Banchan, or side dishes show the “balanced diversity” in Korean cuisine. Along with the staple dish of rice and soup, a variety of side dishes offering balanced flavors and nutrients are served together. Each person on the table is served his/her own bowl of rice and soup, and the side dishes are to be shared by everyone.
RICH AND BALANCED FOODS
Because side dishes are meant to complement and enhance the taste of rice, a Korean meal table consists of a variety of dishes. The balanced flavors and nutrients of the side dishes are made using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Freshly made vegetable, meat and seaweed side dishes are served along with fermented foods. There are more than 1,500 different side dishes, and it is interesting to see the combination of hot, cold, dried and soupy side dishes presented on one table.
THE MOST POPULAR SIDE DISH: SALAD
Having a mostly mountainous terrain, and having successfully developed a farming culture, Korean side dishes are usually vegetarian with about 20% being meat-based. Vegetables are served raw, or cooked and seasoned as namul (salad). Namul are rich in vitamins and minerals, and are very common and popular. These vegetables are typically served in a combination of three colors, and common namul include spinach (green), bean sprouts (yellow), bracken (brown), eggplant (purple) and balloon flower root (white).
LIGHTLY COOKED AND MILDLY SEASONED MEAT SIDE DISHES
The meat and seafood side dishes served on the Korean meal table are typically cooked in a healthy method and seasoned mildly. For example, bulgogi and galbijjim (braised short ribs) are popular side dishes made by boiling then braising beef. Jeon, or Korean pancakes, are also popular sides made by adding various ingredients like seafood, kimchi, meat and vegetables to a flour batter and pan-frying it with only a small amount of oil. In addition, meat dishes are usually cooked with plenty of vegetables and mushrooms, like japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables).
BASIC SIDE DISHES
Korean families keep several basic side dishes in their refrigerator along with various other cooking ingredients. Basic side dishes are usually strongly seasoned so that they can be stored for longer periods of time. Popular basic side dishes that are ready to serve at anytime include myeolchibokkeum (stir-fried anchovies), sogogijangjorim (braised beef in soy sauce), dububuchim (pan-fried bean curd), ojingeochaebokkeum (stir-fried dried squid) and gamjajorim (braised potatoes).