Since the past century, South Korea has been known for its tech and automotive giants such as Samsung and Hyunday. Only in the past few years, the Asian country has increased its global popularity thanks to the diffusion of its pop culture (K-Pop), with Korean music groups and singers becoming famous in the Western world. But K-Pop is not the only thing that is gaining attention. With the opening of plenty of Korean Barbeque spots and Korean restaurants, Korean food is also becoming a beloved cuisine. Here are four mouth-watering Korean specialties you should definitely try!
Bibimbap is probably one of the most well-known Korean dishes. “Bibim” is a verb which refers to the act of “mixing different ingredients together,” while the noun “bap” refers to rice. Together, the two words literally mean “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables.” Indeed, the dish normally includes a variety of vegetables, meat, egg, rice and fermented sauces: A perfect balance of flavors and nutrients in a single meal. Bibimbap is typically served in a bowl or in a hot stone bowl. Depending on where it is served, bibimbap has different names. Dolsot bibimbap is served in a hot stone bowl, which can be made of raw stone, ceramic, or clay. Yangpun bibimbap is normally served in a large brass bowl or a salad bowl. As it is possible to combine different ingredients depending on your preferences, there are endless variations of Bibimbap. The most traditional versions include raw beef and raw egg yolk, together with other vegetables, but there are also several recipes made with cooked ingredients. The earliest historical records of bibimbap date back to the late 1800s. Although bibimbap was originally a simple food, it is becoming more and more sophisticated. In the 90’, this popular dish made its appearance on the in-flight meal menu of Korean Air, where we can still find it today.
Kimbap (sometimes also spelled gimbap) is another integral part of Korean local cuisine. It can be described as a sort of Korean version of sushi. It includes steamed rice and various fresh ingredients rolled in sheets of dried laver seaweed and then sliced in bite-size pieces. This dish is often consumed as a light lunch together with danmuji (yellow pickled radish) and kimchi (salted fermented cabbage). The rice used to prepare the kimbap may vary from brown rice to black rice. The fillings range from cheese and ham to eggs, crab, canned tuna, spinach, bulgogi (marinated sliced beef), and much more. The main differences between the Korean kimbap and the Japanese sushi are the fillings and the rice. Japanese sushi is normally filled with raw fish, while Korean kimbap is filled with cooked or preserved ingredients. Additionally, in Japanese sushi the rice is seasoned with vinegar, while in Korean kimbap it is mixed with sesame oil. There are three main types of kimbap: the Chungmu kimbap, the Mayak kimbap, and the Samgak kimbap. Chungmu kimbap (which bears its name to the city of Chungmu) is filled only with rice and usually accompanied with a squid salad and radish kimchi. Mayak kimbap is a smaller version of kimbap filled with carrots, spinach and radish and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Samgak kimbap is a triangular-shaped kimbap, quite similar to the Japanese onigiri.
Tteokbokki is a popular chewy Korean street food with an unmistakable red-orange color. It includes steamed and sliced rice cakes (tteok), cooked with fish cakes and scallions in a sweet and spicy chili paste sauce. It can also include cabbage, scallions, garlic, and salty anchovy. The final assemblage is tremendously spicy! As any other Korean street food, Tteokbokki can be usually purchased at bunsikjip (snack bars) as well as pojangmacha (food tents), but they can also be easily prepared at home using pre-packaged rice cakes. Today, there are several variations of tteokbokki, including curry-tteokbokki, jajang-tteokbokki (black bean rice cakes), seafood-tteokbokki, rose-tteokbokki (which includes heavy cream and milk), and many more.
4. Soondubu Jigae
Soondubu jigae is a spicy Korean stew made mainly with soft fresh chunks of tofu. It also normally includes vegetables, mushrooms, kimchi, seafood (such as clams and mussels), meat (such as beef or pork), chili paste, chili powder, and an egg cracked on top of the stew before serving. This combination of flavors is served in a traditional pot which is made of thick porcelain or solid stone to retain heat. It is typically eaten with a bowl of cooked white rice. In general, soondubu jigae is a bit spicy. But there is also a kimchi version which is even spicier and has a particularly flavorful broth.