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 was 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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Source: SIDE DISH-ney Land
Some of the meat dishes I tried here in South Korea are somewhat similar to the meat dishes in the Philippines.
One Korean beef dish that reminds me so much of our own “nilagang baka” (Filipino beef stew with clear broth) is 갈비탕 (galbitang/kalbitang). (I had to tell my Filipino friends in the Filipino version of this article that G and K in Hanguel are used interchangeably thus kimchi when written in Romanized form could also be gimchi.)
Kalbi, in English, is short ribs. When Filipinos cook beef stew, it’s also the ribs of the cow they choose. But while in the Philippines we add Chinese chard, potato, cabbage and saba (a banana variety used primarily for cooking), with kalbitang, mixed are radish, dangmyeon (starch noodles) and onions. In a restaurant, I was once served kalbitang with egg. I was also told that it can also be cooked with kimchi. That I have not tried yet.
Tang means soup. Synonymous to tang is another Korean word – guk. Thus, if at the end of the name of a certain Korean dish there’s either tang or guk, expect that the meat is cooked with soup. 삼계탕 (samgyetang) for example is soupy chicken dish. It is comparable to the Filipinos’ tinolang manok (chicken stew) which is cooked with either green papaya or chayote and ginger. What primarily goes with samgyetang when prepared are red dates, ginseng, onion, and garlic.
Another Korean meat dish that has striking similarities with another famous Filipino food is 설렁탕 (seolleongtang). For kalbitang, the part of the cow used are the ribs but for this dish called ox-bone soup in English it’s the leg bones. Usually prepared with spring onions only but one time I have tried one with radish and thin wheat flour noodles. It’s similar to Philippines’ bulalo (beef marrow stew.)
What about pork dishes?
I’m familiar with two… one of which is actually my favorite. These two Korean pork dishes is not like any of the pork dishes I got accustomed to in the Philippines. They are uniquely Korean.
The first one is 감자탕 (gamjatang). It’s pork neck bones that are used to make this Korean meat dish and usually cooked with potatoes (primarily) and other vegetables. There seems to be a disagreement among Korean food experts as to what gamja in gamjatang refers to – is it the potato or meat around the pork spines bones? So, it’s not settled yet as to how should it be called in English – spicy pork bone stew or potato stew. For the meantime, forget about the name. Just enjoy the taste.
The second and last pork dish… and the last among the Korean meat dishes I wish to feature in this article but not the least because it’s actually my favorite meat dish here… is 뼈해장국 (ppyeo haejangguk).
Others would simply call it haejangguk, which means, according to existing literature, hang-over soup. I’m more used to calling it ppyeo haejangguk for that’s how it’s written in the menus of restaurant where I ate them. One thing that I have noticed is that it is somewhat similar to gamjatang minus the potatoes. Both are spicy but when you order you can request that it be made less spicy or not spicy at all. I was told that there is a variety of haejangguk where instead of pork spine it’s ox-bone that is used.
Of all the meat dishes I tried here in South Korea, ppyeo haejangguk is my favorite. It doesn’t mean though that I need to eat it often because of hang-over. I just love the taste and the spiciness of this meat dish. The price ranges from 5,000 KRW to 7,000 KRW.
Two other meat dishes I came to like here are the following:
There are more meat dishes here in South Korea but the five I presented here are the top 5 in my list. It is very possible that after my 5 years being here I may how not tried some them yet.
I wrote an article in Filipino about Korean meat dishes in order for my friends in the Philippines to know the different ways Koreans cook meat. This is the English version of the said article. The beef, pork and chicken dishes I mentioned in that write-up were limited to the ones that I already tried. I focused mainly on what I literally saw on the bowls and plates when I ate them… like what kind of meat were they, which parts of the cow, chicken or pig were used, and what vegetables and other ingredients were mixed. I added some personal observations.
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As I said in the article “Love at First Bite,” I fell in love with kimchi. But I have to admit that with all the luscious Korean… DISHES, I wasn’t faithful to kimchi. I would later fall in love with other Korean foods. I also completely abandoned my plan to loose weight. It’s a “mission impossible.”
Before my first week in South Korea ended, we were given a treat by sir Randy. He brought me and two other foreign professors (Deborah and Kenn) to a restaurant serving 삼겹살 (Samgyeobsal). That was after we claimed our Alien Registration Card (ARC) from the immigration office in Pusan to legitimize our stay our .
It isn’t enough to just say that I have tasted samgyeobsal that night. For me it was more than just eating a pork belly. I don’t intend to sound dramatic nor philosophic but I guess it would be more appropriate for me to say that night “I experienced samgyeopsal” instead of “I ate it.”
I consider the experience very special.
It’s a culture thing.
As we entered the restaurant, I saw sir Randy and the other professors remove their shoes. I did the same. We were escorted by an ahjussi (a middle-aged man) to a table and immediately left us after getting our order. There were no chairs, not like the set-up in that restaurant in the hotel where we had the orientation for our students. We sat on the floor. So, for the first time that I experienced eating while seated on the floor. I wasn’t comfortable sitting cross-legged but as soon as the ahjussi returned and put on our table what sir Randy ordered I forgot about my discomfort and started salivating.
Along with the slices of pork belly, we were given plenty of lettuce and perilla leaves. There were also raw onions, garlic and green chili peppers. We were also served with, of course, kimchi and other vegetable side dishes and spicy tofu. In short there were lots of food.
The ahjussi turned the portable gas griller on and the grilling began. As sir Randy held with a tong a slice of pork belly, like a teacher, he explained what samgyeopsal literally means: 삼- sam (three), 겹 – gyeop (layered), 살 – sal (flesh). His impromptu lecture did not end there. When the meat was cooked, he explained how to eat samgyeopsal the Korean way, that was after I excitedly picked up a piece of the cooked meat and had my first bite. He took a piece of meat, dipped it into a sauce then placed it on a leaf. Not done yet, he also added garlic and a bit of rice too. Then he rolled it up and stuffed it into his mouth.
“That’s the way the Koreans do it,” he said.
He made another roll and asked me to open my mouth. I hesitated at first because it was a little awkward. He explained that when dining Korean males usually do that and nobody would suspect them of “bromance.” So, I allowed him to stuff it in and returned the favor shortly after.
We learned quickly how to enjoy samgyeopsal. It was either sir Rhandy’s a good teacher or it was just our hunger. Soon enough, we had to order another round of pork belly.
There were two varieties of dipping sauces given to us by the ahjussi. Sir Randy told us that one is 쌈장 (ssamjang) and the other one 소금과 후추 기름 장 (sogeumgwa huchu gileum jang).
The kimchi served tasted differently from the one I first tried. No traces of sweetness. It was plain spicy.
While we were enjoying the “feast,” sir Randy who has been here in South Korea for a long time, recommended other kinds of Korean foods that he said he was sure I would come to like.
The other customers in the restaurant were enjoying their samgyeobsal with 맥주 (maegju) and 소주 (soju). We wanted to also but we had class the following day.
We were one in saying that it was a sumptuous dinner.
For me, it was not a simple dinner. It was a wonderful cultural experience.
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