Food Stories

Bibimbap

Bibimbap, or cooked rice mixed with vegetables and sautéed beef, is one of the definitive Korean meals. There are three common beliefs about the origin of bibimbap. One theory is that it stemmed from the practice of mixing 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 it out evenly.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a fermented dish made with vegetables and a variety of seasoning ingredients. At the time when storage methods were not well-developed, kimchi was an important source of vitamins in the winter, when fresh vegetables were unavailable. There are over three hundred varieties, but when it was first made all it required was a very simple recipe of salting and storing napa cabbage in a ceramic container for fermentation. What was originally a simple salted pickle has now become a complex dish requiring assorted seasonings and varies according to climate, geographical conditions, local ingredients, methods of preparation, and preservation.

Mandu

Mandu is a steamed dumpling made by placing a filling of ground meat and vegetables onto a round, thinly rolled wrapper and sealing the edges. They were initially prepared for ancestral rites or banquets and enjoyed as a special dish for cold winter days.

When discussing the origin of Korean dumplings, a famous folk song called “Ssanghwajeom” (dumpling shop) from the Goryeo dynasty is frequently mentioned. The song describes how a group of Uyghurs arrived from Turkey and opened up dumpling shops, and also how the people of the day greatly enjoyed the dish. Some people refer to the song and joke that a Mongol who opened a dumpling shop in 1279 may have been the first foreign investor to live in Korea.

Pajeon

Pajeon, green onion pancake, is a mixture of wheat flour batter and scallions shallow-fried on a griddle. It goes wonderfully well with chilled dongdongju (rice wine). For some reason, people associate rain with pajeon. Some say it’s because the sound of raindrops hitting the ground or a window sill reminds people of the sizzle of spattering oil as the pajeon is fried. As strange as it sounds, this theory may not be as far-fetched as you might think. According to an experiment conducted by a sound engineering lab, the two sounds have almost identical vibrations and frequencies.

Gimbap

Gimbap is made by spreading white rice on a sheet of gim (dried laver), layering it with spinach, pickled radish, carrots, egg, and beef, and then rolling it up like sushi. This was in the 1960s and 1970s that the gimbap we know today - rolled up into a cylindrical form - became popular. This rice-roll was the default picnic lunch for annual spring and autumn school outings. Many Koreans fondly remember eating the end pieces of the rolls while their mothers prepared gimbap on the morning of school field trips.

Samgyetang

Samgyetang is made by boiling a whole young chicken stuffed with ginseng, milk vetch root, jujubes, garlic, and sweet rice. It is served hot and considered an energy-boosting dish best eaten on hot days, a classic example of dawa ya moto ni moto- putting out fire using fire.

Korea has a day dedicated to eating samgyetang, an example of the food’s popularity. Many restaurants add samgyetang to their summer menu.

Japchae

Japchae, glass noodles with sautéed vegetables, is made by boiling glass noodles then draining and mixing them with stir-fried vegetables and meat. 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 of the Joseon dynasty hosted a palace banquet. It is recorded in the 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.

Source: Official Korea Tourism Website