SIDE DISH-ney Land

Welcome to SIDE DISH-ney land!


As I mentioned in my article entitled “Kimchied,” I was surprised (and delighted) to see lots of side dishes (반찬 – banchan) which restaurants serve with the main dish ordered. The only side dish I was expecting to see when I first ate in a restaurant here was what Korea is famous for – kimchi. I was wrong. I never thought also that there are different varieties of kimchi and it is not always made with cabbage.

I would probably write a separate article about kimchi in the future but for the meantime… let’s go back to SIDE DISH-ney land.

Side dishes are put in small plates and are served either in advance of (or along with) the main dish. If restaurant owners are afraid that customers might be too hungry that all the side dishes will disappear like magic before the main dish is served, they will have the two (side and main dishes) served together. Some restaurants are generous, they allow their customers to ask for additional side dishes.

There’s no extra charge for the side dishes. It’s “service” (When Koreans in restaurant and other business establishments say “service” it means free). As to how many kinds of side dishes restaurants offer, it’s not the same. If I remember right, the least is 3 and the most is 10. Of course, I, I guess others as well, prefer to dine in restaurants where there are  more side dishes. Most of the time that just with the side dishes I would already be full and how I wish I could just bring home the main dish and have it for my next meal at home.

It is really the “side-dish culture” that makes it so difficult to lose weight here in South Korea especially if one does not cook and has to depend on restaurants mainly for meals. One has got to have strong self-discipline in order to succeed in not picking the side dishes. It is so hard not to taste palatable foods just chopsticks away from you.

There are different kinds of side dishes. I have already tried a lot of them.  It is safe to say that majority are made with vegetables. People who love vegetables would love it here. But aside from vegetable side dishes, there are some made with meat, fish, tofu and egg as well.

Some restaurants also offer fermented squid or octopus sides dishes and crunchy squid threads. There’s one restaurant  where I dine at least once a week mainly because of their stirfried dried anchovy side dish.

Shown in the picture below were the side dishes served when I had lunch with some Filipino teachers after the seminar I conducted at Namwon in North Jeolla Province sometime in June , 2017. The main dish we ordered is fried mackerel. Aside from the side dishes we were also given soups. I’m sorry that I can’t name the side dishes in Korean.


The side dishes and the soup, with their corresponding numbers in the picture are stir-fried zucchri (1); seasoned spinach (2); kimchi (4); steamed pepper (5); soy-braised black soybeans (6); spicy cucumber salad; (7) seasoned radish (9); bean paste stew (10); fried mackerel (13); fermented pepper (15); seaweed soup (16); fermented squid (18); seasoned seaweed (19); stir-fried seaweed (20); and seasoned soybean sprouts (21). There are some items that I can’t identify.

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