According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World”: “The seas surrounding the Korean peninsula—the Yellow and East China seas, and the Sea of Japan—provide not only many types of seafood, like tuna, king crab and squid, but moisture for the fertile soil needed to grow rice and grains. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World”, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]

“For centuries, the Koreans have eaten the products of the land and sea. They began growing grains thousands of years ago, and rice cultivation was introduced to some parts of the country around 2000 b.c. During this time they also grew millet (a type of grass grown for its edible seed), soybeans, red beans, and other grains. They cured and pickled fish, were skilled in making wine and bean paste, and often used honey and oil in cooking.

“Chinese and Japanese invasions during the fourteenth through twentieth centuries gave rise to a culinary influence on Korea that remains today. Like the Chinese and Japanese, Koreans eat rice with almost every meal and use chopsticks. Eating with chopsticks means the food is usually cut up into little pieces that are easy to pick up. Food cut this size cooks fast, which cuts down on the use of fuel.”

World's ‘Oldest’ Rice: 15,000-Year-Old Grains Found in Korea?

In 2003, South Korean researchers said they had found 15,000-year-old burnt rice grains at a site in South Korea, claiming it was evidence of the world's oldest rice and challenging the idea that rice was first cultivated in China. However, the evidence remains controversial in the academic community.

AFP reported: “South Korean archaeologists said they had found the world's oldest known domesticated rice, pushing back by thousands of years the recorded origins of Asia's staple food. Radioactive dating of the 59 burnt grains of rice found in central South Korea has pushed back the date for the earliest known cultivation of the plant to somewhere between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago, they said. “This discovery challenges the accepted view about where rice originated and how it evolved," said Professor Lee Yung-Jo of Chungbuk National University in Cheongju. [Source: AFP, October 22, 2003 \=] \=\

Dr David Whitehouse of the BBC wrote: Lee and Woo Jong-yoon of Chungbuk National University in South Korea found the ancient grains during excavations in the village of Sorori in the Chungbuk Province... DNA analysis shows the early rice sample to be different from the modern intensively farmed varieties, thereby offering scientists the opportunity to study the evolution of one of the world's principal food sources. The region in central Korea where the grains were found is one of the most important sites for understanding the development of Stone Age man in Asia. [Source: Dr David Whitehouse, BBC, October 21, 2003]

Carbonized rice grains, which were found near the Yellow River and Yangtze River in China and were considered to be the world's oldest rice, were dated between 10,500 and 11,000 years ago. Lee told AFP: “It suggests that rice may have also evolved in areas which are far north from there." Sorori is located between 36 and 37 degrees of latitude north. According to Lee, the excavations were made between 1997 and 1998 and again in 2001. \=\

Doubts About the 15,000-Year-Old Rice Found in Korea

Some researchers refuted the claim about the about the 15,000-year-old rice found in Korea In “The emergence of rice agriculture in Korea: archaeobotanical perspectives” an article published in “Special Issue: The Archaeobotany of Asian Rice.", Sung-Mo Ahn, wrote: “Argument for the earliest evidence of domesticated rice at the Sorori site, 15,000 years ago, is invalid. The evidence for rice cultivation in the Neolithic (Chulmun) is still insufficient although rice remains have been reported from a few late Neolithic sites in central-western Korea which dated to about 3000 B.C.. The existence of rice agriculture in the Bronze Age (Early and Middle Mumun: c.1300?~?300 B.C.), on the other hand, is demonstrated by the high percentage and/or frequency of rice remains among crops recovered from various sites, as well as through the numerous findings of paddy fields.

“Rice appears to have been introduced from the Liaodong region, China, while so called ‘southern diffusion route’ that the beginning of rice cultivation was first stimulated by influences from Southeast Asia or South China is no more valid. Charred rice remains recovered from the Bronze Age dwellings consist of dehusked clean grains and weedy seeds are very rare among samples containing rice grains, which could be related with the harvesting and processing methods of rice."

(Video) Discovering Korean History and Cuisine

Early History of Korean Cuisine

Katarzyna J. Cwiertka wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”: “The foundation of Korean cuisine was formed between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, with important modifications taking place in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. As was the case with other aspects of Korean culture, Korean cuisine developed under the strong influence of its powerful neighbor—China. As in adjoining regions of East Asia, rice and fermented soybean products (soy sauce, soybean paste, and soybean curd) occupy a prominent place in the diet of the Korean people. The "rice–soup–side dishes" structure of the meal and the use of chopsticks to consume it are other indicators of the impact that Chinese civilization exerted on Korean food-ways. The emphasis on five elements in Korean cuisine, for example, five flavors (salty, sweet, sour, hot, and bitter) and five colors of garnish, has Chinese origins as well. It should be emphasized, however, that despite this heritage, Korean cuisine has developed into a distinctive entity of its own, with more differences from Chinese cuisine than similarities to it. [Source: Katarzyna J. Cwiertka, “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

“The technology of rice cultivation was brought to the northern parts of the Korean peninsula from China, probably late in the second millennium b.c.e., but rice became a staple of the Korean diet only in the Silla period (668–935 c.e.). In fact, before the second half of the twentieth century, rice was not a staple for everyone, but was rather a symbol of wealth. The old phrase "white rice with meat soup," for example, connotes the good life, while tacitly acknowledging that not everyone could afford either rice or meat. Millet, barley, and buckwheat accompanied by kimchi and vegetable soup were the daily fare of the majority of the Korean population.

“Vegetarian Buddhist influences in Korea did not, apart from the clergy, have much impact on food habits. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and various types of game were regularly consumed by the Korean upper classes. Still, before the economic growth of the 1970s, the eating of meat was a luxury for the common people in Korea. Farmers, who formed the majority of the Korean population, rarely ate meat except for three days in summer when dog stew was served and a special day in winter when sparrow, wild boar, or wild rabbit was prepared. In both cases, the eating of meat was intended to strengthen physical resistance to extreme weather conditions (Walraven, 2002).

“The techniques for making wine and chang (a semi-liquid predecessor of soy sauce and soybean paste) were also introduced from China, and by the seventh century were already highly advanced. This was also the time when fermented seafood (chotkal) developed, along with vegetables preserved in salt. The latter eventually evolved into kimchi pickles.

“Chili pepper was brought to Korea at the end of the sixteenth century, most probably via Japan. It became widely cultivated a century later and by the twentieth century was an integral part of Korean cuisine. As well as being an indispensable component in kimchi making, chili pepper contributes to the flavoring of the majority of Korean dishes through chili pepper powder (koch'u karu) and red bean paste (koch'ujang). Both are not only used extensively in the kitchen but often appear on the table as a relish.

“It should be mentioned that the extensive use of chili pepper, and consequently the pungent taste of Korean cooking, was not originally characteristic of all Korea, but rather a feature of the Kyongsang province occupying the southeastern part of the peninsula. The diet of the southwestern provinces and the territory covering contemporary North Korea used to feature less spicy dishes than was the case in Kyongsang. Urbanization and the development of modern transport and communication networks led to the gradual decline of regional differences in the Korean diet. These differences, however, have by no means completely disappeared. Ch'orwon, for example, is famous for makko lli wine, Ch'unch'on for its chicken barbecue (talkkalbi), and Hamhung province for its cold noodles (naengmyon). The cooking of the southwestern provinces tends to be generally less spicy than the rest of the country. Cholla province, in particular, tenaciously retains its culinary distinctiveness.

Origin of Kimchi

Koreans are very proud of their national dish: kimchi — the pungent, often hot, mixture of fermented and pickled vegetables, often cabbage. As is true with other fermented products like pickles, cheese and wine, kimchi likely began as a way of preserving cabbage that otherwise would rot. Anyone who has seen the huge amounts of cabbage after a harvest realizes it would be a tall order to eat it all. Plus you need to eat in the winter when crops do not grow.

There is archeological evidence that Koreans have been pickling, salting and fermented vegetables to preserve them for at least 3,000 years. According to the Korea Tourism Organization: “For as long as humans have been harvesting crops, they have enjoyed the nutritional elements of vegetables. However, during the cold winter months when cultivation was practically impossible, it soon led to the development of a storage method known as 'pickling'. Rich in vitamins and minerals, kimchi was introduced in Korea around the 7th century. Though, the exact date when hot pepper powder was first added remained unknown. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

“Nevertheless, it is presumed that beginning from the 12th century, several spices and seasonings began to gain popularity and it was not until the 18th century that hot pepper powder was finally used as one of the major ingredients for making kimchi. In fact, the very same kimchi as we know today has retained the same qualities and cooking preparations that prevailed ever since it was first introduced.”

History of Kimchi

In the 13th century, the scholar Yi Kyu-bo described the practice of pickling of radishes in salt water in the winter, a customs that reportedly gained favor as Buddhism took hold and people were encouraged to eat more vegetables and less meat. Spicy kimchi dates back to the 17th or 18th century when red pepper was introduced to Korea from Japan (red pepper in turn originated in Latin America and found its way to Japan via Europe). Other the years new ingredients were added and more sophisticated methods of fermentation were developed.

Katarzyna J. Cwiertka wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”: “Kimchi has evolved relatively recently to the form we know today. The so-called "white kimchi "(paek kimchi), which is still popular in the early twenty-first century, resembles most closely the original version. [Source: Katarzyna J. Cwiertka, “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

(Video) Korean Cuisine | Korea | Cultural Flavors | EP 04

“The addition of chili pepper came about in the mid-eighteenth century and gave kimchi its characteristic red color and pungent taste. Fermented seafood (chotkal), which has been included in the pickling from the late nineteenth century onward, not only enriched the taste of kimchi, but also increased its regional diversity. While at the end of the seventeenth century only eleven types of kimchi were classified, the regional variety of chotkal (some regions use shellfish, others anchovies or other kinds of fish) contributed to the development of several hundred varieties of kimchi. The type of vegetables that are pickled also changed. Gourd melon, cucumber, and eggplant have been used since ancient times; today napa cabbage and radish are the most common varieties.

“With the rising consumption of meat and seafood, and the popularization of Western-style food, the quantity of kimchi consumed by Koreans has declined as well. Yet, kimchi is still considered to be the most important element of the Korean meal and quintessentially Korean by Koreans and foreigners alike. “

Royal Cuisine in the Chosun Period

In the Chosun Dynasty The meals served for the king were prepared by the best cooks in the court with quality ingredients procured from across the country, consisting of local specialties and fresh seasonal foods. Royal cuisine has been passed down by word of mouth of court cooks and royal descendants for generations, as well as in written records of royal feasts. Records on the daily court meals of the Chosun Dynasty can be found in “Wonhaeng Eulmyo Jeongni Uigwe” (Royal Protocols on a King’s Procession) which was written in 1795. The Royal Protocols provide a detailed description about the meals served during an eight-day journey of the king from Changdeokgung Palace to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress where he hosted a feast before he returned to the palace. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Usually, meals were served five times a day: restorative medicine of rice gruel or porridge in the early morning; a royal breakfast table around 10:00 am; a simple meal in the afternoon; a royal dinner table around 5:00 pm; and a simple meal at night. The royal table, called surasang, was served with 12 dishes, including rice and soup, as well as stew, hot pot, kimchi and sauces. Both white rice and sweet rice were served, and the most common soups were miyeok-guk (seaweed soup) and gomtang (beef bone soup). Surasang was further divided into daewonban (a large round table; the main table), gyeotban (a small round table), and chaeksangban (a square table).

The Dishes of Surasang: 1) Deoungui: grilled or brochette dish made with meat or fish; 2) Changui: grilled or brochette dish made with dried seaweed, deodeok or vegetables; 3) Jeonyuhwa: pan-fried delicacies made with meat, fish or vegetables; 4) Pyeonyuk: boiled pork slices; 5) Sukchae: boiled and seasoned vegetables; 6) Saengchae: raw seasoned vegetables; 7) Jorigae: braised dish made with meat, fish or vegetables; 8) Janggwa: pickled vegetables; 9) Jeotgal: salted seafood; 10) Mareunchan: side dish made with dried, salted or fried beef, fish or kelp; 11) Byeolchanhoe: raw or parboiled meat or fish cooked with vegetables; 12) Byeolchansuran: suran (poached egg) or other special side dish; 13) Chimchae: three kinds of kimchi (fermented vegetables) - songsongi (diced radish kimchi), cabbage kimchi, and dongchimi (radish water kimchi); 14) Jochi: two kinds of stew - tojangjochi (soybean paste stew) and jeotgukjochi (salted seafood stew); 15) Jjim: steamed dish made with meat, fish or vegetables; 16) Sura & Tang: rice (white rice and red bean rice) & soup; 17) Jeongol: meat and vegetables mixed in pot of soup and boiled to eat; 18) Jangnyu: various sauces, such as soy sauce, soy sauce mixed with vinegar, red chili-pepper paste with vinegar, salted-shrimp juice, mustard, etc.

Surasang Table Setting: 1) Daewonban: white rice, miyeok-guk, togu (bone plate), soy sauce, soy sauce with vinegar, red chili paste with vinegar, changui, deoungui, raw fish, janggwa, saengchae, sukchae, suran, jeonyuhwa, jeotgal, jaban (salted fish), jorigae, pyeonyuk, songsongi, jeotgukji, dongchimi, jjim, tojangjochi, jeotgukjochi; 2) Sowonban: red bean rice, gomtang, empty bowl, empty plate, tray, tea pot; 3) Chaeksangban: sesame oil, meat, egg, vegetable, jangguk (clear soybean soup); 4) Jeongolteul: hot pot.

Banquet Meals in the Chosun Court

In the royal court, a number of events were held throughout the year. Annual events occurred on national holidays such as Jeongwol (the day of the first full moon of the Lunar New Year), Dano (the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar), Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) and Dongji (winter solstice), as well as the birthdays of the royal family members residing in and outside of the court, the nomination and marriage of the crown prince, and welcoming events for foreign envoys. Jinyeon was a joyous feast in the royal court to celebrate a national event, while jinchan was held when there was a celebratory occasion within the royal family. In both cases, the banquet was planned and prepared for months leading up to the event day and the preparation process was kept on record. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

During large royal banquets like jinyeon or jinchan, high-legged tables were set up. The tables were piled with tteok (rice cake) in a variety of colors and styles to make unique patterns, hangwa (traditional Korean snack) and fruits stacked in amazing towers. These stacks of food were generally 40-60 centimeters high, and held the meaning of wishing for prosperity and longevity of the king. The foods presented on the table were only for appearances and not actually eaten. Instead, the king would eat simple noodles and side dishes served at a smaller table before the large table was presented.

During birthdays of the royal family members or on holidays, guests were offered Myeonsang. Myeonsang was a table serving noodles, tteokguk (sliced rice cake soup) or mandu (dumplings) rather than rice. Side dishes of this table included pyeonyuk, hoe, jeonyuhwa and sinseollo (royal hot pot), as well as tteok and hangwa for dessert.

When a banquet was held, not only were royal guests offered food but other banquet participants as well, including the court musicians, dancers and soldiers, although tables were served by rank and position. After the banquet was finished, the remaining dishes were distributed to the king’s relatives and servants.

Kitchen Court Ladies in the Chosun Period

Royal foods were prepared by court maids, who were given strict training about cooking from early childhood, as well as male cooks. Various kinds of royal cuisine were made with diverse cooking methods, as the foods were prepared using fresh seasonal ingredients and local specialties, including seafood, meat, vegetables and grains, to be served to the royal family. Vegetables and fish that looked irregular were not used. Instead, only ingredients that looked nice and the best parts of the ingredients were used to offer the best taste and style of the foods in hopes that the king would govern justly. Strong seasonings were not used in food preparation, and strong tastes, such as foods with salty and spicy flavors or with a strong smell, were avoided, so the meal could deliver the natural taste of the ingredients used. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

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The Chosun Dynasty royal cuisine, which features such strict customs and manuals, was proclaimed an Important Intangible Cultural Property. Han Hui-sun (the first master of royal culinary art, 1889-1972) was a court maid who prepared meals for the last two kings of the Chosun Dynasty (King Gojong: 1863-1907, King Sunjong: 1889-1971). Hwang Hae-sung succeeded to the title (the second master, 1920-2006) and promoted royal cuisine. Now, Han Bok-ryeo (the third master, 1947-) and Chung Gil-ja (the third master, 1948-) have followed in their footsteps.

To begin to understand why Han Hui-sun, the last Chosun Dynasty kitchen court lady, was designated the first holder of the 38th Important Intangible Cultural Property; one must first understand what a kitchen court lady is. According to Han Bok-ryo and Chung Kil-ja’s “Chosun Dynasty Korean Royal Cuisine” (The Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, 2009), kitchen court ladies were responsible for preparing the royal family’s regular meals, while male cooks were responsible for royal banquets.

In order to become a kitchen court lady, one needed to enter the palace at around the age of 13 and train for over 30 years. As a result, one generally became a kitchen court lady past the age of 40. “The best ingredients were brought in, a diverse range, because it was the palace, and professionals made it for the country’s most powerful being,” Han said, referring to the highly experienced kitchen court lady and her male counterpart.

Sura: the Royal Chosun Meal

According to “Chosun Dynasty Korean Royal Cuisine,” the king dined on “sura,” his main meals, at around 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. At the break of dawn, he enjoyed “chojoban” — usually a type of porridge or a medicinal brew. In between his morning and evening sura he would have “natgeot” — usually clear soup or tea and sweets — and after his evening sura he would have “yacham” — noodles, sweet rice with nuts and Korean dates, “sikhye” (rice punch) or milk porridge. This meant that the king ate approximately five times a day. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

His most elaborate daily meals were sura, which, according to The Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, consisted of two types of rice, two soups, three kinds of kimchi, two stews, three sauces and one steamed dish. Side dishes, a total of 12, also accompanied the meal. Sura was more than just food; it was a reflection of the crops harvested and the fish and meat caught and hunted by the country’s people. The food-laden table allowed the king to indirectly observe his people and the conditions of their crops and the land. “The king would taste a side dish first and then after chewing and savoring it, he would cleanse his palate with a little bit of rice,” Lee Soon-hwa, food and beverage team director of the court cuisine company Jihwaja, explained. “Therefore in order to eat all those different dishes, the food was somewhat blandly seasoned.” A surprising lack of salty dishes is not the only defining characteristic of royal cuisine. Health was stressed as well as the abundant use of garnishes (including the white and yellow strips of omelet called “jidan”), pine nut powder and three kinds of soy sauce, said Lee.

Court cuisine, however, is not drastically different from hansik as a whole. According to “Chosun Dynasty Korean Royal Cuisine,” the reason why palace food and hansik in general bear similarities to each other was because royalty did not wed one another. Instead, they wed nobility, resulting in an exchange of food, where dishes were traded up to court and dishes were traded down from the palace. Furthermore, food from royal banquets was given to the public, enabling them to develop a taste for court cuisine also.

The royal palaces in Seoul in the Chosun period were always equipped with a variety of wines for different purposes. There was wine for the king, wine presented to subjects by the king, wine for rituals and wine for foreign envoys, amongst others. The tradition of royal court liquor disappeared with the fall of the Chosun Dynasty, but some recipes of the royal wines still survive. One of them is hyangonju, or "fragrant liquor", which is designated as Seoul City Intangible Asset.

Chosun-era Meal Served at Royal Cuisine Restaurant

The Jihwaja royal cuisine restaurant offers a six-course meal called “Royal Court Dinner.” It starts with raw chestnuts, fried bows of kelp and pumpkin seeds ground and mixed with honey. A creamy, mild and slightly sweet porridge of milk, called tarak-juk, pays homage to the king’s chojoban. “At 5 a.m., before the bedding was cleared away, the king enjoyed a meal called chojoban or jaritjoban,” said Jihwaja’s Lee. “Since his intestines had rested all night, he dined on milk porridge to lightly jump start his digestive system.”[Source: Jean Oh, Korea Herald, Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

This is followed by a revamped form of the “gujeolpan,” where the eight seasoned vegetables and meat come pre-wrapped in their translucent pancakes. A healthy salad made of blanched and seasoned slices of burdock root, vegetables, pyogo mushrooms and meat and sprinkled with a savory mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar, is delicious all by itself. In fact, none of these dishes require an accompaniment of rice. Though not bland, they are not salty or spicy. “The flavors of (court cuisine) are not too strong, they highlight the original flavors of the ingredients themselves,” Lee explained.

Beef brisket sizzling on an earthenware pot and paired with a delicious and zesty ginseng-based salad, “japchae” (clear noodles with vegetables), skewers of shrimp adorned with lines of pine nut sauce and crowned with gingko biloba nuts. Dessert — a small rice cake, fruit and “yakgwa” — rounds out the meal. The yakgwa, a deep-fried sweet that runs somewhere between a croissant and baklava, is phenomenal. “It is called Gaesong yakgwa,” said Lee, who explained that flour was very precious in the past and that it was mixed with sesame seed oil. Honey and syrup were added to form the dough. “Then it was rolled out, cut in half. One layer was placed over the other and then rolled out again.”

Korean Drama Generates Interest in Chosun-Era Cuisine

The Korea Herald reported: “When Korean Wave pioneer “Jewel in the Palace (Daejanggeum)” swept across Asia from 2004 to 2006, royal cuisine — spun out by the hands of the series’ heroine, Jang-geum, and the series’ kitchen court ladies — transfixed viewers with its sumptuous brilliance and intricate nature. Mouths watered. Palates tingled with the desire to savor the parade of dishes, so evocatively presented in lush, vibrant colors and textures.International viewers were awakened to a realm of hansik that went beyond the standard trinity: kimchi, Korean BBQ and bibimbap. [Source: Korea Herald, June 9, 2010]

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“Interests were piqued. Restaurants called Daejanggeum sprung up throughout Asia, a sign that while actress Lee Young-ae’s Jang-geum had enraptured Asian audiences with her heartfelt story, it was the culinary creations of the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine president Han Bok-ryo that had excited their palates. But do not mistake Han for a run-of-the-mill food consultant. Considering her background in court cuisine, she is a major authority on Korean palatial food.

“Han’s relationship with royal cuisine runs deep. Han is the third holder of the title of the 38th Important Intangible Cultural Property (Royal Cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty). Her mother, the late Hwang Hye-seong (1920-2006), was the second holder of the title, who trained under the first holder of the title, the last Joseon Dynasty kitchen court lady, Han Hui-sun (1889-1972).

“Furthermore, since the government-designated title needs to be carried on, Han’s two younger sisters, Han Bok-sun and Han Bok-jin, are initiates for the title. In essence, this is a family affair, one that stretches over to her brother, Han Yong-kyu. After Han and her mother established the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine in 1971 and their first palatial food restaurant, Jihwaja, in 1991, her brother took over the task of running Jihwaja (there are currently two restaurants) and Goongyeon (a royal food restaurant started by Han Bok-ryo in 2005), allowing Han, who remains a consultant for all three establishments, to focus on her role as the institute’s president.

“At the age of 63, Han still teaches regularly, imparting her knowledge to those who are interested. Vivacious but visibly worn from her busy schedule, she embodies the fragile yet tenacious nature of a culinary legacy. “It became fate, in a sense, because I needed to carry on the institute, the work of passing this down,” she said.

Modernization of Korean Cuisine

Katarzyna J. Cwiertka wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”:“Along with a gradual decline in regional differences and the democratization of the Korean foodways, the twentieth century marked the time of the modernization of production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food in Korea. This started during the Japanese occupation and continued in South Korea after the Korean War (1950–1953). [Source: Katarzyna J. Cwiertka, “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

“The Japanese introduced modern farming techniques and Western-style food processing. The railway system and the highway network erected by the colonizer led to the centralization of markets and modernization of retailing. Japanese and Korean physicians created the foundation of Korean dietetics, and affluent Korean women got acquainted with the Western science of nutrition through Western-inspired Japanese home economics education.

“After the Korean War, South Korea continued to modernize under the strong influence of the United States. American dietary influences have become particularly visible since the 1980s but have not been widely welcome. While foreign products are desirable for the status and novelty they impart, the Korean people generally disapprove of the country's growing reliance on food imports (Pemberton, 2002; Bak, 1997). The increasing consumption of meat, for example, led to a rise in the number of livestock in Korea, making this mountainous country with almost no pasture largely dependent on imported feedstuffs. This and similar issues play an important role in the dietary consciousness of the Korean population today.

According to the Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World: “Since the country was divided into North Korea and South Korea, the government of North Korea has not welcomed outsiders. Because of this, information about its food and the cooking style of its people is not readily available. Most of the descriptions and recipes come from South Korea, although the same foods are probably enjoyed by North Koreans and people of Korean descent living anywhere in the world. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World”, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]

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

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Where did Korean cuisine originate? ›

Korean cuisine is also a product of its history and location. For many centuries China dominated East Asia's culture. Writing, governmental systems, arts and foods that evolved in China were passed on to Korea and then to Japan. Rice, for instance, was first domesticated in China, as were many kinds of cabbage.

What are the cooking methods of Korean cuisine? ›

As traditionally baking or frying were not common cooking methods, Koreans tended to use fermenting, boiling, blanching, seasoning, and pickling. Among these methods, the most characteristic method is fermentation. The process of fermentation enriches food flavors and preserves foods.

What is Korean cuisine called? ›

Hanjeongsik. Korean cuisine refers to the traditional foods and preparation techniques of Korea. From the complex Korean royal court cuisine to regional specialties and modern fusion cuisine, their ingredients and preparation vary richly. Many dishes have become internationally popular.

What is the historical food in Korea? ›

The most well-known are kimchi (fermented cabbage), ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), and gochujang (Korean chili paste). Popular dishes among international visitors include bulgogi, bibimbap, and hanjeongsik (Korean table d'hote). Bulgogi is a marinated beef dish that is sweet and tender in texture.

How did Korean culture start? ›

Civilization on the Korean peninsula can be dated back to 4,000 BC when the region was originally made up of tribes. Over the years, these people banded together to form kingdoms, and Korean history, similar to the Chinese, is broken down into the rule of these kingdoms.

What influenced Korean cuisine most? ›

Korea's cuisine is inspired by the agriculture and the seas surrounding it, namely the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. South Korea's fertile plains are perfect for growing rice, a staple grain that accompanies most meals, and the seas are rich with tasty seafood like king crab and squid.

What is the most unique feature of Korean food? ›

The uniqueness of simple casual food is often like that, but the new spice is the highlight of Korea's characteristic. In any dish, soy sauce, garlic, green onion, sesame, sesame oil, and red chili powder are indispensable ingredients to help flavor the dish more delicious.

What is the most common dish in Korea? ›

Like kimchi and bulgogi, japchae is one of the most popular foods in Korea. Often served as a side dish, it refers to sweet and savory stir-fried glass noodles made with dangmyeon (sweet potato starch cellophane noodles) and topped with assorted vegetables, meat, and mushrooms.

What are some Korean traditions? ›

Meeting & Greeting
  • Bowing is the traditional way to greet in South Korea.
  • Handshakes often accompany the bow among men.
  • Your left hand should support your right forearm when shaking hands.
  • Korean women do not always shake hands and may slightly nod instead of a full bow.
  • Always bow to individuals when departing.

What is Korean culture? ›

Korea is greatly influenced by the Chinese and Japanese cultures. This influence can be seen by Confucianism, which established many traditions that can be seen in modern Korea today. These traditions include the ethical code of conduct in social life and showing respect to the elders and family.

What did ancient Korean people eat? ›

The royal table called surasang, was served with 12 dishes, including rice and soup, as well as stew, hot pot, kimchi and sauces. Both white rice and sweet rice were served, and the most common soups were miyeok guk (seaweed soup) and gomtang (beef bone soup).

What is Korean history? ›

The Lower Paleolithic era in the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria began roughly half a million years ago. The earliest known Korean pottery dates to around 8000 BC, and the Neolithic period began after 6000 BC, followed by the Bronze Age by 2000 BC, and the Iron Age around 700 BC.

What is the brief history of Korea? ›

At first, Korea was divided into tribes but eventually organized kingdoms emerged. There were 3 of them, Goguryeo in the north and Silla and Baekje in the south. According to legend Silla was founded in 57 BC by Bak Hyeokgeose, Jumong founded Goguryeo in 37 BC and Onjo founded Baekje in 18 BC.

What was Korean originally called? ›

As with other European languages, English historically had a variety of names for Korea. These included "Cauli" (Marco Polo's rendering of Goryeo), Caule, Core, Cory, Caoli, and Corai as well as two spellings that survived into the 19th century, Corea and Korea.

When did Korean food become popular? ›

Korean cuisine has continued to gain worldwide popularity since 2010, and approximately 30 percent of respondents in a recent Statista survey said Korean food was very popular in their country.

Why is Korean food getting popular? ›

It's very riveting how a culture or cuisine can influence your young minds. Korean culture seems like the subsequent significant influence on culture throughout India and the rest of the world. Korean food's popularity is due to their K- Dramas and K- Pop's culture.

What makes the main Flavours of Korean cuisine? ›

Red pepper, ginger and garlic help to bring out the vibrant flavor of the cuisine, and Koreans are typically very liberal with the amount of spice they use while cooking. If you want to add a little savory crunch, sesame seeds are great for noodle and chicken dishes.

What is unique about Korean culture? ›

Korean values include obedience to family, hard work, protection of the family, and proper decorum among family members and is still important, even in the modern world. It is important to wait to be introduced at social gatherings. Bowing is a traditional way of greeting.

What is a traditional Korean dinner? ›

Kimchi, soup, stew, & sidedishes. With rice almost always comes kimchi and a soup or a stew (and sometimes both). These three things are essential to Korean homestyle meals, which are usually rounded out with the sidedishes, aka banchan.

What is Korea's signature food? ›

Kimchi is a traditional soup that is considered the national food. Thanks to the health benefits, this country's iconic food is also loved by many people around the world. Admittedly, there are many Kimchi-based foods in Korea. Kimchi jjigae is a stew based on kimchi.

What is Korean daily food? ›

Most Simple Korean Meals:

Rice + Soup or Stew + Kimchi. Noodles (dry or soup) + Kimchi. Rice + Main Meat or Seafood Dish + Kimchi. Bibimbap or Rice Bowls + Kimchi. One dish meals (Kimchi fried rice, Curry rice, Kongnamul bap) + soup (optional) + Kimchi and/or pickled radish (Danmuji)

What is the most popular Korean culture? ›

No other country in the world is as dedicated to making their pop culture one of their leading exports as Korea is, making Hallyu its “soft power.” They want Hallyu to be the leading popular culture export globally.

What is the best known traditional Korean? ›

Chongak Kayagum ca.

The gayageum is probably Korea's best known traditional instrument. Distinguished by its "ram's-head" extension, the type shown here is associated with jeongak court music. A different version of the instrument for solo playing with drum accompaniment developed in the nineteenth century.

What is Korean culture and values? ›

The Korean values of obligation towards others, respect for family, elders and authority, loyalty, honour, and filial piety are all part of its Confucian.

How old is Korean tradition? ›

To know the history of South Korea and its culture we must go back far back in time, some 5,000 years. The Gojoseon kingdom marks the starting point of Korean history, stained for long periods by wars and invasions by Asian dynasties and Western governments.

What is popular in Korean culture? ›

It mainly includes Korean pop music, dramas, and movies. In fact, although K-Pop, through acts like BTS, is a hot topic these days, it was originally Korean dramas that became famous to watch in other countries.

When did Korean cuisine start? ›

During the latter Goryeo period, the Mongols invaded Goryeo in the 13th century. Some traditional foods found today in Korea have their origins during this period. The dumpling dish, mandu, grilled meat dishes, noodle dishes, and the use of seasonings such as black pepper, all have their roots in this period.

What is Korean cuisine influenced by? ›

Korean food is influenced heavily by a mixture of ancient traditions, the natural environment, social trends and religion. It is spicy and diverse and has evolved over time to produce globally recognised dishes, such as kimchi, that are heralded for their health benefits.

Is sushi originally Korean? ›

Today's sushi is most often associated with Japanese culture, though the many variations of sushi can actually be traced to numerous countries and cultures including Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.

Is Korean and Japanese food the same? ›

The Long Answer:

If you walk into a Japanese restaurant, you're going to have a far different culinary experience than if you were to enter a Korean establishment. Both of these great nations have wonderful food, and various traditions that go along with their dining experience, but they are very much not alike.

What is the most influential factor in Korean cuisine? ›

The most important feature of Korean cuisine is the fermentation method used to store and eat foods for a long time. The most known fermented foods include doenjang (soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce), gochujang (hot pepper paste), and jeotgal (salted seafood).

Why Korean cuisine is considered healthy? ›

Considering the ingredients and cooking methods of the traditional Korean diet, it's generally considered healthy. Because they're often high in vegetables and cooked without much oil, Korean meals are often lower in calories than traditional American meals (2, 3 ).

What is kimbap in English? ›

Kimbap translates to seaweed (“kim”) rice (“bap”), and it is decidedly not “Korean sushi,” as some may describe it. Yes, it's technically rice wrapped in seaweed with fillings, but the comparison stops there.

Is kimbap Korean or Japanese? ›

Gimbap (김밥), also romanized as kimbap, is a Korean dish made from cooked rice and ingredients such as vegetables, fish, and meats that are rolled in gim—dried sheets of seaweed—and served in bite-sized slices.

What is Kim Bob? ›

Kim Bob is Korean rice roll in dried seaweed, usually made with yellow pickled radish, spinach, carrot, and egg. It's a popular picnic menu for students in Korea.

What seasonings do Koreans use? ›

The most common spice and sauce ingredients used in Korean cuisine are:
  • Sesame oil.
  • Chili pepper paste (kochujang)
  • Chili pepper flakes (kochukaru)
  • Soybean paste (daenjang)
  • Soy sauce.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Scallions.
7 Aug 2019

What are Korean Japanese called? ›

These Koreans and their descendants are commonly referred to as Zainichi (literally "residing in Japan"), a term that appeared in the immediate postwar years. Since the end of World War II to the present, the number of Zainichi Koreans has lingered around the same figure.


1. I used to hate korean food
2. Korean Flower Pancakes - 17th Century Eumsikdimibang
(Tasting History with Max Miller)
3. Don’t call it fusion: The story of Korean-Chinese cuisine| Fork the System
(Al Jazeera English)
4. [4K] Documentary A : KOREAN WAR | 70TH ANNIVERSARY [🍚Korean Food Shaped by History] - Part 1
(Arirang TV)
5. Korean bachelor breakfast seaweed soup
6. Korean Royal Court Cuisine
(The Culinary Institute of America)
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