I love most Korean food and I’ve written a few articles about Korean food over the years – with the most recent telling you about my fav Korean drinks, ten Korean food I think you should try, and seven unusual Korean food. This is one area I wish I had written more on while I was still living in Korea as it’s always a topic I get questioned about by anyone new I meet. Both Koreans and non-Koreans are curious about Korean food, albeit from a different perspective. My new Korean friends usually ask what is my favourite Korean food – dwenjangjiggae (된장 찌개) – which tends to surprise them, or if kimchi is too spicy – no, I love kimchi. Non-Korean friends tend to want recommendations or to know more about Korean food. So hopefully this post can be useful to both groups. ^^
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Korean food. Banchan (반찬) is a collective term for the side dishes that are served along with almost all meals in Korean restaurants and in Korean homes. It can refer to one side dish or twenty – and yes, I did have a meal once with twenty banchan. If I was to hazard a guess, there are generally 4-6 banchan with kimchi (김치) being one of them. Banchan are shared – as is a lot of Korean food – and are generally placed in the middle of the table. They are meant to compliment the main meal and as such, you will get different banchan in different restaurants and with different meals. The best part – other than most are delicious – is that they come at no extra cost and can generally be replenished if you finish them. I almost always have to get my kimchi replenished!
Cindy’s Ten Favourite Banchan
1. Kimchi (김치)
There are so many kinds of kimchi but I will include them as one single banchan. I will admit that even though I love spicy food – you should try my homemade salsa, it’s got a bite! – it took me a week or two to fall in love with kimchi. But once I did, there was no going back. I always have some in my fridge now and am looking for someone to teach me how to make my own. My fav kimchi is traditional cabbage kimchi and cucumber kimchi (오이 소박이), although ggakdugi (깍두기) is good too.
2. Gyeran Jjim (계란찜)
Next to kimchi, this is my absolute favourite banchan! Gyeran jjim is steamed egg – such a simple dish but oh, so yummy! The egg(s) are beaten along with some water or broth and then steamed in a small stone or earthen pot and topped with green onion and sometimes ground red pepper. It’s brought out while it’s still bubbling hot so be careful with the first bite or when touching the pot. And yeah, I’ve burnt my mouth on it before. It’s generally served with meat (i.e. at a Korean BBQ restaurant) in my experience.
3. Pajeon (파전)
These are delicious Korean pancakes and in their basic form have spring onions inside. Now my family is probably dying of shock reading this because I hate onions in any form but for some reason, I love pajeon. My favourite version is haemul pajeon (해물파전) or in English seafood pancakes. I never would have dreamed that squid in pancakes would be so yummy but it is!
4. Japchae (잡채)
While japchae can be ordered as a meal, it can also be served as banchan. Japchae is glass noodles (made of sweet potatoes I believe) cooked with vegetables and beef in a slightly-sweet garlic sauce. Delicious! I love it as a meal or as banchan.
5. Sigeumchi namul (시금치나물)
There are lots of different namul banchan but this one is my favourite. It’s lightly blanched spinach flavoured with spring onions, garlic and sesame seeds. There’s another similar version that uses seaweed but I like the spinach version better.
6. Jang jorim (장조림)
I first tried this banchan when I went to a juk (죽) restaurant and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it in many other places – only juk (Korean rice porridge) restaurants. It’s beef simmered in a slightly sweet soy sauce. Oh so yummy! And perfect with juk!
7. Musaengchae (무생채)
This is a lightly spiced & thinly sliced white radish in a sweet vinegar sauce. If you aren’t very good with spicy food than this is a nice banchan to get your feet wet on as it’s not too spicy.
8. Kongnamul (콩나물)
Soybean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil, spring onions, garlic and sesame seeds. This is not only a common banchan but also one of the ingredients in bibimbap (비빔밥, mixed rice & veggies). It’s a nice balance to some of the spicier banchan and main dishes.
9. Chikin mu (치킨 무)
It’s a cubed Korean pickled radish, that is one of the best things in the world when paired with Korean spicy fried chicken and beer. Okay, it’s good on its own but with spicy fried chicken and beer, it’s divine! There is another pickled radish that’s thinly sliced that’s also yummy and pairs well with Korean BBQ and just about any form of ssam (쌈), when leaf vegetables like lettuce are used to wrap a piece of meat.
10. Gamja jorim (감자 조림)
This potato banchan is simmered in a slightly sweet soy sauce and is super yummy. Luckily, it’s also a common banchan so I often get to eat it.
So now that you know which banchan I love, what is your favourite banchan?