|Signature dishes||Marinated barbecue beef (galbi, bulgogi), mixed vegetables rice bowl (bibimbap), chicken ginseng soup (samgae tang) and spicy, fermented cabbage and radish (kimchi)|
|Wine culture||A rapidly growing wine culture with an increasing number of wine-related bars, shops and schools throughout the city|
|Wine duty||Approximately 80%|
Korean food’s regional differences can be traced back to the Joseon dynasty when the peninsula was divided into eight provinces. Over hundreds of years, these separate administrative districts formed their own unique cuisines based on the geographical location and topography of the region. In the northern provinces of what is now North Korea, the food is not as spicy nor as salty as in the south. The northern part of the peninsula is more mountainous with less access to meat and fish, thus common foods are dried fish, mountain vegetables and herbs. The south, with its milder climate and less mountainous terrain, has a greater variety of fresh seafood with more spices in the diet than the north.
What unites Korean cuisine, despite regional variations, is the key flavouring ingredients (yangnyim) and the numerous preservation techniques applied to everything from vegetables to seafood to meats. Basic seasonings are sea salt, soy sauce, soybean paste (denjang), chilli paste (gochujang) and rice vinegar. While the basic and accenting ingredients may appear somewhat limited and simple, the variations are enormous. For example, there are over 20 commercial types of soybean paste options – some offer milder, subtle flavours while others are powerful and pungent.
Korea is where food accurately reflects the character of its people. Within the confines of hierarchical social structures, Koreans are a passionate lot and can be audacious, persuasive and compelling. Their food is not dissimilar – it is spicy, potent, lingering, bold and incredibly addictive.
The dining table in Korea differs from its neighbours in the diversity, number and generosity of small side dishes (banchan) that always include at least one type of kimchi to accompany a meal, like a loaf of bread would go with most French meals. In most Korean restaurants, these dishes are free and replenished throughout the meal. Sometimes, a special soup, hot pot or noodle dish can be the main focus but often, a typical meal consists of many small dishes and rice. Another aspect that distinguishes the Korean dining table is the use of bowls, chopsticks and flat spoons, all made of metal, as standard cutlery.
Image credit: DavidMbyrne