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Korean Cuisine and Recipes

Korean Recipes and cooking

Cooking by Country - September 2005


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Go to:-  Korea Featured Ingredient   |  Korea Speciality Dish   |  Cooking by Country Main Page




North and South Korea form a peninsula which has a land border with China to the north and a total 4908km of coastline on the Sea of Japan, Yellow Sea, Korean Bay and Korea Straight. About two thirds of the country is made up of mountainous and hilly terrain although there are wide coastal plains in the south and west, large streams and rivers.


Between the mountains lie lowlands which were formed by river valleys and sea terraces and as these only constitute approximately 20 percent of the peninsula, most lowland areas are cultivated.


Due to its  position,  Korea has many microclimates although in general it can be described as having a temperate monsoonal climate ranging from hot and humid in the summer to bitterly cold in the winter.






Ancient times, History and Influences on Korean Cooking


The first inhabitants migrated from North Asia and are thought to have been nomadic Mongol tribes who had settled there during the Neolithic Age.

Originally hunter gatherers they soon settled into small farming communities in the few decent lowland areas where crop cultivation was possible. Evidence shows that by 3500BC millet was being grown and shortly thereafter various types of beans including soybeans were being cultivated.

The influence of neighbouring China is clearly shown by the introduction of rice c2700BC which was particularly suitable for growing in the more southerly parts of the country. The introduction of iron around 500BC was another important factor in the development of Korean cuisine not only by way of cooking utensils; in particular the wok, but also its use in farming equipment which enabled the small communities to better cultivate their limited farmland. The Chinese also introduced domesticated animals such as cattle, pigs and poultry, cabbage and of course, the use of chopsticks.

Unlikely as it may seem, Europeans were also to have a huge, albeit indirect influence on Korean cuisine. Without their conquests in the 1500s, it is quite feasible that the Chilli which is native to the America’s, wouldn’t have been assimilated so completely into Korean cooking. Since the 18th Century chillies have played an intrinsic part of everyday Korean cuisine.

The other major influence on Korean cooking was the weather and terrain. As mentioned above, the very cold winters and heavy labour required to cultivate the land encouraged the eating of hearty meals. Even breakfasts were robust affairs often consisting of a large bowl of soup with tripe of beef ribs – a fine start to what was to be a labour intensive day.

With such a large coastline and many rivers and streams, it is not surprising that fish and seafood (both fresh and dried) have always been staples in many parts of the country. From the earliest times, the preserving of foods for winter use, mainly by drying or salting, has played an important role in their diets – a tradition which is still upheld today.


Current Day Korean Cuisine


Rice and noodles are still staples however Korean cooking does differ enormously from neighbouring Chinese and Japanese cooking in that it makes use of strong and sometimes very pungent flavourings. Having said that, everyday food is not necessarily spicy hot as, in general, chillies are often used by means of condiments which can be added by diners to suit their own tastes. The rice generally eaten in Korea is a sticky rice which can be obtained by soaking the uncooked rice for 30 minutes prior to cooking.

Traditional households still own large earthenware preserving pots filled with pickled vegetables (kimchi – see speciality dish) or soybean and chilli pastes and dried fish, in particular cuttlefish, are eaten by most of the populace.


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As with many other Asian countries, all the dishes for a meal (apart from the soup) are served at the same time. The average family would serve three or four dishes plus rice however, on special occasions as many as 12 dishes are served. These settings are referred to as “chop” so if they are serving 6 dishes it would be known as 6-chop. Food is served on a low table and is eaten with metal chopsticks or a spoon for the soup.

Widely used flavourings include garlic, ginger, soy sauce, soybean paste, rice vinegar, sesame oil (see featured ingredient) and chilli often in the form of a paste. The Koreans have a wide range of cooking methods including steaming, stir-frying, grilling, barbecuing and stewing.


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