Korean cuisine has a long, rich history. Early people populating the Korean Peninsula hunted and fished, and grew rice, beans, and cereal grains. Archaeological evidence suggests that they also fermented beans during this period, perhaps in ways similar to those used to produce modern Korean foods made from fermented beans, such as doenjang, gochujang, and cheonggukjang.
Later, those who settled in the area formed three distinct kingdoms, known as Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje. Each of these had their own culinary traditions. When the Mongols invaded Korea, so did noodle dishes, grilled meat dishes, and black pepper.
During the Joseon period, trade with neighboring kingdoms introduces more new tastes to the Korean palate. Chili peppers, tomatoes, squash, and corn started appearing in Korean markets.
Korean royal court cuisine brought together culinary delights from the furthest reaches of the province, and neighboring nations, as well. The royals ate well, savoring a plethora of the finest regional specialties at each of their five daily meals.
Toward the latter part of the 20th century, the common people started to get more variety in their diets, as well. Dishes that were once regional favorites spread throughout the nation, with each province putting their own spin on it.
Today’s Korean cuisine is a product of thousands of years of history.
Rice, prized in this region since prehistoric times, still plays a prominent role in many Korean dishes. Noodle dishes represent long life in Korea. While they were once reserved for special occasions such as weddings and birthdays, they are now substituted for rice on occasion. Meats are prized for their substance and flavor, though the are not featured as prominently in Korean food as they are in Western fare.
Where once it was quite uncommon for Koreans to eat cattle, as they were needed to pull plows and carry burdens, these days beef is a cherished ingredient in many Korean dishes. Pork, chicken, and seafood are regular features in Korean fare, as well.
Like most Asian cuisine, Korean food uses a wide variety of vegetables. Radishes, cucumbers, seaweed, zucchini, lotus root, spinach, bean sprouts, are all familiar ingredients in a Korean meal.
Kimchi, a fermented preparation of vegetables and spices, is Korea’s national dish. There are literally hundreds of recipes for kimchi, and it is served with nearly every meal.
Spices and seasonings are also very important. Korean favorites include sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and fermented bean pastes such as those mentioned earlier.
[Photo Credit: kangmi12.newmediadl]