A typical Korean homestyle table setting

By Maangchi

What do Koreans eat everyday? What do their breakfast, lunch, and dinner table settings look like? You may have these kinds of questions now, because you’ve been cooking Korean food for a while and you can make delicious kimchi on a regular basis, so you want to know how this all fits together. My upcoming cookbook has a whole chapter devoted to this topic, and I want to share some of that info with you today.

Eating in a Korean restaurant

For many people, their first experience with Korean food is in a Korean restaurant. Usually it goes like this: they sit down and order, and soon some side dishes come out.

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They think: “Oh, I didn’t order these, what am I supposed to do?” or “Oh, these free appetizers are awesome!” and start eating while waiting for their main dish.

Then a few minutes later the dish they ordered comes out: “hotpot” or stew, or Korean BBQ. It’s super delicious and they are eating heartily. “This tastes so good!”

Sometimes soup or stew will come with the main dish (“Wow, free soup!”), and then at the end a bowl of rice. “Rice for dessert? I’m too full!”  Then some restaurants may serve fresh fruit, sweet porridge, cold rice punch or a cinnamon-ginger infused punch.

The next time you go to a Korean restaurant, you expect the dishes to be served this way, all over again.

It’s a lot of fun, and delicious, but it’s different from how Koreans typically eat at home. You have been cooking Korean food for a while, so if you really want to serve a Korean table and introduce your Korean food to anyone, you should learn how to serve it homestyle, not restaurant style.

Eating Korean food at home

The most important part of any Korean meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – is rice. It’s more than just the main dish, it’s the foundation of the meal. With a few possible substitutes: noodles, porridge, dumplings, or rice cake soup, every meal is built around rice, and without it, I don’t even feel like I had a meal at all! You might have to ask for it in a restaurant, but at home it’s the most important part of the meal and must be served.

The Korean word for cooked rice, bap, also means “meal.” That’s how important it is!

Kimchi, soup, stew, & sidedishes

With rice almost always comes kimchi and a soup or a stew (and sometimes both). These three things are essential to Korean homestyle meals, which are usually rounded out with the sidedishes, aka banchan. There are many kinds of banchan and the decision of what to make depends on what you’re craving, plus seasonal, diet, and health considerations.

Korean table setting

Here is my lunch yesterday. This enough for 4 people. Rice and beef & radish soup are at the bottom. The soup should always go right in front of you, and the rice always to the left of the soup. Spoon and chopsticks next to the soup, with the chopsticks on the outside.

The rest of the dishes in the picture are side dishes are chosen to balance out each other: tastes, textures, colors, and cooking methods are complementary and make for a well-rounded meal.

You see that unlike a restaurant, everything is served on the table all at the same time. This way, you can pick and choose from bite to bite and eat how you like, contrasting and complementing the tastes, textures, and temperatures as you prefer. And see that everything (except for the fish) is in small pieces – you should pick up each piece and eat it whole, don’t take a bite of something and put the rest of it back into the side dish.

kimchi

Traditional kimchi I made on Sunday. Any kind of kimchi will do, but it needs to be there! Its crispiness and spiciness offsets anything oily or bland.

garlic stems pickle

1 year old garlic stem pickles: firm, sweet, sour, and crispy. The recipe will be coming later.

fried fish

Roasted fish (yellow corvina on this day) with seasoning sauce. I love fish of any kind! Fish is usually served whole on the table. Mom might break it up when the meal starts, or diners can use chopsticks to pluck off bite-sized bits. Once all the meat is gone on one side, flip the fish over and start on the other side!

gim

Roasted seaweed paper (gim-gui) is full of fresh sea flavor and is a perfectly crispy, crunchy, nutty part of any meal.

fishcake side dish

Fish cake side dish (one of the recipes in my upcoming cookbook): sweet, soft, and a little chewy.

Korean lunch table setting

The green dish at the top, to the left of the fish, is sigeumchi namul, made of spinach. Put it all together and you have a delicious, nutritious, flavorful meal that looks beautiful on the table. Enjoy!

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9 Comments:

  1. NellyMelly joined 3/15 & has 2 comments

    This looks so delicious! How did you make the rice? It looks like it is different than normal white rice. I can’t wait to try this at home! Thank you for all of your awesome recipes.

  2. Zealousy California, USA joined 12/12 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi, my question is, how do Korean mothers manage to put all this food together for one meal? I struggle away in the kitchen for an hour or two at times just to get one good dish finished! What’s your secret?

    Thanks!
    ~ Ed

    • sanne Munich joined 8/14 & has 200 comments

      Hi Zealousy,

      The basic Korean meal: Bap (cooked rice or mixed with other ingredients), Kimchi and soup.
      A good rice-cooker helps a lot, rice is always available when you need it. But you can do without one.
      Kimchi: It’s not too hard to make it. Dong-Baechu-Kimchi (the big heads of Napa cabbage), Dongchimi (whole Daikon radishes), Kkakduggi etc. are prepared in large batches when the ingredients are in season, some last for years, if well-kept. Same goes for Jangajji.
      Mak-Kimchi (cut-up vegetables) and Put-Kimchi (made from young vegetables) don’t last that long and are prepared in smaller batches. Same goes for any easily spoiling vegetable.
      Make stock in larger batches than for one meal only, too – from bones, gristle etc. (I use a pressure-cooker) or make a basic fish-stock like Maangchi often does – that’s more than for only one meal, too!
      Of course, you need basic ingredients; don’t worry, you will collect them on your journey. ;-)
      Now it’s not too much effort to make soup etc.!

      Other banchan: Vegetables are cleaned and cut-up, blanched or fried and mixed with seasonings.
      Meat (raw or cooked) is cut-up, mixed (before or after cooking, grilling, braising etc.) or served with seasonings and vegetables.
      Fish is basted with seasonings and grilled or broiled. Or used in soup as all of the above. Combine those with Tofu, too!
      Usually, it’s fast and easy; even the preparations for my husband’s birthday-party haven’t taken as long as it seems!
      Left-overs from the table you can keep in the fridge and serve them again (to your family only, of course!), use them in soup – or for Chapchae or Bibimbap!

      Of course, that’s only a short list – and there are always dishes that aren’t that easy to make. On the other hand, there are many that look complicated but are easily prepared!

      Bye, Sanne.

    • junkka South Korea joined 3/15 & has 8 comments

      I’ve seen many foreigners overwhelmed when they first eat Korean food homestyle. They feel there are too many dishes.

      The thing is other than bap and main dish, you are not expected to eat all of it. Side dishes(banchan) are often served for free at resturants and they throw away the left overs. At home though, leftovers are usually put back into storage.

      Most Korean food is fermented, pickled or marinated and are good for keeping long period. For every meal mothers usually just cook rice and main dish. The rest? they are all in refrigerator and we take out the amount we are going to eat for the meal. That is why banchan is normally made and sold in large batch.

  3. speed2fast Chicago joined 3/11 & has 2 comments

    I think your comment about how all food is served at the same time is very interesting. When I was younger this is how we ate because it is how my hal-mu-ne served food to us. But as I grew older and began exploring restaurants I never liked how they bring dishes one at a time. I always ask my server to please bring all the food at once when eating with family or close friends. Some think it is weird and often they forget to do it. But to me it just seems like the natural way to eat food.

    Thank you for posting this article. You and your website keeps me in touch with my Korean heritage.

  4. sanne Munich joined 8/14 & has 200 comments

    Hi Maangchi,

    Thank you for showing the right table-setting! I’ll certainly keep that in mind when taking photos of our dinner at home next time.

    The experience that bap arrived last we had only once at one of the Korean restaurants here in Munich. A Korean friend of ours was really furious about that! ;-)

    Bye, Sanne.

  5. [email protected] Boise, Idaho joined 5/10 & has 3 comments

    That seems like a lot of food for a lunch. Way more than enough to feed four – especially if everyone has rice and soup. I’d barely be able to eat the rice and soup, plus maybe a bite of kimchi. What do you traditionally do with the leftovers? Especially the fish? Does it all get packed away separately in the fridge for another meal?

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