What do Koreans eat everyday?
Traditionally, Koreans do not distinguish between breakfast, lunch or dinner. We eat all of the same foods.
Of course - for breakfast - foods that are easier on the stomach like eggs are preferred.
But last night's leftovers are frequently reheated and served as banchan (side dish).
The specific go-to dishes that each Korean household consumes varies widely. But the setup is the same!
A typical Hansik - Korean meal - includes: (1) rice, (2) soup/stew (3) a main dish and(4) few banchans (side dishes).
Allow me to explain each component.
What kind of rice do Korean eat?
Koreans eat short-grain rice, known as mepssal 맵쌀.
Compared to medium or long-grain rice, short-grain rice releases much more starch when it cooks!
That’s why it feels so soft and sticky – and chewier in texture!
Rice is essential to a Korean meal.
Why? Korean dishes are heavily seasoned, fermented or pickled.
The flavors are bold and assertive – often times a mix of spicy, salty, and savory!
Plain rice helps to balance-out these bold flavors – a chance to refresh your palate!
(This is why Koreans don't season our rice with anything - no salt or spices!)
Now, white rice is milled. This means the husk, bran, germ - and all of the nutrients are removed.
So many Korean homecooks mix white rice with whole grains and legumes.
This mixed rice is called Japgokbap (잡곡밥) in Korean.
(Pro-tip: A mixed rice including 5 grains & legumes is called Oh-gokbap 오곡밥).
Now, is short-grain rice the de-facto in all Asian countries?
Of course not! Learn the differences…
- Korean/Japanese food - short-grain rice
- Chinese food - typically medium-grain rice
- Indian food - long-grain rice (Basmati)
- Thai food - long-grain rice (Jasmine)
At the Korean mart, you will see a large variety of Korean rice brands.
If you get stuck on which brand to buy, click here for a few recommendations.
Our Korean Rice recipes mentioned above:
Next, let's talk about Korean Soups & Stews.
Soup is called gook in Korean (국).
Stew is called jjigae (찌개).
The most popular (or most frequently made) jjigae/gooks have to be:
(1) Doenjang Jjigae (된장찌개) – Soybean Stew
(2) Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) – Kimchi Stew
(3) Kongnamul-guk (콩나물국) – Soybean Sprout Soup
These three are made frequently and pair well with just about any Hansik meal.
Korean soups/stews are almost never eaten straight - always with rice!
Many people – including myself – like to scoop a portion of their rice into their soup and mix it in.
While others prefer to eat their rice and soup separately.
When it comes to breakfast, many homecooks will simply reheat the leftover soup or stew from dinner – it's not made from scratch every morning!
Note: Korean soups or stews always tastes better after a few re-boils.
Serving note: Typically, each person is served soup or stew in their own bowls. But for some stews (or hot-pot), one large pot or Ttukbaegi is placed at the center of the table for everybody to share from.
Our Korean Soup Recipes mentioned above:
- How to: Classic Doenjang Stew
- How to: Chadol Beef Doenjang Stew (K-BBQ Restaurant Style!)
- How to: Kimchi Jjigae
- How to: Kongnamul Guk (Soybean Sprout Soup)
- How to: Budae Jjigae (Korean Army Stew)
- How to: Budae Jjigae (1-Person Serving)
Banchan is the hallmark of Korean cuisine!
Banchan is a collective name for any side dish that is served in small portions. Banchans are usually packed with flavor, so its best to balance them out with rice.
The more formal the meal, the more banchan there will be on the table. Typically, home meals will include 2-3 banchans. But if the host likes you, I think you can expect some more!
Many people are curious how Korean moms find the time to cook so many banchans for each meal.
The reality is that most banchans are not cooked fresh for each meal.
Instead, banchans are cooked in bulk, pickled and/or braised in soy sauce. They keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Korean homecooks will then mix-and-match these banchans with other hot dishes.
Note: Banchans are arranged in the center of the table. They are shared by everybody.
Also, don't be shy to ask for refills at Korean restaurants. It's free and the norm to ask for more. Asking up to 2 refills is okay, but if you push it to 3x, they may start to get annoyed haha 😉
To browse all of our banchan recipes, click here.
(4) Main Dish
The first picture I shared in this article doesn't show a "main dish".
But it is common to have a main dish at each meal - usually a meat or fish dish.
Grilled pork (below) or beef bulgogi are popular choices for meat. And grilled mackarel, galchi or halibut are popular choices for fish.
Finally, a few notes on table setting...
(Image Source: Try One Bite)
- Foods are served all at one time - not one by one.
- The rice and stew are placed nearest to the person. Banchan plates are then placed above the two.
- Soup is placed to the right side of the rice bowl. Then the spoon and chopsticks are placed to the right of the soup (see image above)
What happens if I don't follow these informal rules? Nothing really.
It's just good to know the nuances of culture 😉
Daniel out! 🕺
If you want to read more, go back to start here.