5 Histories Behind Your Favourite Korean Food

11 September 2017

Main ImageLove it or hate it, Korean food offers plenty of health benefits and helps to rejuvenate your body when it’s low on nutrients. Aside from how and when the food’s eaten, the histories behind your beloved Korean food will give you a glimpse into the culture. These are the five fascinating histories behind your favourite Korean food:


The chicken ginseng soup is a comfort food for many Koreans regardless of class, and it’s typically cooked with a young, fresh chicken alongside other ingredients that include scallions, garlics, jujube, garlic cloves, ginseng, wolfberry, and sticky rice. The dish is an instant energy and metabolism booster, mostly eaten during the summers. Ingredients may vary depending on region or personal preference.

Back in the Chosun era (circa 1910-1945), only the rich could afford to eat chicken, so the early version of samgyetang was considered to be a luxury food. In the old days, it was customary for the mother-in-law to kill one of her backyard chickens to make samgyetang for her son-in-law who visited her. Because of this, Koreans consider the soupy dish a cuisine filled with mother’s love.


Almost everyone, even those who are not a fan of Korean food, has heard and known about the existence of this staple food. The traditional side dish is made from fermented and salted vegetables (most commonly Korean radishes and napa cabbage) with various seasonings such as jeotgal (salted seafood), ginger, garlic, scallions, and chilli powder. Kimchi can be considered a vegetable probiotic food that contributes health benefits in a similar manner as yogurt as a dairy probiotic food.

According to the official site of Korea Tourism, in order to preserve the vegetables to enjoy during the cold winter months when cultivation was practically impossible, the early Korean people developed a storage method known as pickling in which vegetables were fermented. Rich in vitamins and minerals, kimchi was introduced in Korea around the 7th century. It is presumed that beginning from the 12th century, several spices and seasonings began to gain popularity, forever changing the taste of kimchi as we know today.


Bulgogi is one of the best dishes to be enjoyed with your loved ones around the dining table. The Korean-style grilled or roasted dish is made of thin, marinated slices of pork or beef, cooked on a barbecue or on a stovetop griddle. Other ingredients include mushrooms, onions, ginger, and scallions. As bulgogi is heavy on red meat and high in sodium, it’s best if the dish is not eaten too frequently.

Bulgogi is believed to have originated during the Goguryeo era (37 BC – 668 AC), and was originally called Maekjeok. The term “Maek” indicates the region of Goguryeo, an ancient Korean kingdom, which was located in the northern part of Korea. Traditionally, Chinese people did not marinate their meat before grilling, but Maekjeok, which was developed in Korea, consisted of marinating meat before grilling. This became the early form of Bulgogi.


Bibimpap is a mixed rice dish consisting of white rice, namul (seasoned and sautéed vegetables), sliced meat, and a fried or raw egg all served in a bowl. The authentic Korean dish has been around since the Joseon Period (1392–16th century). There are a few differing claims as to the origin of bibimbap, but it was historically eaten as a royal court food (bibimbap was the king’s meal for lunch or when the royal family went to the royal court), ceremonial food (where food was arranged at various ancestral rites and ceremonies), farming season food, and New Year’s Eve food (as a way to welcome the New Year’s Eve of the lunar year).


The Korean noodle dish is served cold with a variety of broth, from dongchimi, chicken, to beef. Another common variety of the dish is served with a spicy dressing made primarily from gochujang (red chilli paste). Naengmyeon was said to have been around since the Joseon Dynasty, based on the 19th century documents of Dongguksesigi. However, others have claimed that the buckwheat noodle dish had been eaten way back. Traditionally, the long noodles would be eaten without cutting, as they symbolised longevity of life and good health.


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Written by Dayana Sobri


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