Korean food is among the tastiest,most healthy and balanced cuisines in Asia. It relies on traditional and simple cooking methods that have stood the test of time.
Korean cuisine, although less well known internationally than Chinese or Thai cuisine, is among the tastiest and healthiest in Asia. It is based on very old traditions and on simple cooking with inexpensive ingredients, is well balanced, surprisingly low in calories and yet rich in nutrition.
In common with most other countries in Asia, dining-out in Korea can range from delectable first-class food in a deluxe hotel to a small bowl of steamed mussels accompanied by a bottle of Soju - the local distilled liquor made from potatoes or a bowl of noodles at a noisy, busy road-side stall. Street stalls provide an inexpensive yet delicious way to sample Korean culinary delicacies. There's one around every corner and each is weighed down with various delicacies. What's more, they are cheap and service is invariably cheerful.
Korean meals can also be obtained in the expensive Kisaeng (Korean Geisha) houses, the Tabang or coffee shop and most of the major hotels also serve Korean food. English is widely spoken in international hotels and in some of the major restaurants in cities such as Seoul and Pusan.
Regardless of where you dine you will soon discover that one's of the Korean's greatest passions is their devotion to eating. There has been a lot of cross-cultural exchange with both China and Japan and these influences show-up in Korean cuisine, which is highly seasoned. Popular seasonings include soy sauce, soy bean paste, ginger root, red pepper paste and sesame seeds. Unlike Chinese dishes, however, Korean food is not served as separate courses but are placed on the table at the same time. A spoon and chopsticks are used when eating; rice and soup are eaten with spoon and side dishes with chopsticks. Korean beer and Soju are popular drinks with dinner. Green tea, citron tea and ginger tea are both popular forms of tea, while Hwach'ue, served as refreshments with dessert, are traditional, refreshing fruit drinks. Popular Korean beverages also include makkolli (unrefined rice wine) and ch'ongju (refined rice wine).
Boiled rice, or rice mixed with barley, corn or other grains, is essentially the staple of the Korean diet, while soup (known as kuk or t'ang) is commonly served as part of a meal. Ingredients can include the likes of meat, fish, vegetables, seaweed, clams and the internal organs of cows and pigs.
The most famous Korean dish is Kimchi, fermented vegetables such as Chinese cabbage leaves highly seasoned with hot pepper powder, green onion chopped raddish, salt, sugar and garlic. This pungent appetizer is served at practically all Korean meals and if a Frenchman cannot live without cheese, a Korean cannot live without Kimchi.
Pulgogi is another well-known delectable Korean speciality much favored by Western visitors, as well as Korean diners. Pulgogi means "fire-beef" and translates as "Korean barbecue". Thin slices of beef are marinated in a sauce made of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and other seasonings and cooked over a hot charcoal grill at your table.
Kalbi is also a popular dish and comprises short ribs of beef or pork and cooked in the same manner as pulgogi, it too seems to be very much to the taste of foreign visitors to Korea.
Kujolp'an is a mix of cooked meats and vegetables arranged on a large platter with a selection of Korean pancakes in the center. The idea is to wrap the fillings in the pancakes and then devour them one by one.
Shinsollo is a delicious mix of meat, fish, vegetables and bean curd simmered in a beef broth over a charcoal brazier at the table. It, too, comes thoroughly recommended.
Pibimpap is made from cooked rice mixed with tiny bits of meat, seasoned vegetables and eggs. If you are brave enough if can be eaten with Koch'u'jang - a fiery, red-pepper sauce. You have to bear in mind that most Korean sauces are hot, and a different breed altogether than Western varieties.
Sallongt'ang is a rice beef noodle soup, seasoned with sesame seeds, salt, pepper, scallions and sesame oil. It is generally served with rice as the main meal and accompanied by various side dishes and a special radish kimchi known as Kkaktuge.
Mandoo comprises steamed dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables and is a perennial favorite among local diners. Be adventurous and try it for yourself.
A great favorite during warm weather is Naengmyon, which literally means 'cold noodles'. Some paper thin buck wheat noodles are served in a cold beef broth with the likes of chopped scallions, shredded radish and cucumbers, sesame seeds and thin slices of lean beef. Appropriate condiments are hot mustard and vinegar.
Other popular Korean specialities include Pajon which are scallion pancakes and tubu, tofu bean curd, which is very common. Ttok or traditional rice cakes are popular during worship ceremonies and for holidays while Samgyet'ang (Ginseng Chicken Soup) goes down well with the health conscious Koreans. It is reputed to be cooling during hot and humid summer days. Quite a volume of raw fish is also consumed in sushi type forms and salted fish is also much appreciated by Koreans.
There you have it - the low down on Korean food undeniably one of Asia's most interesting cuisines!