The Heart of Korean Society - Traditional Korean Cuisine

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While Koreans have replaced most traditional culture – clothing, architecture, music, art – in favor of Western varieties, Korean cuisine has lasted the test of time; It is still found largely in its original form today. Food plays a fundamental role in Korean society; Most socialization is centered around eating food and/or drinking alcohol, while special dishes remain a key part of ancestral ritual offerings and major holidays, such as Chuseok and Lunar New Year.

The Korean peninsula is home to a wide variety of food sources which influenced Korean cuisine. Native grains and legumes include rice, sorghum, and soy beans. Korea’s many mountains are home to countless herbs, roots, and vegetables, while its seas are home to many varieties of seaweed. Animal-based food sources included cows, pigs, and chicken on land, and fish, shellfish, octopi, squid, shrimp and more in the sea. Distinct local cuisine developed based on regional food sources. A climate with four seasons also led to the development of fermented foods, which were traditionally prepared on a large scale in late autumn to be consumed throughout the winter.

The basic Korean meal is comprised of rice, soup or stew, and various side dishes called banchan, such as kimchi. Each individual gets their own bowl of rice and possibly soup, while the other dishes are shared. Traditionally, the number of side dishes was a sign of wealth. Noodle-based dishes, savory pancakes, porridges, and chewy rice cakes are also common. The consumption of meat was traditionally a delicacy, though it is widespread today. Meat-based dishes include grilled, steamed, and marinated varieties of pork and beef. Seafood of all kinds is also popular. These dishes are seasoned with soy sauce, soy bean paste, red chili paste, and fermented seafood sauces, as well as other pungent foods such as garlic, green onion, ginger, and chives. Fruit or sweet rice cakes are commonly eaten for dessert.

Alcohol is also an important element of Korean cuisine. Korean alcohol is made with rice and includes distilled liquor (such as soju), rice wines (including clear yakju and cloudy makkeolli), and fruit wines. Rice wines vary in taste and appearance based on the fermentation starter (nuruk), the various fermentation and refinement processes, and whether any herbs, flowers, or other plants are added. Alcohol is always accompanied with snacks called anju.

[Our Community Consciousness in Kimchi (K-HERITAGE)]

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  • Academy of Korean Studies. 2010. Cultural Landscapes of Korea. Academy of Korean Studies Press.