When the thinly sliced beef hits the grill, the immediate sizzle is music to many ears. The air smells of seared meat and smoke, mingling with the sound of laughter and conversation. Making a boom in the Philippines a few years ago, unlimited Korean BBQ became the perfect place for get-togethers and shaped our perception of Korean cuisine. But when it comes to a cuisine formed by hundreds of years of tradition, we are only scratching the surface.
Centuries before the Korean BBQ craze, the South Korean peninsula was known for its agricultural and marine wealth. The bodies of water surrounding the country kept the ground fertilized. This allowed them to grow different types of grains and spices that would become the foundation for Korean food or hansik (한식).
The Abundance of Hansik (한식)
While rice is a staple in a usual Korean meal, it does not take center stage; at least, not until you need a break from the spice. When talking about traditional dishes, hansik is all about the fresh, the fermented, the boiled, and the grilled.
Since we are so familiar with their specialization in the grilling department, let’s shine a light on the other dishes that originated from Korea.
Soups and Stew: Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) or Kimchi Stew
Being a cold country, pepper pastes and chili powders were used for a variety of dishes—and what better way to use it than to partner it with some aged kimchi? While this spicy, pickled cabbage does wonders on its own, it enhances a spicy beef stew with its fermented taste. This stew is a staple in Korean houses, no matter the weather.
The jjigae is filled with thinly sliced beef, kimchi, and tofu, with the broth made flavorful by adding hot pepper paste, chili flakes, onion, and garlic. When served, the soup is steaming hot, guaranteeing a fiery and hearty meal on rainy evenings. You can order a steaming bowl of kimchi jjigae at Kimchi Kimchi today!
Noodles: Mul Naengmyeon (물냉면)
As opposed to the Nuclear Noodle trend years ago, mul naengmyeon is a cold noodle dish. Made up of buckwheat noodles steeped in an icy beef broth or radish kimchi (dongchimi, 동치미) stock, there’s no heat whatsoever here! While this dish is more popular during the summers, others eat it to wash down the fat from a hearty Korean BBQ meal.
At the first bite, you might be confused from the sweet and the sour tastes mingling with the meatiness from the beef. But this taste is what makes it so refreshing! Add in some cucumbers, Korean pears, picked radishes, beef, and egg, you have the perfect palate cleanser. Have some cold buckwheat noodles to your doorstep tonight!
Snacks: Bungeoppang (붕어빵)
If you are familiar with the Japanese taiyaki, then Korea’s bungeoppang is not a stranger to you. Korean vendors usually sell this at the side of the street and are special snacks for children on their way home from school.
This fish-shaped pastry is often made in two fish-shaped pans, where the batter is poured to follow the mold. After it has cooked for a while, the vendor places sweetened red bean paste in the middle of the half-cooked batter, shuts both pans together and lets the rest of the batter cook.
If you do not fancy red bean paste, others put Nutella, custard, or ham and cheese. In some restaurants, they serve it with vanilla ice cream filling—the stuff that dreams are made of. Otherwise, you still have a broad choice of desserts or cakes to get delivered!
Tired of grilling beef while the rest of your friends feast on some samgyeopsal (삼겹살)? There are a lot more dishes and snacks to explore in the flavor-filled hansik world. And if you’re up for it, try amping up the spice!
Feeling adventurous today? Type your address here. We’ll put together some spicy recommendations of the best restaurants to order Korean cuisine from.
Joyce Claravall | Contributing Editor
A lover of bacsilog, cheese, and hotpot, Joyce harbors a love for meaningful moments with good friends and good food. She believes in saving the best for last so the pizza crust always comes first.