sea creatures are widely used in cooking. There are white-flesh fish such as sea bream, flatfish, yellow corvina, and red-flesh fish such as mackerel, as well as abalone, mussels, squid, short necked clams, oysters, blue crab among others. They can be braised, simmered in soy sauce, grilled, steamed or cooked in soups.

Common seafood dishes includes broiled eel, codfish soup, raw octopus, pickled herring, broiled salted flatfish, crayfish, crabs, squid, baby octopuses, carp, catfish, bass, flounder, dried jellyfish, preserved shark fins, seaweed, sea cucumber, steamed red snapper, deep fired shrimp, stir-fried octopus, raw fish with soy sauces and a vinegary red pepper sauce, stir-fried cuttlefish, abalone porridge, raw sea cucumber, halibut, mullet, scad, anchovy, eel boiled in hot sauce and garlic, steamed rice and seaweed and octopus, lobster, prawns, blowfish, pollack, steamed skate, steamed crab, and sea squirt. Whale is even served at some places. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Korea enjoys abundant seafood. The coastline is dotted with fishing villages and communities that make their living from the sea. The inlets and bays of the southern coast are full of oyster beds. The deep cold waters of the East Sea (Sea of Japan) are rich in migrating schools of fish. Shrimp boats light up the surface of the sea at night, attracting shrimp to the fishermen's nets. Cuttlefish and squid are favorites, and a favorite snack in Korea is the dried squid jerky called jingo that is sold in every roadside shop and grocery and convenience store in the country. Since no place is very far from the sea and transportation is excellent, South Korea's fish markets are lively places full of fresh delicacies for the table. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Nakji bokum is a popular, very spicy octopus dish. According to Trifood.com: Octopus tentacles are cut into bite-sized pieces then pan stir-fried with spicy gochujang (red chilli pepper paste) along with gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes), sesame oil, red/green chili peppers, green onions, carrots and onions. Different variation of this dish does exist as the octopus can be substituted with squid for less chewy texture and taste. Non-Koreans may find this dish too spicy even diluted with rice that may come with this dish. Mixture of nakji bokum and steamed white rice is common to make nakji dupbop which is a dish known as octopus mixed rice.”

Jamie Frater wrote in KoreaTaste.org: “Gejang (Raw Crabs): These delightful little crabs are not cooked before consumption; instead they are seasoned with various sauces and eaten raw. Interestingly another raw seafood dish of baby crabs is soft enough that you also eat the shells which are not unlike a slightly harder version of an M&M shell. These are very popular in Korea, and you will see bundles of these crabs tied together in chains at most fish markets. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]

“Haemultang (Live Seafood Soup): While the idea of live seafood soup sounds rather awful, it isn’t as bad as you think. The seafood is all raw when taken to the table, but it is cooked in a very hot soup prior to consumption. The soup contains gochujang (hot pepper paste) and is spicy, sweet and full of flavor from the amazing array of vegetables and herbs that are added (including crown daisies!) This soup is extremely popular in Korea, it is delicious, and it will soon become one of your favorites if you try it.”

Moving Octopus, Jellyfish and Sea Squirts as Korean Seafood

The ultimate in bizarre Korean eating experiences is downing live octopus (sannakji) with soju in an orange drinking tent. The octopus (a tender baby one called a nachi) is taken out of a tank and cut up into little pieces before your eyes and served on a plate. Not only is the octopus slimy and clammy it is still wiggling around and the suction cups on the tentacles still work. Sometimes you have to use a chopstick just to pry a piece off your plate. But once they are inside your mouth the pieces stick to your cheeks and crawl on your tongue, and sometimes emerge, sticking to your lips. The octopus is fresh out of a tank, quickly gutted and chopped into pieces. There is some danger. The suckers on the tentacles continue to function even when they are swallowed and people have choked to death after the suckers became attached to their throat.

In towns along the eastern coast of Korea you often see clotheslines strung with thousands of drying squid and boats with lanterns used luring squids in nets. Shredded dried squid eaten with peanuts is the national snack. The organs of squids, which are not eaten, are used for fertilizer and paint ingredients. Sea slugs are a delicacy in Korea and China, where they are regard as a folk medicine and aphrodisiac.

In China, Korea and Japan people enjoy eating jellyfish, which salted and dried, and the stingers are removed, after being caught. Jellyfish is usually served in a sweet, vinegary soy sauces and tastes bland and rubbery. It is also considered a treatment for bronchitis and high blood pressure.

In Seoul, at one time and maybe is still going one, stores sold dried fish laced with gold dust and restaurants. A single dried corvina wrapped in gold leaf sold for US$156. Some people who consumed the gold did so because they believed that the gold would cleanse their bodies. The Korea Food and Drug Administration banned the practice on the grounds that it “stirred up resentment against the rich.” [Source: AFP]

Jamie Frater wrote in KoreaTaste.org: “Hongeo (Fermented Skate) “is one of the strongest smelling” fermented fishes “will find in the world. Skate doesn’t urinate like other fish – it passes its uric acid through its skin. When it is fermented, the uric acid breaks down into a compound which smells exactly like ammonia. The smell of this fish is so strong that some people recommend breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose to reduce your exposure to the odor. Gaebul (Live Spoon Worms) are marine animals that resemble penises. “When consumed, they are cut into bite sized pieces which continue to move (like sannakji) on the plate. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.