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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


              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


                        that should work

                        1. re: choctastic


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

                    2. Some more common terms to add:

                      mandoo - Korean dumplings filled with beef, chives, etc. Can be served boiled to be dipped in soy sauce, or as part of a guk, like Dduk Mandoo Guk or I guess just plain Mandoo Guk.

                      Seul Long Tang - boiled beef bone stew. A milky white soup with beef, the vermicelli japchae noodles, and chopped scallions, along with rice. Great hangover food.

                      Sam Gyup Sal - thinly sliced pork belly grilled

                      Daenjang jigae - fermented bean paste stew. May turn some people off with the smell.

                      Miyuk guk - seaweed stew - my personal favorite

                      Kimchi jigae - kimchi stew, as you can probably gather from the good info posted above. So simple, yet SO good. Made by adding water to some kimchi and cooking it in a pot. Usually has things thrown in, like pork or seafood.

                      Gooksoo - noodles

                      It's so nice to see Korean food entering the mainstream. I feel like it's a harder cuisine to like or "get" (even though it's so simple), as compared to say, Thai. Even as a Korean, it took me until college to appreciate it at all.

                      1. I should add that if you intend to make Korean restaurants part of your "chowniverse", it is well worth learning to read hangul, the Korean alphabet. It is a phonetic alphabet, not character-based like Chinese or Japanese, and it is very easy to learn.

                        I offer this suggestion mostly because in many Korean places, placards will be up on the wall in Hangul only and may be pointers to great chow.

                        I have a basic primer at http://dasubergeek.livejournal.com/40... for those who are interested.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          i agree that learning to read hangul is not very difficult, but for someone simply interested in the food, i think it might be beyond their reach or desire. i have considered or attempted to learn how to write the names of foods in other scripts, but would never be able to follow through with learning hiragana/katagana (for example) simply to eat, unless i lived in japan. plus, it can be frustrating to be able to read a word without knowing what it means. i think the best approach in this case would be to be patient and persistent in grilling the staff about things, or try to make friends that are in the know.

                          1. re: augustiner

                            One thing to note, though, is that hangul is MUCH easier to learn than written Japanese or Chinese. Das Ubergeek is not exaggerating when stating that learning to read hangul can be learned in 20 minutes. You could easily make a little chart with basic words to take to the restaurant with you.

                            1. re: AppleSister

                              if anyone casually learned how to read and write in hangul within twenty minutes, especially for the purposes of learning how to eat korean food, i would hold them in awe. and then i would suggest they explore korean chinese food, particularly the noodle dishes jjajang myon and jjambbong. the first being (preferably house made) noodles in a thick black bean sauce, the second noodles in a spicy seafood, vegetable, and meat broth. both, from my understanding, coming from a northern chinese province that most of korea's chinese immigrants come from.

                              1. re: augustiner

                                Oh writing, that would be hard. Reading, though, is easy, very phonetic. I've taught friends to read in 20 minutes. Not that they would retain anything without practice, of course.
                                Interesting about the origins of Korean-Chinese food. I really didn't like it when my family first moved back to Korea, where it's the most ubiquitous form of delivery food, but now I miss it.

                                1. re: AppleSister

                                  ja jang myun and jam pong??? oh and the sweet and sour pork. delicious. I know what you mean about the delivery system. You'd call the guy up and he'd arrive on your doorstep on a scooter with that huge metal box. You'd get your choice dish(usually ja jang myun for me)side of takuan, sliced onions, black bean paste and some kimchi.

                                  I haven't been to korea in 3 years ):

                                2. re: augustiner

                                  Well, that's exactly what I did -- I learned hangul strictly so I could read the specials written up on the walls at my favourite Korean places, and the panels advertising the anju at our usual sojuchip.

                          2. Naeng ("cold") myun ("noodles") - buckwheat noodles served in a cold beef broth, topped with sliced beef, cucumbers and hard boiled egg.


                            Bibim ("mixed") naeng myun - buckwheat noodles served without the broth but with a spicy red pepper sauce

                            Hwae ("sashimi") naeng myun - served without sliced beef but with raw marinated skate wing

                            Chilk ("arrowroot")naeng myun - arrowroot noodles instead of buckwheat

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MeowMixx

                              I thought hwae just meant raw. Is raw skate wing always served with hwae naeng myun?

                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                It could mean raw but I do believe it means sashimi. Hwae dub bap, for example :)

                                I have never seen hwae naeng myun served with anything other than raw skate wing (hong uh hwae)...

                                1. re: MeowMixx

                                  sashimi means raw, right?

                                  ANYWAYS...the skate wing with naeng myun sounds delicious..is it bi bim naeng myun or is it in mul naeng myun?

                                  the last time I visited my mother (in the summer) she made me a really yummy raw skate wing bi bim naeng myun. Oh my god it was so good. Their's nothing like mom's home cooking

                                  1. re: bitsubeats

                                    Everytime I order hwe naeng myun, it's always means bibim. It's really delicious.

                            2. the skate wing with naengmyun is the Hwae Naeng Myun. Bibim naengmyun is just the noodles with sliced beef, hard boiled egg and the spicy red sauce. Not to confuse you but there's also seh kkee mee naengmyun - which is the bibim naengmyun with the skate wing AND the beef.

                              Now I'm seriously craving it.....

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: MeowMixx

                                skate wing mixed with beef? weird..you should just have one or the other. so what does "seh kkee mee" translate to?

                                yeah, I am making myself hungry too, by the way are you korean?

                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                  Lol, you know, I have no idea what seh kke mee translates to. sorry :) I am korean, but born here, so my korean is limited.

                                  1. re: MeowMixx

                                    i see, I'm only half Korean so thats why it seems you know more than me (: I also used to live in korea as well.

                                    alright, I am going to stop getting off topic.my apoligies to the thread starter

                              2. omg, don't order the hwae naeng myun unless you know what you're getting yourself into. a lot of non-koreans (and some koreans) hate it because it aint raw skate wing you're gnawing on, it's this sort of marinated/fermented skate wing which can sometimes be kind of funky.

                                stick with bibim naengmyun or mul naeng myun. Chilk naeng myun is good too, it's the same thing as the other naeng myuns except you black noodles as opposed to the grey buckwheat noodles. there was a post in the L.A. forum about a good chilk naeng myun place te other day.

                                You know how koreans like to put fruit like apples and grapes in the potato salad? My Midwestern friend said that when he grew up they always put apples in the potato salad. Well, at least I thought it was funny.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: choctastic

                                  fruits and apples w/mayo or potato salad reminds me of a waldorf salad...very 1960's.

                                  the skate wing isn't fermented like kimchi, but it is marinated and is usually very spicy.

                                  1. re: choctastic

                                    re: the hawe naeng myun: even though it has the word 'hwae' in it, the skate wing texture is nothing like sushi or sashimi-style fish. often times the bones are still there.

                                    1. re: bijoux16

                                      Most of our Korean restaurant serve hae dup bap, which is essentially a big salad with sashimi on top. You get a huge bowl of greens with some carrot, daikon and cabbage and on top you have an assortment of sashimi and roe. It's served with a fermented chili sauce. I don't know if this is somehow a local offering, but it is my absolutely favorite summer supper.

                                      1. re: Kater

                                        Hwe dup bap should also have rice in it. In some places it's basically bibimbap with raw fish.

                                  2. I am looking for a recipe for dakbagi bulgogi, and I am sure I am spelling it wrong. Basically it is bulgogi served in a stone (jjigae or dolsot) bowl over rice with clear noodles, and it is freekin delish. Since moving back from Korea I can't find it in Seattle. Help please.