Korean food, like Japanese food, is well-known for its health-giving properties. Nutritious, well-balanced, and low in calories, it is the ideal diet for a healthy long life.
Korea has a great variety of regional dishes — there are more than 100 different types of kimchi, a traditional fermented vegetable dish that is served at every meal.
Kimchi is so much a part of Korea’s history. There is even a Kimchi museum in Seoul showing its importance as a staple part of the Korean diet since the early 17th century. The fermentation of the different vegetables, complemented by salted fish and other seasonings, give it its unique flavor.
In the autumn, Koreans pre-pare enough kimchi to last through the winter providing the vitamins, lactic acid and minerals otherwise lacking in their winter diet. The introduction of red pepper into the pickling process, which gives kimchi its hot spicy flavor, was a big innovation in Korean food culture. Using red pepper in combination with vegetables and fish resulted in a unique method of food preservation and the adoption of kimchi as a staple of the Korean diet.
The most important aspect of making Korean food is the correct seasonings. Seasonings are used to improve the taste and aroma of the food. Koreans use spices not only for their taste but also for their health.
Bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef) broiled over a very hot charcoal fire on a specially designed griddle is very popular with foreigners, as are the kalbi (beef or pork ribs). Bulgogi is generally eaten by wrapping it in fresh lettuce leaves with some red pepper sauce.
A popular dish eaten to increase energy is the ginseng chicken soup. A whole baby chicken stuffed with rice and ginseng roots is served steaming hot. Koreans also like their noodles with meat and vegetables or buckwheat flour noodles served in cold beef broth.
As in other countries, Korea has special foods for traditional holidays. Lunar New Year is celebrated with noodles and dumplings and mung bean pancakes, together with a special rice punch. Lunar New Year and Chuseok (Thanksgiving) are the two biggest holidays in the lives of Koreans. At Chuseok the newly harvested rice is used to make cakes and freshly picked fruits such as persimmons, chestnuts and Chinese dates are used in memorial services for their ancestors.
When serving a Korean meal, the food is traditionally all put on the table at the same time so it can be enjoyed together. Koreans place great importance on proper table settings and table etiquette. The common daily table setting is the main dish of rice with about 12 side dishes. Ceremonial table settings are used for special occasions.
Koreans enjoy drinking tea, and besides the green tea made from Chinese tea leaves, there are many wonderful Korean teas. Ginseng tea made from the thinly sliced ginseng root and mixed with honey is processed into powder and exported worldwide. Other teas made from ginger and the arrowroot plant as well as a wide variety of fruit teas are available in the tea houses of Korea.
The Korean Food Festival held annually in Seoul is a traditional Korean food-promotion event with cooking contests and special menus for foreigners to have a chance to experience the unique taste of Korean cuisine.