Korean Food

The popular meal known as bibimbap, made with mixed rice, vegetables, kimchi, and meat, originated in which country?

And the answer: Korea.    

Translating to "mixed rice," bibimbap is a popular Korean rice dish, often made with beef, vegetables, chili paste, and egg. Cooks often make it with items found in the refrigerator, as a way to use leftover food before it spoils.

Photo credit: Sous Chef

Although bibimbap's popularity has made its way around the world, Korea's food culture has a rich history that dates back to around 800 BCE. Agriculture, fishing, and hunting traditions from Manchuria have fostered innovation in food production for centuries. For one, fermentation is a food storing technique originally born out of the cold and harsh Korean winter, and is thought to have originated earlier than 57 BCE. By fermenting their vegetables and other perishable ingredients, Koreans could continue to consume delicious dishes all year round. This practice lead to the development of many traditional dishes, such as kimchi and bean paste. In fact, fermented bean paste is one of the oldest spices or condiments in Korean cuisine.

Buddhism is one of the most dominant religions in South Korea, thus Buddhist monasteries or temples are extremely prevalent in the nation. Following Buddhist tradition, temple food is vegetarian or vegan, while minimizing the use of artificially processed foods and instead opting for seasonal natural produce. Interestingly, though, some of the menu items from traditional royal cuisine are found in Korean temple cuisine. Many of the royal kitchen maids retired from the palace and worked in temples as nuns, taking some of the recipes with them. Centuries later, those traditional recipes remain intact (and surely delicious).

There are a number of cultural beliefs which factor into Korean dishes as well. As seen in the colorful bibimbap bowl, Korean food is often sought to be harmonious. This means that, because Korean cuisine is governed by philosophy and science, the strong belief in yin and yang requires nutritionally balanced food. The five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are represented by five colors (blue, red, yellow, white, and black). Additionally, colorful ingredients are blended to produce nutritious foods and stimulate appetite through the five essential tastes: salty, hot, sweet, bitter, and sour.

Learn more about the history and culture surrounding Korean food here.

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