When you go to the Korean restaurants, without ordering, you’ll always be served different small side dishes that are made of various vegetables, meats and fish. And of course there are several different kinds of kimchi, always. Sometimes I’ve seen people who have never eaten Korean food seem alarmed because they didn’t “order” the side dishes! (Don’t worry they are included!)
These are a critical part of a Korean meal and called banchan (반찬). A basic table setting for an everyday meal would be a bowl of bap (cooked rice), guk (soup), some kinds of banchan, including kimchi. For more formal settings, there are usually more, elaborate kinds of banchan. For a normal dinner, I might have four to five kinds of banchan.
If this sounds like a lot of work to have so many dishes, it is! I usually have many banchan pre-made and I will eat the banchan over days, weeks or even months, if it is kimchi or pickled items. That way, for any meal, I have at least a few banchan to eat with it.
A few things you should know about banchan is that they’re meant to be shared by everyone at the table, using their chopsticks. Unlike Western food there are no serving tools, you just use your own chopsticks and put an amount you like on your bowl or plate. Usually an amount appropriate to the meal is set out for each banchan in a small dish. If you are at a restaurant and you finish a banchan, it’s okay to ask for more. Similarly, if you’re eating at home, refill the banchan if it runs out.
SEASONAL BANCHAN. Banchan was usually seasonal, using what vegetables where available at that time, since that is how we used to eat before we could access all types of food all year long.
Spring banchan often use wild greens and “namuls” that can be harvested from the field. When I was growing up in Korea, a group of us village kids would get together and go on wild vegetable hunts. We would bring home a basketful of wild vegetables, and mom would fix the vegetables for dinner; I remember it tasted so good!
Summers are when vegetables are abundant, like lettuce, kkaennip (perilla leaves) and fresh gochu (green pepper). You can use these vegetables to make kkaennip banchan, lettuce ssam or kkaennip ssam (wrap), which you eat with bulgogi or galbi (seasoned beef or bbq rib).
In fall and early winter there are still a lot of vegetables available, but we prepared for the coming winter. We would do a lot of pickling and making of kimchi, making kkaennip kimchi, and make pickles out of the pickling cucumbers, garlic, and peppers. We'll harvest the baechu (Napa cabbage) and moo (Korean radish) so that they can be made into all kinds of Kimchi. We'd typically make dongchimi kimchi (whole radish made into watery kimchi, a bit salty, so it can last for a long time), chonggak kimchi, and kimchang kimchi (winter kimchi). Winter kimchi making in the fall through the early winter (Oct to Nov) is a big tasks among the ordinary household.
In the winter, since there are few fresh vegetables available, we eat the kimchi that has been made and preserved from other seasons, like the winter kimchi. We’ll make soups using beef, ox tail, chicken, beef bone, and banchan and soups using root vegetables like toran (taro), moo (white Korean radish), dried or fresh miyuk (seaweed), and bean sprouts. And we’ll also make jjigae (thick soups) using the ripe winter kimchi, like kimchi jjigae.
CATEGORIES OF BANCHAN. There are many types of Korean banchan, which are grouped both by the types of ingredients and also by the type of cooking method you would use.
NAMUL is my favorite kind of banchan. I think namuls go with almost anything and they usually are simply seasoned, which is a nice contrast to kimchi. “Namul” is made from a variety of vegetables like bean sprouts, and leafy vegetables like spinach, cooked dry fern, fresh seaweeds, and sometimes root vegetables like Korean radish or even dried bellflower. There are different methods of cooking it, either by boiling it and seasoning it; or using it fresh and seasoning it. There are numerous namul banchans depending on what season and area you live in, but I am not going to be able to list them all.
Kongnamul, simply cooked bean sprouts. A good quick banchan and light tasting.
Sigumchi namul, ffresh spinach lightly blanched, then mixed with seasonings. Also a good, neutral banchan.
Miyeok namul (miyeok muchim), seasoned fresh seaweed that is blanched quickly
Gosari namul, dried fernbrake that is seasoned. I like to harvest this in the wild and make a whole bunch.
Moochae namul, Korean radish that is julienned and mixed with seasonings like a fresh pickle.
Doraji namul, bellflower roots -- a quite popular banchan that can be prepared simply or BBQ style. Keeps it’s own flavor and taste for a while.
Gogumasun namul, made from young dried sweet potato vines, boiled and dried for later use.
KIMCHI almost deserves its own category. Even though it is considered a banchan, there are too many different kinds to name. I might have to do a separate MoM post on the kimchi types. Kimchi is always at a Korean meal, and there are many, many kinds. Here are just a few kinds:
Baechu kimchi, the classic kimchi made from Napa cabbage
Chonggak kimchi, young radish kimchi, also called Bachelor kimchi
Dongchimi, large radish made into water kimchi
Geotjeori, freshly made kimchi eaten crisp, not needing fermenting process
Ggakdugi, cubed radish kimchi, usually spicy
Oi Sobagi, pickled stuffed with onion, garlic, hot pepper, sometimes with pickled shrimp
Yeolmu kimchi, watery kimchi using young radish leaves
Pa kimchi, long leafy green onion kimchi seasoned with lots of anchovy fish sauce, and red pepper
BOKKEUM: a type of Korean side dish that means mixing a bunch of things together, so usually made by stir frying with different kinds of seasonings and vegetables.
Myulchi Bokkeum, stir fried dried anchovies, slightly salty and sweet. This is my favorite.
Ojingeochae bokkeum, pan fry shredded dry squid with a mildly spicy sauce
Kimchi bokkeum, stir fried cut kimchi, with sesame oil (cooking oil) with or without pork.
Manul jjong bokkeum, made using garlic shoots in a slightly sweet sauce
Jeyook bokkeum, stir fry pork with gochujang (pepper paste) sauce and onions
Buseot bokkeum, stir fried various mushrooms, i.e., phogo (shitake), oyster mushrooms, songi (pine mushrooms)
JORIM: a Jorim is usually a dish simmered for a while in a kind of sauce, often with soy sauce.
Kongjorim, this would be one of the staple jorim dishes, made using either black bean or yellow soy bean
Dubu jorim, fried bean curd, then simmered in soy sauce
Jang jorim, a classic beef dish, simmered in soy sauce for a while and can be stored for a long time to become a staple banchan
Gamja jorim, similar to jang jorim, except using small potatoes seasoned and steamed/stewed in a savory sauce
Yongeun jorim, a simmered dish from lotus roots
JJIM: a Jjim banchan is usually a sort of stewed/steamed dish or casserole, usually involving meat of some kind. Here are a few popular kinds of jjims.
Kalbijjim, beef cooked/simmered in sauce and vegetables – tastes tender and delicate.
Gyeranjjim, egg casserole cooked in a bowl or pot. Easy to make and one of my favorites for a light meal.
Aguijjim, usually monkfish (though you can use other kinds), seasoned and cooked over low heat
JEON: Jeons are fried banchan, sometimes also called buchimgae, meaning pan fried. There are variety of buchimgaes that you can make using all sorts of things, like fresh vegetables, fish, meat and other ingredients.
Gamjajeon, pan fried potato pancakes. Iusually make them spicy and add vegetables.
Saengsun jeon, simple patties of fish, fried and lightly flavored.
Dongrang taeng, round beef patties, good to make for parties.
Nokdu jeon or Bindaedduk, a delicous pancake made of soaked and ground mung beans.
Now that you know more about Korean side dishes, I hope you will try making some! I can answer any questions about banchan if you make a comment below.