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Korean Culture and Cuisine, Essay Example

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The Korean population has over 70 million people that speak Korean, which is considered a part of the Tungusic branch from the Ural-Altaic language families. The language has a very close relationship with the Japanese traditional grammar and language style of speaking(EveryCulture,2015). The rich history and culture of Korean people go back as early as 500,000 B.C. in the Korean Peninsula populated by Paleolithic people (Asian Info,2015).  In addition, the Korean people tradition and culture has been kept and somehow the foundation of Korean culture has remained unchanged. The Korean people have been through wars, North and South differences and many environmental, social and political changes while documenting their traditions in detail.  The Korean culture and cuisine has evolved through social and political change, natural environment changes and different cultural trends. Korean cuisine has a basic food combination of steamed cooked rice, vegetables and some meats. The changes in the Korean cuisine originated from their migrations to different parts of the country from village to region to national locations. Korean traditional cooking has many side dishes called banchan such as Kimchi served with every side dish delicacy (China Business Weekly,2011). The tradition of the Korean meals has the following characteristics such as rice, kimchi, bulgoi, and spicy cold noodles. In addition, the cuisine is spicy, tasty, sour and sweet with shrimp, squid, mushrooms and vegetables (Home Cook Dairy,2011).

The Korean culture, tradition and cuisine is integrated is the fabric of their existence from generations of heritage and social tendencies that has not changed. The family combines any event for the family with a specific meal for that occasion and culture rituals that follow any celebration. The Korean people take offense when traditional dishes are not followed exactly the way it was taught by their forefathers. The entire Korean family is held accountable for ensuring these traditions are not altered, changed or any outside influence.  The Korean tradition that remains in place for the family is the mandatory respect for the elderly. The ultimate respect for the elderly is everyone bowing and recognizing their contributions to the family while still be a leader of the community and family (Korean Times, 2008).

Korea has a long and rich tradition of excellent cuisine with deep roots with significant historical and cultural customs. One the major heritage accomplishments of Korea have been their ability to preserved their original customs and traditions from generations to generations. The Korean culture is based on humility, sincerity and gratitude when meeting a person, eating with friends or family and praying is important. Their etiquette is being humble by bowing which is the same as a handshake (Golden,2012).  Korea is one the few countries that has been through social and political turmoil but managed to keep the foundation and roots of their ancestors in place. Some countries have many different influences from other ethnic contributors however,

The Korean people have managed to keep outside influence from changing their long established culinary identity. The Korean people originate from the Korean Peninsula where the different clans share a very common speaking language, culture and ethnic identity.  The Korean people have some significant regional differences between South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. They both shared the same culture and cuisine traditions with a strong sense of national pride and purpose. The modern North and South Korean both keep all the traditional cultural customs in the rural parts of the country and in the city. The Korean elderly make sure that the younger generations understands the significance of keeping the culture and heritage alive and relevant. The culture of the Korean people holds the elderly in the highest esteem and celebrate their life and death as custom that the elderly should never be forgotten.

The lifestyle of the Korean keeps the culinary identity regardless whether they live in the city in apartments or in the rural area with traditional housing. The new millennium has ushered in the new technology and lifestyles changes nevertheless; the Korean people remain true to the traditional values.

Korean Etiquette

The Koreans have a humble nature that is very conscious of their speech and behavior in social settings. The husband and wife have a balance in the family with the etiquette of the male taking the lead in all situations in public. The Korean people have a naming etiquette that consist of how to address each other such as using titles instead of names (Every Culture,2015).

The best example the teacher would be respected by calling him professor or manager, or director and president. The hierarchical relationship in the Korean social world is followed regardless of business or personal relationships in the home. The Koreans have the cultural etiquette to being respectful of those that are your peers or on the same social level consequently higher status Korean people must be limited with social interactions. The Koreans will bow in respect to others they greet that position demand respect but the etiquette they use is bowing just a little bit lower for those with high statuses. The etiquette habits by Koreans of bowing has significant meaning in the Korean society and families engrain this tradition into their children for life (Korean Times,2008).

The Korean people believe that being on time is an etiquette that must not be ignored. In their culture it is believed that making an appointment or promising to attend an event is taken seriously. The North and South Koreans emphasize meeting deadlines and they believe that punctuality is a sign of respect for locals and any foreigners. Koreans believe it personal etiquette to work hard and diligently without compliant of hours or how hard the task or work. Koreans considered it rude and unprofessional to leave the job early before the executive boss.

Korean Cuisine (Royal Family)

The Korean cuisine has a fundamental foundation of rice which is the primary food of the Korean people that is eaten with literary every meal. The north has a traditional of corn, rice, wheat, barley, corn, while other cuisine traditions include vegetables such as cabbage and turnips(Thorn,2013). The Korean people may have North and South regions with different philosophical and political differences however the foundation of Korean cuisine has evolved from the dishes and techniques without being tainted with outside cultures. The Korean royal palace follows the cultural ways that all Koreans use to prepare their cuisine that are very elaborate.

The Korean culture regardless of royal palace or North or South Korean, Kimchi is a mandatory tradition made of fermented chili sauce, anchovies and cabbage that is authentic spicy and sour taste (Golden,2012). The Royal palace foods have a reputation of being exquisite, extravagant and meticulously prepared by Korean women. The traditional of drinking has its significance in the royal palace because the pouring of a drink is considered a matter of respect for the elderly. The Korean drinking culture has a long history never pouring one’s own drink. This ritual is an act of respect because the pouring of a drink for the elder, one must put their hand over their heart to show a sign of earned respect of the elder(Steinberg,2012).

The Korean royal palace families kept the tradition of Korean food in tact by training women to learn all the cultural and heritage concerning Korean cuisine. These women had different palace positions specifically to learn the history and all the different aspects of Korean food preparation (Visit Korea,2015).  The cuisines were documented and learned by the royal families passing down the original recipes and traditions of the Korean cuisine. The kings and queens had the power to control the entire community or region eating regiments by demanding all food follow the thousands of years of tradition. The peasants did not enjoy the same level of extravagant food as the royal family but the recipes were the same.

The royal family has the basics meals of steamed rice, kimchi and fish with characteristics of lots of spices, fermentation and variety of side dishes (Visit Korea,2015). The royal families can be credited for ensure the traditions and Korean cuisine remains unchanged well into the future. In addition, they can be credited for keeping all the Korean etiquettes and traditions in place for future generations. In the Korean culture the etiquette of eating was a part of the cultural experience that was passed down from generations to generations. These cuisine moments were used to shared food recipes, social behaviors, historical, mythical, social and political ideas(Steinberg,2012). The royal queens and kings found that the cultural traditions must be handed-down allowed the peasants to eat the same Korean meals but not in the same grandiose fashion as royalty. The king and queen has the power to change the tradition however, they have been taught to follow the tradition of Korean cuisine, culture and heritage with opposition.

Korean Culture

The most important tradition that has been passed down for many generations is the family comes first above everything in Korean lifetime. This is an essential tradition of the Korean family culture which is never challenge from clan to clan. The father is always the head of the household handling all affairs outside of the home which women are not allowed. The father takes care of the shelter, food, and chooses the martial relationships of the entire family.  The religious aspect of Korean family culture is following the teachings of Confucius. There is a set hierarchical of the family that starts with the eldest son who will earn his manhood as the right arm of the family but respecting father’s decisions. This hierarchical model has influence from the Confucius teachings that stress family, community, duty, truthfulness and family honor.  The personal feelings, dreams and hopes of the individual in the Korean family is never more important that the goal of the family well-being first.

The Korea culture have an enriched, enduring and beautiful background that has been built over centuries keeping the traditions the same without integration of other cultures. The family traditions are evident because Korean people do not put their parents or grandparents in the nursing home. They spend their lives committed to the help and welfare of the parents and they never forget them with annual memorials on the day of their death. The Korean family praises the elderly ensuring they are involved with every activity and event as advisors. However, the father is the head of the household but the grandparents have a tradition of quietly making decisions to help the father. The father as the head of the household is more than just a gender tradition because the male of the household will be held responsible for the actions of their children. As result, the incorrect behavior of the wife or children will not be held responsible because it’s the father that must make sure everyone is living in the Korean tradition.

There is a specific order that makes the Korean culture work because the traditions such as dressing remains the same as their forefathers. These artful and artistic clothing represents their character and personality as Korean people. The women embrace their place in the long traditional of the household dominated by the men. The Korea’s women culture has a tradition of wearing a conservative dress called hanbok. The women’s daily look involves a hanbok with a plain blouse and a very full skirt that reaches down to her ankles. The women’s blouse is traditionally wrap and tied at the waist with long full sleeves to prevent any thoughts of improprieties. The women wear a petticoat to increase her thickness to hide the body and the men wear baggy trousers which all outfits are artfully crafted.  The culture of dressing by the Korean people is representative of their way of life by remaining true to the Korean heritage.

Asian Info. (2015). The people of Korea: Brief History. Retrieved from http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/korea/people.htm

China Business Newsweekly. (2011, Feb). Korean food foundation; Emmy-award winner Kelly Choi to reveal the delicious secret of Korean cuisine.  China Business Newsweekly Retrieved from ProQuest Database at http://search.proquest.com/docview/850517044?accountid=34899

Every Culture. (2015). South Korea: Identification. Retrieved from http://www.everyculture.com/Ja-Ma/South-Korea.html

Golden, C. (2012). Craving Korean: for an authentic taste of the new ‘it’ cuisine, start your food adventure in L.A.’s Koreatown. Here’s where to go and what to try. Sunset , (3). 64.

Home Cooking Dairy. (2011). Top 10 most popular Korean foods. Retrieved from http://www.homecookingdiary.com/2011/06/top-10-most-popular-korean-foods.html

Korean Times. (2008, Mar). Tips on Korean custom of bowing. Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2010/08/177_23339.html

Steinberg E. (2012). Korean Cuisine: An illustrated history. Asian Perspectives: The Journal of Archaeology for Asia And The Pacific ; Vol. (1):132. Retrieved from General OneFile

Thorn, B. (2013). Consumers’ taste for Korean cuisine grows. Nation’s Restaurant News, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1435039490?accountid=34899

Visit Korea. (2015). Travel highlights. Retrieved from http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=259177

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korean cuisine essay

Food Matters

When a Country’s Cuisine Becomes a Cultural Export

South Korea has sought to protect and enshrine its national dishes — while also sharing its wonders with the world.

To accompany this story, the chef Andrew Choi of the New York restaurant Onjium at Genesis House created dishes representative of Korean royal cuisine, all served atop a custom-made traditional Korean hanbok. Here: saseuljeok — literally, “grilled chain skewers” — made with alternating pieces of American Wagyu beef and line-caught tilefish, with char-grilled zucchini and a salad of scallions, lettuce, anise hyssop and herbs. Credit... Photograph by David Chow. Prop styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo. Costume design by Stephanie Kim

Supported by

By Ligaya Mishan

Photographs by David Chow

  • Oct. 12, 2022

“WE GOT STRAWBERRY, ginseng, love that kimchi,” the Wonder Girls, a now disbanded K-pop group, half-sing, half-cheer on their 2011 single “ K-Food Party .” “Keep the skin so beautiful and full of energy.” This was hardly a spontaneous ode to the ingredients and dishes of their motherland; South Korea’s Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had recruited the young women as global ambassadors, part of a government-sponsored campaign announced three years before with the mission of elevating Korean food to the highest ranks of the world’s favorite cuisines. How exactly this would be measured was unclear. Proposed benchmarks — to be achieved by 2017 — included quadrupling the number of Korean restaurants overseas, with those already existing to be sent a recipe manual encouraging standardization of Korean food name spellings (e.g., “kimchi” versus “kimchee” versus “gimchi”), the easier for befuddled foreigners to remember.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the forthright English lyrics (“For me to stay fly, I gots to eat good”), the Wonder Girls’ song was not a hit. But the number of Korean restaurants overseas did increase exponentially, from 9,253 in 2009 to 33,499 — just slightly shy of the target — in 2017, with a clientele that was more than three-quarters non-Korean, as reported by the Korean Food Promotion Institute. In the United States alone, there are now anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 Korean restaurants (the higher estimate comes from the marketing research firm IbisWorld) and, according to data analyzed by the New York University food studies scholar Krishnendu Ray, four times as many Korean restaurants merited inclusion in the Michelin Guide to New York in 2022 compared to 2006, with a median meal price of $63, just a dollar less than at French restaurants. This puts them at “the top of the hierarchy of taste,” Ray writes — although still far below Japanese sushi (median meal price: $235).

But what is the point of the South Korean government actively promoting Korean food to other countries, beyond the obvious: boosting agricultural exports and enticing tourists to come sample dishes in their place of origin? How does it profit the Korean nation — materially, psychologically, spiritually — if more non-Koreans learn to love kimchi?

SOUTH KOREA WAS not the first to deploy what has become known as gastrodiplomacy (although “gastrowarfare” might be a better term here, given the country’s apparent end goal of surpassing and eclipsing other cuisines). In the 1990s and early 2000s, Thailand started coaxing native chefs to open businesses outside the country with the help of loans from the state-owned Export-Import Bank and, since 2006, the Ministry of Commerce has issued Thai Select certificates to restaurants high and low around the world “to guarantee the authentic Thai taste,” with awardees ranging from the Orchid House mini-chain in Lagos, Nigeria, where diners may lounge on velvety sofas beneath hanging ferns, to the more utilitarian Krua Thai in Reykjavík, Iceland, which maintains a wall of neon Post-it reviews scrawled by customers. The vetting process includes a surprise visit by a representative of the Thai government to test the restaurant’s food.

This is all in service of advancing a “nation brand,” a concept formally developed by the British marketing consultant and independent policy adviser Simon Anholt in 1996 and now codified in the annual Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index, which measures reputation, judged in part by how a sampling of people around the world perceive the value of each country’s heritage and culture and how willing they are to buy its products. In 2021, Germany, Canada and Japan led the list, while South Korea was No. 23 out of 60, ahead of China and India — an improvement on its poor showing near the bottom of the inaugural index of 2005, which analysts attributed to people confusing it “with its northern neighbor.”

But a nation’s brand — which Anholt has argued cannot be cultivated through advertising, only genuinely earned through policies and actions — may matter more at home, which is to say, not to outsiders but to those who identify with that nation and whose identification and loyalty grow stronger the more established the brand is in the world. For a nation is an intrinsically unstable construct, ever a work in progress. How is it even to be defined: by territory, history, memory or the crumbs left on the dinner table? The very idea of a nation as a collective with a shared commitment to something recognizable as a way of life is quite modern, distinct from the long tradition of dynastic regimes in which the head of state was the state incarnate; whose rulers, the Dutch sociologist Godfried van Benthem van den Bergh has written, “were not interested in the nature and composition of the people they ruled” and viewed their subjects solely “as food producers, as taxpayers and as a reservoir of soldiers.” (The Berlin-based writer and historian Thomas Meaney, in his 2020 essay “ The Idea of a Nation ,” coolly notes, “Literacy was necessary so citizens could, among other things, read their orders for conscription.”)

korean cuisine essay

Historically, nations have been conjured out of need, solidified often in opposition — to monarchies and colonial powers and to the encroachment of other nations, be they enemy or ally. The American sociologist Michaela DeSoucey has framed gastronationalism as a response to globalization and the erasure of difference, a “form of claims making,” enshrining dishes and ingredients as cultural patrimony akin to art or literature, the material turned symbolic, more fundamental than borders on a map to a people’s sense of who they are. At times this can be pragmatic, as with the European Union’s schema of protected designations of origin and geographical indications meant to ensure, for example, that only Champagne from France can be sold as Champagne (other iterations may take their own geographic name of origin, like prosecco from Italy, or settle for the generic title of “sparkling wine,” with the risk, it’s implied, that they might be closer to swill than elixir) and that the name “feta” belongs exclusively to Greece, despite its etymological derivation from the Italian fetta (“slice”) and complaints from Denmark, which has produced its own briny white cheese since the 1930s, and which this past July was determined by an E.U. court to have “failed to fulfill its obligations” as a member state by exporting that cheese under the label “feta.”

Essentially, these function as intellectual property protections and constitute a legal form of preventing what we might call ( loaded phrase ) cultural appropriation. Since food traditions are constantly evolving, some scoff at the notion that any culture could claim to own an ingredient or a culinary custom — and that outsiders co-opting and possibly misrepresenting such could be considered theft — yet here is a legal system that supports exactly this. In the case of feta, the impact goes beyond the symbolic: Exports of the cheese, which has been made in Greece for 6,000 years (take that, Denmark) from the milk of sheep grazing on wild mountain flora, were tallied at over $400 million in 2020 and accounted for around one-tenth of the country’s food exports. Which means Danish pseudo-feta isn’t just an annoyance; it could undermine sales of and trust in Greek feta and harm the Greek economy.

Still, the symbolic portent of declaring food a national treasure may be just as powerful. To return to the example of South Korea, as the Korean anthropologist Kwang Ok Kim has chronicled, rice shortages persisted in the shattering wake of the Korean War through the 1950s and ’60s, prompting the government to restrict rice consumption. Starting in 1962, food vendors could only serve rice diluted with other grains and, from 1969 to 1977, restaurants were banned from selling rice (and citizens discouraged from eating it) at lunchtime on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so-called bunsik — literally, “food made from flour” — days. (Today bunsik is a general term for affordable snacks, like battered, deep-fried hot dogs.) Nutritionists under the aegis of the government urged a more Western diet revolving around bread and meat, signaling an embrace of the West as a model for modernity and growth.

This prompted a backlash from intellectuals, who in the 1980s began to champion indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. The West did not know best, they insisted, proclaiming in defiant counterpoint the slogan “Ours Is Good.” Two decades later, with industrialization achieved and the economy aroar, the South Korean government was ready to take back the narrative from the West and assert Korea’s influence in the form of soft power, persuading via cultural infiltration. But was this mere jockeying for position in international trade or the next phase of nation building? Was the audience the world — or its own people?

“OURS IS GOOD,” but what is ours ? How popular does a dish have to be, and for how long, to rise to the stature of national cuisine? (The word “baguette” did not enter French written records until the 1920s.) The American anthropologist Sidney W. Mintz, in “ Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions Into Eating, Culture and the Past ” (1996), resists the category as a “holistic artifice.” To him, “the foods of a country do not, by themselves, compose a cuisine”; if a national cuisine must be systematized, it will necessarily be shaped by the perspective of people “whose knowledge, taste and means transcend locality” — that is, the privileged, who, free of particular regional allegiances, are able to eat widely enough to perceive (and see the advantage of perceiving) a nation’s multiple food traditions as a singular cuisine. Consider tequila in Mexico and foie gras in France, both endowed with long histories but neither forced to bear the freight of cultural identity until industrialization transformed them — tequila in the late 19th century and foie gras more recently, in the 1960s and ’70s — from local, small-batch specialties made at family-run distilleries and farms into mass-produced commodities.

The idea of a national cuisine is superfluous if one doesn’t think of oneself as a member of a nation, with a vested interest in and even an obligation to know and declare solidarity with how our fellows across the land choose to live. Food can be a useful political tool to set a nation on a particular path, as witnessed in Thailand in 1939, when Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram, prime minister in name but effectively the country’s dictator — with the once all-powerful monarchy demoted to constitutional (and largely ornamental) status — imposed on the populace a heretofore unknown, or at least unheralded, national dish: pad Thai, rice noodles wok-fried with fish sauce and tamarind paste gone caramelized, dried shrimp in tight whorls, squiggles of eggs, furnace-worthy chiles, chives and crushed peanuts. This abundance of ingredients was supposedly an attempt to increase domestic spending and bolster growth. The recipe was disseminated and street vendors were deputized to sell it. Now, less than a century into its existence, it is the Thai dish best known outside of Thailand.

According to South Korea’s 2007 Food Industry Promotion Act, “traditional Korean cuisine” is defined as food “produced, processed and cooked according to the Korean traditional recipes using Korean agricultural and fishery products as main raw materials or ingredients.” But which recipes? All of them? As the Polish-born East Asian Studies scholar Katarzyna J. Cwiertka has observed, at one point during the Korean food campaign, three different government-sponsored websites posted divergent lists of essential Korean dishes. And while the criteria of relying on Korean products would seem to disqualify Korean restaurants in countries where such items are not be easily available, even chefs and home cooks in South Korea could go astray by taking shortcuts or introducing innovations. How faithful to tradition must one be?

A nation is an intrinsically unstable construct, ever a work in progress. How is it even to be defined: by territory, history, memory or the crumbs left on the dinner table?

IMPORTANT INTANGIBLE CULTURAL Property No. 38, as defined in the Korean government’s archive of protected heritage, could be a bowl of juk, or porridge, creamy with rice plumped in chicken broth: a mild dish, easy on the palate and the digestive system, eminently practical and almost ostentatious in its humility. Or it could be kong-guksu, noodles curled in soy milk, tranquil and pale. Or tangpyeong chae, slippery strands of mung bean jelly and vegetables in Korea’s five cardinal colors: blue and white for east and west; black and red for north and south; and yellow for the center — a dish that King Yeongjo is said to have presented to squabbling factions in the 18th century as a vision of harmony (and a gentle warning to everyone to figure out how to get along). These foods are all part of the royal cuisine of the Joseon dynasty, a line that endured from 1392 to the death of the last, childless king in 1926, his reign already effectively ended 16 years before when the Korean Peninsula was annexed by Japan.

Royal cuisine was the first food-related item to come under South Korea’s Cultural Property Preservation Act of 1962, taking its place alongside such customs as bongsan talchum, a dance-drama with exaggerated masks and sometimes biting mockery of the ruling elite, and gannil, the art of making a broad-rimmed horsehair hat, a process so complex that it requires three master artisans per piece. The inclusion of food was the result of an almost single-handed effort by the culinary scholar Hwang Hye-seong, who in 1943, as recounted by the Korean anthropologist Okpyo Moon in her 2010 essay “ Dining Elegance and Authenticity ,” sought out the only surviving attendant to have worked in the royal kitchen and wrote down her memories of recipes and rituals that might otherwise have vanished from the Earth. And yet, some skeptics have asked, is Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 38 truly representative of the cuisine served to the Joseon court over the centuries? The attendant whom Hwang consulted was 13 when she entered service at the palace in 1901 and, by the time she worked her way up to the task of assisting in courtly meals — a career arc that typically took more than a decade — the Japanese had already invaded, leaving her witness only to the enervated gestures and final gasps of a toppled kingdom.

The American folklorist and cultural anthropologist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett might wonder if such a question misses the point. Heritage, as she defines it in “ Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums and Heritage ” (1998), is “the transvaluation of the obsolete, the mistaken, the outmoded, the dead and the defunct.” Although heritage draws on the past, it is rooted in the present and is, almost counterintuitively, something new , created in conversation with what is old. “The past continues to speak to us,” the British Jamaican sociologist Stuart Hall writes in his 1989 essay “ Cultural Identity and Diaspora .” “But it no longer addresses us as a simple, factual ‘past.’ … It is always constructed through memory, fantasy, narrative and myth.”

At first, the revival of Korean royal cuisine was largely confined to the academic sphere. In the 1980s, only a few restaurants ventured to serve it, a number of them run by members of Hwang’s family. Then, in 2003, half the country tuned in to the historical TV drama “Jewel in the Palace,” about a 16th-century woman who becomes the king’s chef and personal physician (food, in Korean thinking, is also medicine). The past was remade, and suddenly royal cuisine was all the rage, not only in Korea but throughout Asia. Perhaps emboldened by this success, as well as buoyed by the global Korean food campaign, in 2009 the South Korean government nominated Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 38 for UNESCO’s own heritage list. The glory would belong not just to Koreans but to the world. Indeed, the next year, France would earn a spot for what UNESCO describes on its website as the quintessential French “gastronomic” meal, emphasizing “togetherness, the pleasure of taste and the balance between human beings and the products of nature”; but UNESCO ultimately declined to give the same honor to Korean royal cuisine, on the grounds that more information was needed to understand “how the practice is recreated by its bearers and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity today.”

Cho Eun Hee, a chef at Onjium, a fine-dining restaurant in Seoul with an outpost in Manhattan and part of a research institute focused on traditional Korean culture, studied under Hwang and is one of around only 30 devotees in Korea to be anointed by the government as a protector of royal cuisine. Her approach, however, is that of a scholar, not a guard patrolling the bounds of some exclusive, exclusionary domain. She suggests that the culinary relationship between the king at court and the peasant in the village was less a matter of difference than of degree. Sure, the king would receive the best ingredients, harvested at their peak and brought to the court from all the regions of Korea, where they would be cooked by chefs with decades of training and meticulous attention to detail, shucking the skins off little red beans or carefully carving the bumps off a yuja (more commonly known outside of Korea by its Japanese name, yuzu), packing the peel with julienne jujubes, pine nuts and chestnuts, sealing it in an earthen vessel with a pour of honey, leaving it to ferment for a couple of months, then tossing everything but the peel in order to prepare one of the eight ingredients to be mixed into a festive rice cake. But no foods were off limits to commoners (although they were less likely to eat beef, since they needed cows to till the fields). “Eating royal was not forbidden, just difficult to achieve,” says Seung Hee Lee, a Korean-born epidemiologist in Atlanta who, like Cho, trained in royal cuisine in Seoul and is the co-author, with Kim Sunée, of the cookbook “ Everyday Korean ” (2017). And everyone ate juk: “Back in the day, if you were to be an eligible bride, you had to know how to make hundreds of kinds of porridge.”

For the chef Jiyeon Lee, a former K-pop star who racked up four No. 1 albums, retired young to America and now runs Heirloom BBQ in Atlanta with fellow chef Cody Taylor, court cuisine is defined not by ancient techniques but by an animating spirit of “respect and sincerity.” This past spring, she collaborated on a royal cuisine-themed pop-up dinner with Seung Hee in which the rigor of detail was so great it took the two of them 10 days to prepare a menu of four courses, including juk; tangpyeong chae with pomegranate seeds and squid-ink and turmeric-stained mung bean jelly; and a whole duck leg glazed seven times with gochujang and soy sauce that had been aged for 10 years. “We wouldn’t really serve meat that way if it were truly royal,” Seung Hee says with a laugh. “The king could not be seen eating meat off the bone — too savage.”

Above all, royal cuisine is delicate. Jiyeon finds such restraint lovely: “You can taste the ingredients,” she says. Cho characterizes the flavors as “clean” and “pure,” belying “the stereotype of Korean food as spicy, salty and forward.” Seung Hee more bluntly scoffs at the ignorance of sommeliers in the West who “pigeonhole Asian cuisine as heavily seasoned” and recommend pairings only of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Notably, UNESCO was more receptive to South Korea’s next culinary application, on behalf of the famously, triumphantly pungent kimchi, whose preparation method was, as of 2013, inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Soon after, in one of the absurdities of geopolitics, North Korea petitioned for and was granted recognition of its own kimchi tradition.)

UNESCO WANTED CONTINUITY, but that’s a mirage. Cultural identity “is not once and for all,” as Hall writes. “It is not a fixed origin to which we can make some final and absolute return.” This is the problem with nation branding. It doesn’t much allow for nuance — for bubbly K-pop to emerge from the same context that gave the world pansori (Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 5), epic chants sung so gutturally, so deeply excavated from the throat, that performers in training sometimes spit blood; for Korean food to be brazen and discreet and all the shades in between, from Korean barbecue on a tabletop grill, smoke barreling through the room, descending, possessing, writing itself into the seams of your clothes, to the daintiest cup of barley tea that almost tastes like nothing, until you pay attention.

Nor is there room to acknowledge that food origins are often mythic and murky. Over the millenniums, culinary traditions have crossed borders and changed hands, been adapted and made new. Rice porridge is juk to both the Koreans and the Cantonese, and records of its consumption in China go back more than 2,000 years: Writings compiled by followers of the fourth-century B.C. Confucian philosopher Mengzi (known in the West by his Latinized name, Mencius) mention the eating of porridge as essential to mourning rites, “binding on all, from the sovereign to the mass of the people.” To the Tamils, it was kanji, “boilings,” the liquid left over from cooking rice, made into a drink or gruel (or both at once), as documented in the first century by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder; the 16th-century Sephardic Jewish physician Garcia de Orta, who studied Indian medicine in Goa, rendered the word as “canje,” which eventually evolved into “congee,” the term that now holds sway in the Western world, so much so that even in Hong Kong, Chinese restaurants that specialize in juk are called congee houses.

Such common roots do not prevent latter-day skirmishes over who owns what. Last year, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism requested that the Chinese call kimchi by a new name, xinqi (chosen more for sound than meaning; the syllables, independently, mean “pungent” and “peculiar”), rather than lumping it together with pao cai, Sichuan fermented vegetables. Certainly, the recipes are distinct — subsuming them into one category would be like classifying kimchi as a variation on sauerkraut — but the nomenclature appears to have simply sown confusion and become a proxy for tensions between the countries. Meanwhile, within China, pao cai itself is subject to questions of authenticity: As the British cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop writes in “ The Food of Sichuan ” (2019), some Sichuanese go so far as to mandate that the salt used for the brine be harvested from the wells of the town of Zigong, itself a UNESCO-recognized site of international geological significance.

Nations clamor to have their riches enter the pantheon of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity — what belongs, at least theoretically, to all of us. But the very existence of nations, of ever-shifting borders and the still starkly real threat of invasion and subjugation, be it by military or economic might, belies this utopian ideal. So we look to our defenses. We say, “Ours, not yours.”

Prop styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo. Costume design by Stephanie Kim. Senior group manager, Genesis House: Joseph McHugh. Photo assistant: Alex Lopez. Costume assistant: Sunmi Yim

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Korean Food 101: Essential Recipes to Know and Love

This list of dishes is a good place to start for those looking to cook Korean cuisine at home.

korean cuisine essay

Soup, Stews, and Braises

Special dishes.

The Korean diaspora is vast: 6.5 million of us scattered around the globe, from Uzbekistan to Brazil. Just as we carry a range of food memories from different eras and regions, different communities of diasporic Koreans incorporate local ingredients in different ways , and everyone’s grandmother is going to have her own take on the best everyday kimchi: Which vegetables to use, how spicy or fishy it should be, and how long it should ferment. (There are even—yes—Koreans who don’t like kimchi.)

That being said, there are some dishes that serve as culinary touchstones, ones that most Koreans would recognize as being, well, Korean. Korean families might quibble with the inclusion of a dish here and there, but if you’re looking to become more familiar or reacquainted with Korean cuisine, the list of dishes described below is a good place to begin. Think of it as a starter pack.

Most Korean meals are served communally , with shared dishes in the center of table and (often) individual servings of rice and soup placed in front of each diner. As a result, serving sizes in recipes can vary: A recipe for a batch of radish greens kimchi could yield enough to last you a month, a banchan recipe might produce enough for three or four meals, but a pot of rice or porridge might only suffice for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. Further, heartier banchan can be served in smaller portions, and the amount served can be adjusted depending on the number of people dining.

Most of these dishes can be made with ingredients from a well-stocked grocery store. Emily Kim (better known as the YouTube sensation Maangchi ) told me that most basic Korean dishes can be made with the ingredients you’d find at any chain grocery store in the US. If you're building a Korean pantry from scratch , start out with some basics, depending on what you want to make—soy sauce, doenjang, and sesame oil, for example, if you want to make some basic vegetable banchan—and progress from there.

Deciding how to organize this list was difficult: Some dishes cross categories (for example, juk is a rice porridge, and typically takes the place of both rice and soup on the Korean table). And there isn’t really a concept of a "main dish" in Korean cuisine, which several of the cooks I interviewed pointed out. But, hopefully, grouping dishes under broad categories will give you a sense of how to get started.

The question, “Have you eaten?” is a common greeting in Korea—and the word for “meal” is interchangeable with the word for cooked rice, or “bap.” For generations, a meal without rice was inconceivable. “Rice is the very foundation of the Korean table. We eat everything with rice,” says Hyosun Ro, the recipe developer behind the popular blog Korean Bapsang . “It doesn’t matter how delicious everything else is, if you don’t have rice, you’re missing something.”

That being said, Koreans eat smaller portions of rice than they used to, and often mix rice with beans, roots, and other kinds of grains, like millet and barley.

Juk (pronounced “jook”) is Korean rice porridge. It’s often served to the young and infirm, but it’s also enjoyed by anyone looking for a warm and comforting meal. Beombeok is a heartier, more rustic version of juk that incorporates other starches like flour, buckwheat, potato or pumpkin. Sweeter porridges, like some red bean and pumpkin porridges, tend to be eaten more as snacks than as complete meals.

Get the recipe for Dak Juk (Chicken and Rice Porridge) »

Of course, rice is also the star of one of Korea’s most famous culinary exports, bibimbap: a one-bowl meal of carefully cut and seasoned vegetables, sometimes meat, and sometimes egg set on top of a bed of rice. While I like a crackling-hot dolsot (stone bowl) bibimbap, with the crisp, golden bed of rice that forms along the bottom, summertime has me longing for a simple metal bowl of barley bibimbap topped with young radish greens kimchi.

Most traditional Korean meals that include rice will also include some kind of soup or stew, and, when it’s served individually, soup is always placed to the right of the rice bowl. Though you’ll find plenty of crossovers, you can roughly divide this brothy category into soups (guk), thicker stews (jjigae) , and hot pot (jeongol). You may have also heard the word “tang”—this is the Sino-Korean linguistic counterpart to the native Korean word “guk.” Sometimes the two words are used interchangeably and sometimes guk is regarded as a separate category of soups, which tend to be slightly heartier (though not as full as a jjigae) and are often seasoned at the table.

A good soup to know is miyeok-guk, a soup brimming with tender pieces of seaweed (miyeok is often translated to “wakame” in English) in a clear seafood- or beef-based broth, fortified with aromatics like onion, and garlic, scattered with bits of tender but toothsome beef. Seafood-based versions might include briny mussels or clams, but can just as often be served with seaweed alone. Since miyeok is rich in calcium and iodine, it’s given to new mothers; it’s also become a soup you eat on your birthday, as a reminder of just what your mother went through.

Get the recipe for Miyeok-Guk (Seaweed and Brisket Soup) »

Cold soups are also part of the Korean soup repertoire, one of the more popular being oi naeng-guk, an extraordinarily simple dish of slivered cucumber in an icy soy sauce brine—it’s cold, crisp, and perfect for hot days, particularly since the addition of brown rice vinegar offers a bracing backdrop of acidity.

Get the recipe for Oi Naengguk (Icy-Cold Cucumber Soup) »

The jjigae is a classic Korean stew, with more filling than broth. The most basic, must-know jjigae is doenjang jjigae, a recipe with as many variations as there are home cooks. Think of it as your do-it-all stew: almost anything can be added to it, depending on what you have available and what you feel like eating, since the dried anchovy and dasima broth, seasoned with doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), makes almost anything taste wonderful, whether we’re talking about root vegetables or plump littleneck clams. Other kinds of jjigae include kimchi jjigae, sundubu (soft tofu) jjigae, and budae (army base) jjigae, a Spam- and sausage-laden stew that was created after the Korean War using surplus ingredients from US military bases in South Korea.

Get the recipe for Doenjang Jjigae (Fermented-Bean-Paste Stew) »

Banchan are pretty well-known in the food world by now, but they sometimes get mistranslated as “appetizers.”

“That’s not the intent; that’s not what it is,” says Ro. “You eat [banchan] with your rice.” A well-set Korean table will have a set of banchan that includes a variety of ingredients for both nutritional and aesthetic reasons. “On a daily basis, I think more about balancing,” Ro explains, noting that if she already has some spicy banchan, she’ll try to have some mild ones as well. And if all she has are vegetables, she might add an egg dish. “Going back to the traditional table, [you need] textural balance, and color balance. I wouldn’t do dishes that are all yellow.”

When it comes to banchan, the most important kind to know is “namul,” which typically refers to vegetables and often specifically to wild greens. “Historically, namul was a life-sustaining source,” says Seoyoung Jung, a chef and co-founder of the Korean food blog Bburi Kitchen and frequent Serious Eats contributor . “In the olden days, there wasn’t as much to eat, so people foraged for wild greens,” she explains. Because of this, Jung says, namul are fundamental to what Koreans eat.

One of her favorite namul banchan is sigeumchi-namul, or blanched and seasoned spinach. While sigeumchi-namul can be seasoned with an array of ingredients, like plum syrup for mellow sweetness, vinegar for brightness, doenjang or soy sauce for fermented, savory funk, and toasted sesame seeds for added texture and nutty, roasted flavor, it’s common to prepare many namul banchan by simply blanching a green vegetable and dressing it with some common seasonings, like minced garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

Get the recipe for Sigeumchi Namul (Marinated Spinach) »

Another important word to know when talking about banchan is “muchim,” which comes from a verb that roughly translates to “mix and season.” You can have all kinds of muchim as banchan, from cucumbers tossed with a deceptively simple dressing made with fruity gochugaru (chile flakes), sugar, soy sauce, mildly tart rice vinegar, and earthy toasted sesame seeds and oil, to dried squid dressed in a garlicky gochujang mixture.

Get the recipe for Oi Muchim (Marinated Cucumber) »

Likewise, “bokkeum” means to sauté, and you’ll find bokkeum banchan made from everything from anchovies coated in a sweet-spicy caramelized sugar glaze spiked with gochugaru, fish sauce, and soy sauce to eggplant sautéed and seasoned simply with garlic, soy sauce, and scallions.

Get the recipe for Gamja Bokkeum (Sweet Soy-Glazed Potatoes) »

Get the recipe for Myeolchi Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Anchovy) »

If there’s one food that has come to represent Korean culinary prowess in the eyes of the rest of the world, it’s kimchi . Although it’s known to be a flavor powerhouse and probiotic wonder, its origins are humble, a staple food that was born out of necessity: salt, capsaicin, and lactic acid fermentation were used as preservatives to keep vegetables edible for long periods of time. At the tail end of every autumn, Korean families would traditionally embark on a multi-day, massive kimchi-making endeavor known as gimjang, preparing dozens or even hundreds of heads of cabbage to last all winter and beyond.

But kimchi’s appeal goes far beyond practicality: It’s a staple of the Korean table. “If I run out of kimchi, I feel uncomfortable,” says Maangchi. “It’s kind of a reliable friend for me.” Kimchi can be made out of pretty much any vegetable, and you’ll see an incredible variety at banchan stores, and the selection will change with the seasons.

Kimchi types are determined not just by the the vegetables used; some have more brine, others less, and not all kimchi is spicy, either. “Korean hot pepper flakes only arrived in the 16th century,” Maangchi explains. “And Korean hot peppers are sweet, juicy, and less spicy than people think.”

While making gimjang kimchi at home can be quite an undertaking, seasonal kimchi can be made in smaller batches with a starchy base to speed up fermentation. Yeolmu kimchi, a young radish greens kimchi, is a quick summer ferment with both crunch and a kick, the bitterness of the greens complemented by the fruity spiciness of the gochugaru and the tang from lactic acid.

Get the recipe for Yeolmu Kimchi (Quick-Fermented Young Radish Greens) »

And it’s important to note that there’s no such thing as leftover kimchi: “You can make tons of other side dishes with kimchi,” Maangchi says. “With some well-fermented kimchi, I just chop it up, mix with a little flour and water—kimchi jeon!” Or, if you need a quick meal, “stir-fry some kimchi with rice and egg.” And as a topping for noodle soup, she says, it’s perfect.

This is an ambiguous category that I came up with to describe these dishes, since “main dish” wasn’t quite the right word for them, and yet, they involve a bit more work and take more of the spotlight on the table than banchan. And since they involve meat, these are dishes that were often reserved for guests or holidays. “Koreans didn’t eat much meat until more modern times,” says Jung. “Cows were needed to work the fields, so eating beef was a luxury.” As such, she explains, our recipes for bulgogi and galbi-jjim (braised short ribs) come to us from the records of Korean royal cuisine.

Bossam, a centerpiece dish that features thinly-sliced pieces of pork belly simmered until tender in a poaching liquid seasoned with, among other things, doenjang, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and soju, is a popular meal to share with friends and family, and it’s traditional to end the hard work of gimjang with a feast of bossam and fresh kimchi, or geotjeori. While geotjeori lacks the lactic acid tang produced by long fermentation, it has the refreshing taste and crisp texture of just-salted and drained cabbage.

Get the recipe for Bossam (Boiled-Pork Wraps) »

Jeyuk bokkeum, another example, is a chili-slathered pork stir fry that’s delicious when eaten with rice and banchan, or wrapped up as ssam (lettuce wraps); the tender-crisp lettuce provides a nice contrast to the meaty and savory richness of the pork.

Get the recipe for Jeyuk Bokkeum (Spicy Stir-Fried Pork) »

Another popular dish intended to feed (and impress) a crowd is japchae, which consists of finely cut vegetables, stir-fried slivers of meat and wood’s ear mushrooms, and glass noodles, all of it tossed with sweetened ganjang, or soy sauce. Although it, too, originally came from Korean royal cuisine, it’s commonly made at home today.

Get the recipe for Japchae (Glass Noodles With Pork and Vegetables) »

One of the most popular ways to cook chicken in the summertime is samgyetang, a one-bowl dish of young chicken stuffed with aromatic ginseng, sweet jujubes, earthy chestnuts, and sticky rice, boiled in an herbal broth. It’s said to have revitalizing properties that are especially important on the boknal, or the hottest days of summer.

Get the recipe for Samgyetang (Rice-Stuffed Chicken Soup) »

Jeon is often translated as “pan-fried delicacies.” Back in the days when oil and flour were precious commodities, filling the table with stacks of battered and fried vegetables, meats, fish, and mushrooms was something that was reserved for formal occasions, like ancestral rites and the major holidays. Today, we have an abundance of these ingredients, and jeon has made its way into the vocabulary of everyday eating and even street food.

One of the most basic kinds of jeon is pajeon, a savory green onion pancake. I love pajeon that’s packed with greens and light on the batter—and if it’s crisp around the edges, even better. It’s popular to have this on rainy days with makgeolli, a tart rice beer, because the sizzling of the pancakes is said to resemble the patter of raindrops.

Get the recipe for Crispy Kimchi Pancakes With Shrimp »

Rice isn’t always the basis of every meal: Sometimes noodles take center stage. You’ll find both hot and cold noodles made of wheat, buckwheat, sweet potato, and more. Noodle dishes tend to be large, one-bowl meals with kimchi and maybe a few other banchan served on the side. Kalguksu is a popular hot noodle dish, made of dense, chewy wheat noodles cut into long strips (the name means “knife noodles”) in a seafood (or sometimes chicken) broth base. The wheat noodles release some of their starch as they sit in the broth, thickening it up and giving it a comforting, silky heartiness.

Get the recipe for Myeolchi Kal Guksu (Anchovy Knife-Cut Noodle Soup) »

When it comes to cold noodles, naengmyeon is king: There are restaurants dedicated to the craft of naengmyeon, a noodle dish that originated in what is now North Korea. Mul-naengmyeon is a bowl of thin buckwheat noodles set into an icy meat and water kimchi broth, sometimes topped with thin, tender slices of boiled meat, slivers of crisp cucumber, radish, and pear, and maybe half a boiled egg. You often season to taste with the vinegar and hot mustard provided at the table. Bibim-naengmyeon is the same set of noodles, but instead of a broth, you mix it in with the chili-based sauce, typically made from gochujang, garlic, soy sauce, nutty sesame seeds or their oil, and something sweet like sugar, for a dish that’s both fiery and refreshing.

In today’s Korea, you’ll find restaurants that distinguish between Pyongyang naengmyeon, which has more buckwheat in the noodles and milder broth, and Hamhung (a northern city) naengmyeon, which tends to have starchier, chewier noodles.

Get the recipe for Mul Naengmyun (Cold Noodle Soup With Asian Pear and Cucumber) »

There’s a whole universe of Korean snacks and street food that falls under the umbrella of bunsik (that’s pronounced boon-shik.) Walk out of any school’s front gates in Korea, and you’ll find a bunsik restaurant in a hot minute. “Bunsik” means “food made with wheat flour” and originally referred to a government campaign to encourage the consumption of American wheat (sent as food aid after the Korean War). But today, it refers to a category of cheap and tasty snacks that include blood sausage, fish cakes, ramyeon, and more.

One snack food deserves special clarification: Gimbap, Korean seaweed rolls, may look like sushi, but they’re not. Don’t call them “Korean sushi”! Gimbap is structurally similar to sushi, with rice seasoned with sesame oil and salt spread on flat sheets of seaweed rolled around fillings in the center, but it usually contains vegetables and proteins like ham, egg, or imitation crab. It’s quintessential picnic food.

Get the recipe for Gimbap (Seaweed Rice Rolls) »

Tteokbokki is one such popular snack food with surprisingly elevated origins: Tteokbokki was first cooked in royal cuisine with a soy sauce based sauce. After the Korean War, an enterprising grandmother named Ma Bok-rim realized that rice cakes drenched in chile sauce would be just as delicious—and she launched an empire in the process. Today, the Singdang-dong neighborhood in Seoul has a street called Tteokbokki Alley that’s filled with tteokbokki purveyors. Today’s tteokbokki is made of bite-sized pillows of tender, chewy rice cakes bathed in a brick-red gochujang sauce that’s almost sweeter than it is spicy. Sometimes you get bonus bites of salty fish cake or boiled eggs, and you can level up to ra-bokki (ramyeon + tteokbokki) if you’re feeling extra ravenous.

Get the recipe for Tteokbokki (Rice Cakes in Spicy Sauce) »

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Korean Food Culture

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Published: Mar 14, 2019

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korean cuisine essay

Food in Korean Culture: Describing Korean Cuisine

In Korea, food remains a unique attribute of the people’s culture. Korean citizens believe that food has medicinal properties that improve a person’s emotional, psychological, and mental well-being. Korean traditional food includes fermented cabbage, commonly known as kimchi, and soybean paste or doenjang. Korean chili, widely called chili paste, forms an important part of people’s diet. A wide range of vegetables, chili sauces, meat, and sea-foods are evident in Korean cuisine. Most people in this culture do not consume dairy products (Jeon 268). This analysis indicates that traditional Korean soup delivers unique health benefits. Meals are prepared and named as side dishes accompanying kimchi since it is the country’s staple food. At the same time, Korean households might waste a significant amount of food (Islam 410). A detailed examination of food in this culture becomes the best starting point for learning more about the people’s values.

Cultural Aspects Learned

From this exercise, I have learned several aspects about the Korean people and their culture. First, the study has revealed that Koreans identify food as the primary source of favorable health outcomes. The cuisine helps them improve their mental, physical, and psychological abilities, thereby contributing to numerous benefits. Second, food helps most people to practice and share their experiences, values, and traditions (Jeon 270). They usually come together to celebrate and show unity by promoting their cuisine. Such practices have allowed Koreans to develop a unique culture that guides and encourages them to continue pursuing their health and traditional goals.

Third, Koreans add different spices and components to season their foods. Some of the identified ones include garlic, tofu, and plant-based ingredients. This practice makes Korean cuisine healthy and capable of delivering numerous bodily benefits. Five, rice forms the staple source of food in the country’s diet (Jeon 272). The most exciting aspect of this analysis is that the people of Korea have a cuisine that differs from my culture. Specifically, grains, animal products, and potatoes are part of our diet. At the same time, we do not have kimchi or doenjang as these products are not part of our culture. I think it can result from the differences in mentalities and how countries evolved. Moreover, we do not consume much rice and tofu, while for Koreans, these are the major products in their diets. In such a way, Korean food differs from ours because of their culture and peculiarities of historical development. Traditional dishes of my culture are made of other products, and I believe they can be less healthy than Korean ones.

Personal Reflection

From a personal perspective, I strongly believe that Korean cuisine presents an opportunity to learn more about the aspects associated with Asian food culture. The completed exercise has been informative because it has widened my understanding of Koreans. As their cuisine appears to deliver numerous health benefits, I can borrow such a practice to reduce my consumption of junk food (Saxena et al. 271). This observation explains why I am ready to start focusing on foods that have medicinal or healing properties. More people could embrace such a practice since it will guide them to develop healthy bodies. They will be empowered to manage a wide range of conditions, such as obesity and stroke.

I believe that members of different communities can borrow numerous insights from the Koreans and the manner in which they relate to food. From the analysis, I have observed that various ceremonies and festivals are essential to the people of Korea. Consequently, citizens can embrace these initiatives if they want to realize their cultural goals. Based on the acquired ideas, people should begin to plan their diets in accordance with their cultural attributes. In conclusion, the studied notions revolving around cuisine can guide more individuals across the globe to take the issue of food seriously if they are to lead healthy lives.

Works Cited

Islam, Maidul. “Are Students Really Cautious about Food Waste? Korean Students’ Perception and Understanding of Food Waste.” Foods, vol. 9, no. 4, 2020, pp. 410-419.

Jeon, Do Hyun. “A Study on the Relationship between the Korean Wave, Preference and Recognition of Korean Cuisine among Chinese.” Journal of the Korean Society of Food Culture, vol. 34, no. 3, 2019, pp. 268-276.

Saxena, Priyanka, et al. “Food Security, Fruit and Vegetable Intake, and Chronic Conditions among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education Participants Attending Free Food and Produce Events.” Obesities, vol. 2, no. 3, 2022, pp. 264-275.

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StudyCorgi. (2023, August 15). Food in Korean Culture: Describing Korean Cuisine. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/food-in-korean-culture-describing-korean-cuisine/

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korean cuisine essay

South Korean and Japanese Cuisines and Identity Essay

Korean identity, contemporary japan, globalizing world.


There is a famous quote saying that you are what you eat. Of course, it should not be understood literary, as our food cravings do not predicate our biological nature. The line rather describes the combination of values one is likely to carry, which can be evaluated according to their food preferences. Most countries have their distinct cuisine that was forming during many centuries. Food is not only the source of human nutrition processes, but it is also one of the brightest cultural examples. In such a way, one can predict certain traits or values of other people based on their food choices.

East Asia is one of the world’s regions that has a very distinct cuisine. People from this area associate themselves with their nationality, which includes food preferences. Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian restaurants are spread worldwide, and their kitchen cannot be confused with that of others. This paper reviews examples of South Korean and Japanese food that served as markers of national identity in the past. Yet, they are losing this determining role due to political shifts and the process of globalization.

Modern Korean land is divided into two halves, representing a separate country with an opposite economic structure. However, the food culture remains similar due to Korea’s long history as a single state, which experienced its internal cultural development and foreign influence. Nowadays, most research on this country is done regarding South Korea since its northern neighbor is not open to the world.

Colonial Past

In the past, Korea used to be one of the Japanese colonies. Although the two cultures had similar culinary products, many of them had differences in ingredients and making. For instance, soy sauce is a product that is currently viewed as traditional in East Asia, yet not many people are aware that the modern recipe is Japanese. Korean households used to brew their soy sauce, which was later replaced by the Japanese version 1 . This happened because Korean culture was not viewed as superior, and local citizens attempted to look better in the eyes of their rulers. Food as a part of this culture also had to correspond with Japanese civilization’s high standards. This is a bright example of associating food with identity, as Koreans wished to become closer to the superior nation by changing their food habits. Nowadays, another trend adds to the local soy sauce phenomena, as it is produced industrially instead of homemade. Koreans identify themselves as busy people who have no time to cook difficult recipes, which is the same for the rest of the modern world.

Modern Aspirations

As the country became independent and economically strong, Koreans received a need to promote their national pride. It is now normal to be proud of Korean culture and food in particular. Thus, the recent case of the first Korean astronaut created a precedent for developing a special recipe of kimchi, a national food, that could be taken to space 2 . Journalists compared this event with the tradition when mothers gave kimchi to their sons who left home. This is an example of how modern Koreans identify themselves through their national food, saying that they are more than proud to be a part of this culture, which has to be taken to outer space to sign their identity.

Unlike Korea, Japan did not experience the same foreign influence, except for the times in the XX century, when it had to assimilate to become an equal partner in the world’s economy and trade. Nowadays, Japanese culture is regarded as one of the most famous, yet still difficult for a foreigner’s understanding. For instance, the Japanese see raw food as the one ready for consumption, which has much to do with their perception of nature and its resources 3 . The philosophy of harmony with nature and oneself is one of the key principles of Japanese culture, which is achieved to keep past values.

Nowadays, boundaries between countries dissolve due to the economic processes, making different cultures blend. Japanese and Korean food are widely represented in the West, giving people from other cultures an opportunity to admire it from childhood. This trend makes the saying about food being a part of the identity to lose its positions. Although I acknowledge that this was the case in the past, modern reality demonstrates that Koreans can consume a lot of American food, and vice versa.

While food remained one of the national identity elements in the past, it was subject to changes for political or economic reasons. Nowadays, independent countries find pride in their food as a traditional element. However, the process of globalization threatens to exclude national cuisine as an identity feature.

Bestor, Theodore C. “Cuisine and Identity in Contemporary Japan.” In Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society , edited by Victoria Lyon Bestor, Theodore C. Bestor, and Akiko Yamagata, 273-285. Oxon: Routledge, 2011.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna J. “The Soy Sauce Industry in Korea: Scrutinizing the Legacy of Japanese Colonialism.” Asian Studies Review 30 (2006): 389-410.

Sang-Hun, Choe. “Kimchi Goes to Space, Along with First Korean Astronaut.” The New York Times , February 22, 2008.

  • Katarzyna J. Cwiertka “The Soy Sauce Industry in Korea: Scrutinizing the Legacy of Japanese Colonialism.” Asian Studies Review 30 (2006): 390.
  • Choe Sang-Hun, “Kimchi Goes to Space, Along with First Korean Astronaut.” The New York Times , February 22, 2008, para 2.
  • Theodore C. Bestor, “Cuisine and Identity in Contemporary Japan.” In Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society , ed. Victoria Lyon Bestor, Theodore C. Bestor, and Akiko Yamagata (Oxon: Routledge, 2011), 275.
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IvyPanda. (2024, February 2). South Korean and Japanese Cuisines and Identity. https://ivypanda.com/essays/south-korean-and-japanese-cuisines-and-identity/

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1. IvyPanda . "South Korean and Japanese Cuisines and Identity." February 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/south-korean-and-japanese-cuisines-and-identity/.

IvyPanda . "South Korean and Japanese Cuisines and Identity." February 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/south-korean-and-japanese-cuisines-and-identity/.

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The mystery of Krasnodar tea

Krasnodar's are the oldest tea plants in Russia, and the older the plant, the better the tea it produces. Source: Mikhail Mordasov / RIA Novosti

Krasnodar's are the oldest tea plants in Russia, and the older the plant, the better the tea it produces. Source: Mikhail Mordasov / RIA Novosti

Guests to the Sochi Games are probably aware of the region’s unique cuisine, given its long history as a port and its proximity to Georgia. But less well known is the area’s unique Krasnodar tea blend. This 150-year-old tea possesses strong healing properties, and its exquisite aroma resembles that of China's elite Lansing teas.

In the 18th century, the Russian and British empires together held a monopoly on the global tea trade. At the time, there were two ways to get to China, the homeland of tea. The sea trade routes passed through British-controlled Nanking, while the overland route, through Kyakhta, led to Russia. Russian tea merchants did not fear competition from the British.

They considered the tea that arrived in Russia far superior to that the British consumed because of the form of transportation. The heat and humidity of the southern seas, which tea clippers would take weeks to cross, ruined the delicate tea leaves.

No ceremony at the tea party

By contrast, overland transportation only improved tea's qualities. True connoisseurs would pay a higher price for products offered by the Russian importers.

When the British started cultivating tea in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the Russians, too, decided to expand their production base. The first attempts to acclimatize tea plants in what was then the southern outskirt of the Russian Empire, in Georgia and Azerbaijan, were made in the 19th century.

The experiment proved a success: the Russian tea plantations yielded their first crops in the early 20th century, although the quality of the local tea blends left much to be desired. The local soils were too inferior to hope for anything better. The only advantage of the Georgian and Azeri teas was their relative cheapness.

Then Judas Koshman entered the scene. A mysterious figure whose early life remains largely unknown, Koshman is believed to have come from a small Jewish settlement in Ukraine to earn his keep working tea plantations in Georgia. 
In the early 20th century, when he was already 60 years old, Koshman found himself in the tiny mountainous settlement of Solokhaul near Sochi.

korean cuisine essay

Judas Koshman (center) with his family. Source: Historical museum of Sochi

He used the money saved from working on a tea plantation in Georgia to buy a small plot of land. Koshman and his family started acclimatizing tea plants brought from Georgia. Koshman’s neighbors questioned his endeavor.

In the 1870s, agriculturists had shown that the North Caucasus was too cold for growing tea.

Read more! The sweetest Russian dessert from Kolomna

However, it took the tea plants introduced from Georgia just four years to take root to such an extent that they no longer needed to be wrapped for the winter, even though temperatures in Solokhaul may drop to 10 degrees Farenheit in January.

Ten years later, in 1913, the Koshmans celebrated their first yield of tea. What later became known as the Krasnodar tea blend (after the name of the region – Krasnodar Territory) has the sweetness, beautiful dark-amber tint and flowery aroma of the best Chinese Lansing teas.

The harsh North Caucasus climate may affect the size of the crop, but it is thanks to the climate that the local tea contains more healthful substances than the Chinese equivalents.

Recognition did not come easily to Koshman. In his modest house, which has been turned into a museum, there is a vast collection of non-committal replies from the Russian Academy of Sciences: St. Petersburg scholars dismissed Koshman's reports on the Krasnodar tea blend as hoaxes, while the Georgian tea lobby set the police on their potential rival.

korean cuisine essay

Krasnodar tea: A brand with a century history. The photo was taken in 1991. Souce: Vladimir Perventsev / RIA Novosti

Koshman's wife had to bail him out of prison at one point. It was not until the Soviet era, when Koshman was already over 70, that he received a gold medal at an agricultural exhibition.

The hand-picked Koshman House tea is a truly exclusive product. Koshman's are the oldest tea plants in Russia, and the older the plant, the better the tea it produces. Koshman's teas eventually spread across the mountainous area of greater Sochi in the 20th century.

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Krasnodar teas were on sale in the Soviet era, but they did not enjoy any particular popularity because the tea leaves were picked mechanically, robbing the tea of its unique properties.

Even during Perestroika , when the once-gigantic Koshman plantation fell into decay, the Krasnodar tea blend retained its reputation as a unique hand-picked product, and continued to be manufactured in small batches.

It remained the northernmost tea in the world until 2012, when the U.K. gathered its first locally grown crops.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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Korean Cuisine

It is difficult to find more specific cuisine than Korean, which is incompatible with foreign culinary traditions. The most important feature of Korean cuisine is a fantastic sharpness of the dishes. Koreans love to spicy food is quite explainable. The main Korean dish is steamed rice which is very nutritious but insipid. As a result the inventive Koreans created a “dietary supplements” in the basis of which lied the red pepper. Moreover the climatic conditions were not conducive for the long storage. That’s why it was a necessity to “preserve” food of using a grea amount of spices. Now the food with no pepper seems to Koreans inedible. Koreans used to eat very spicy dishes since childhood. Even the sharpest of their dishes they give their children at the age of three. However, while they do not reach the age of five or six years, the mother usually rinsed pieces of food in the water.

Korean cuisine is also known in the world not only because of using the dog’s meat and fern leaves but for its delicious marinates and sharp carrots. Korean has much in common with the Japanese and Chinese cuisine because to frequent cultural and historical exchanges. Koreans as Chinese or Japanese also used pork, eggs, rice, soy, vegetables and fish. But Korea has developed its own unique cuisines. They use a lot of spice for cooking. Soup has an important role in the Koreans diet, any meal can’t be without it. “bulgogi” – the sliced beef fried in brazier is favorite Koreans food. The basis of Koreans food like in many other easten and southeasten Asian peoples form the meal of vegetable origin especially rice. On the basis of rice they cook steamed porridge “bibimbap” which prepared on every Korean dinner.

Another key elements of traditional Korean cuisine are fish and seafood. The rich flora and fauna of Korean peninsula rivers give people equally rich food.

Korean foods are very special, exotic, and particular. Once tried traditional Korean dishes one can discover the new unique flavor of Korea. Korean cuisine is sure to impress even the most avid gourmands!

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korean cuisine essay


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