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Korean Food Primer

[This thread was moved from the Los Angeles Area board --The Chowhound Team]

Since there are many Korean restaurants that do not have descriptions or even English on their menus, could someone knowledgeable please post a list containing the most common every day food items and their descriptions, e.g. bulgogi, kalbi, etc.?

Much appreciated.

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  1. Okay, I'll start w/ the most basic:

    bap: cooked rice, which is considered the main course.

    kimchi: fermented napa cabbage but there are many varieties (cucumber, various types of leafy vegetables)

    guk: (pronounced "gook") soup.

    chigae: stew. whatever is in it will preceed this word (eg soon dubu chigae)

    tang: soup/stew I'm not sure myself. usually a spicy soup in large quantity that is shared at the table. (eg meh-oun tang=spicy fish soup)

    ban-chan: side dishes, and this is where there are tons of things.

    okay, i'll stop there and maybe add more later.

    1. One thing is that in Korean, the same letter serves two (or three) sounds -- so rice could be "bap" or "pap", and boneless beef could be any combination of bul-/pul-, -go-/-ko-, and -gi/-ki. The letter combinations are b/p, g/k, j/ch, r/l, and d/t

      Bibim means mixed, so bibimbap is mixed rice, or rice with various toppings -- you're supposed to "bibim" the toppings with the "bap". Same for bibim naengmyun, except it's cold noodles.

      Mul (sometimes mwul) means water, so mul naengmyun means the cold noodles and toppings are drowned in soup. Mul kimch'i means the kimchi is floating in water.

      The meats -- unlike Chinese, the default meat is beef, which means that if it doesn't specify the meat, it's probably beef. Daeji is pork; dak is chicken; haemul (do you see the "mul" in there?) is mixed seafood.

      Guk, tang, jjigae and jjim are all soupy-stewy things. Generally tang and guk are soupiest, while jjigae and jjim are thicker, but that doesn't mean anything. Kalbitang is beef rib soup, haemul tang is spicy seafood soup, soon dubu jjigae is very spicy tofu stew, and galbijjim is beef rib stew.

      Japchae is yam noodles, almost always served cold and in a sticky sauce.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        Thanks! That is so helpful. I've been memorizing dish names all my life and making very limited headway. Now that I know how to put two and two together things are going to be a lot easier to remember!

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          > The letter combinations are b/p, g/k, j/ch, r/l, and d/t

          Perhaps not coincidentally, a similar thing is true of Thai transliterations. Well known soups may be spelled tom or dom; both are the "dt" sound; th is used for a hard "t" sound. If you see plah for fish, that the "bp" sound; ph is used to indicate a hard "p" sounds. Shrimp may be spelled kung or goong ("gk"), and so on.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            What is the correct pronunciation of "bibim"? Is it "bee-bim" or "buy-bim"? Thank you! We have no Korean restaurants here but our Asian market sells a frozen bibimbap entree.

            1. re: Val

              It's bee-bim. It means "mix" and "bap" means rice, so "mixed rice."

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              Das,

              I love it....you're supposed to "bibim" the toppings with the "bap"...! Excellent descriptions. I couldn't have said it better myself.

            3. In the Washington, DC area, Korean restaurants can be so different from one another. Many of them specialize. Some specialize in a kind of rice sausage called soondae others a tofu stew called soon doo boo. Others will make bbq, and still others kolgatsu - flat, wide flour noodles. Then there are ones that specialize in chigae or ones that specialize in ethnically Chinese Korean food like jja jiang myun (noodles in black bean sauce) and soo yuk (sweet and sour) or jap chae.

              I just discoved a place that has fantastic soon doo boo, so custardy and sumptuous in which you crack a raw egg into the bubbling liquid. One of the best meals I have ever eaten.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Steve

                Where is the Washington DC area soon doo boo place and what is it called? Thanks!

                1. re: Steve

                  so, steve, where was the spot with the best soon tubu?

                  btw, it isn't "kolgatsu" it's kal guk su: kal which means knife and guk su which means noodle. those are handmade noodles made with a knife.

                2. there's Pa Jun, often translated as pancake. It's a savory, not a sweet pancake, and not doughy as what we Americans call pancakes. My favorite is haemool pajun, with mixed seafood

                  It would be great if someone could point out a guide to banchan. These just show up, with no translation.

                  1. I found this by Googling "Korean + banchan"

                    http://www.trifood.com/banchanall.html. The rest of the website is pretty interesting, too.

                    It's pretty accurate. The potato salad is potato salad-mayonnaise is not native to Korea, though definitely embraced. My least favorite banchan. "Jeon" in general means pan-fried, so pajeon or pajun is panfried green-onion pancake. Hobak jeon is panfried zucchini, and so on.

                    Kalbi is Korean for the cut of meat, which is short-rib. It's often cut flanken-style, also called "LA Kalbi"-style. When it just says "kalbi" on the menu, it means grilled. If it says kalbi-jim (jim means braised/steamed), it's braised short ribs. If it says kalbi-tang, short rib soup.

                    Bulgogi is thinly sliced beef, marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame seed oil, garlic, and green onion primarily. Daeji bulgogi is the same, but with pork and usually some hot pepper paste in the marinade. Not often seen in the U.S., but popular with teenagers in Korea when I was young was dak bulgogi, or chicken marinated and grilled.

                    It's funny with banchan, there's a lot of stuff I've eaten all my life, and could not for the life of me tell you what it is. I mean, I know the Korean word for it, and I know it's some sort of vegetable found in the mountains, but I have no idea what the English equivalent is. "Namul" is sort of a catch-all phrase for these plants.

                    Dduk is Korean rice-cake. There are myriad variations for dessert dduk. There's a picture on this blog, but this doesn't even come close to what's possible. Non-sweet dduk is used for rice cake and dumpling soup, and ddukbokki, sauteed with spicy sauce.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: AppleSister

                      When I tried to go to that website, I got an error....

                      1. re: plf515

                        get rid of the period at the end of the url and you'll get the page

                        http://www.trifood.com/banchanall.html

                        that should work

                        1. re: choctastic

                          thanks!

                          I've eaten most of those, although some as main dishes, not banchan