Isha Singh, Delhi
Food is not only about flavours, nutrients, and calories but also depicts values, traditions, and culture. As we know, for years Korea has been known for its rich, diverse history and the evolution of Korean cuisine from Kimchi to Ramyeon. It has been seen that with the increasing Hallyu wave, there has been an increase in the consumption of Korean food globally. Traditionally, Korean meals are served with rice (bap), broth dishes (guk), Kimchi, and side dishes (banchan). Unlike now, in historical times the kings were served with over a hundred side dishes as the quantity of the banchan depends on the status of the diner. Also, the fact that the usage of metal chopsticks is seen amongst common people is because in earlier times kings used them to protect themselves from poisonous food.
As the season changes, different preferences and varieties of food arise. With increasing heat, the locals are more into the consumption of fruits like tangerines, cherries, and kiwis while these get replaced by popular snow pears in the winter. Korea is popular for its fermentation technology through which they can preserve food like Kimchi, Jang (ganjang, doenjang gochujang), and fresh vegetables so they can even be consumed in off-seasons. The best thing about Korean meals is the communal way of eating! Korean dishes aren’t served in sequential order but instead, the main dish is served hot or grilled by the eater. Unlike Western cultures, Korean culture focuses more on togetherness and therefore a person usually doesn’t have a personal plate.
Another best thing that is no less than heaven is Korean street food! Some of the most popular street foods of all seasons are fried chicken, tteok-bokki, gimbap, hotteok, bingsu, etc. Myeongdong Street Food Market, Dongdaemun Night Market, and Gwangjang Market are some popular places for street food.
Influenced by India, Buddhism made its way into Korea and led to increased consumption of vegetarian cuisine. According to the practices under Buddhism, the consumption of meat is strictly prohibited, therefore the best food served was the one preserved and fermented like Kimchi, Jang-a-jji, red chilli pastes, soy paste, etc. Korean cuisine is widely preferred globally because of its various health benefits. These health benefits are due to the use of traditional cooking techniques along with freshly preserved or fermented ingredients and medicinal herbs like garlic, green onion, and red pepper. Also, due to the communal way of eating and the diversity in the dishes, the diet is considered to be balanced and nutritional. With its increasing popularity, it has seen a wide influence from the West, especially among the youth. Instead of focusing on just being traditional, they are more into the fusion of foods like Kimchi pizza, bulgogi pizza, etc.
Drinking is also an important part of Korean culture and is enjoyed by people for ages. According to many Koreans, alcohol is more than just a drink. It acts as a perfect icebreaker and a bond maker. In the Korean working culture, frequent work dinners are common, and these are incomplete without a drink like Soju. These are important to improve the relations and to exchange work deals. Drinking also helps them to cope with the stress regarding relationships or work. Koreans usually go through rounds (Cha), starting from the first round il Cha and usually ending at the fifth round Oh Cha.
There are different etiquettes one needs to be aware of while drinking. If an elder offers you a drink, then denial is usually considered rude and should be accepted by both hands. Also, while drinking with seniors, one should turn their head away while drinking and refill the senior’s glass but not one’s own. If one can’t consume alcohol due to religious reasons or medical conditions, then they should politely deny it. Natives and even Westerners are more prone to go pojangmacha (tents to drink Soju, regardless of any occasion) for the second round.
Pojangmacha (Picture Credits: Trazy)
The consumption rate of alcohol is high in Korea as the drinks are easily accessible and are cheaper than daily essentials like water. But with excess drinking, comes the traditional popular hangover cures. Some of them are Bean sprout soup (Kongnamul–Guk), Pufferfish soup (Bok–guk), Dried Pollock soup (Bugeotguk), and even grapefruit ice cream. Some also believe that sleeping in a Korean sauna (jimjlibang) cures hangovers.
Grapefruit Ice cream bars (Picture Credits: Agweek)
Therefore, a country’s eating and drinking culture is a reflection of their lifestyle, and by exploring that we take a step closer to their hearts. We hope this article gave you a glimpse into the dining and drinking culture of South Korea. Share your thoughts in the comments down below!