Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Nov 8, 2010 01:30 AM

Japanese food versus Korean food

Late night deep thought: Japan and Korea are neighboring countries with related histories and cultures, and significant coastlines. Ok, Japan has proportionately greater coastline.

All the same, isn't it interesting that Japanese food (subtle, heavy on fish and tofu) and Korean food (spicy, meaty) are so different, at least as I've experienced them in California.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. early morning not so deep thought: France and Spain are neighboring countries with related histories and cultures, and significant coastlines. Ok, Spain has proportionately greater coastline.

    All the same, isn't it interesting that Spanish food and French food are so different?

    5 Replies
      1. re: thew

        I think that the difference between Spanish and French food may be due to climate as well as to the extensive Moorish influence in Spain.

        1. re: fadista

          and american and mexican?

          the point is why should korean food be any more alike than spanish and french, or american and mexican?

        2. re: thew

          french food and spanish food so differentt?!?It sounds like you never been to france and spain. french food and spanish food are almost the same, and spanish foods were greatly influenced by french foods just like other countries in the world...

          1. re: popopopo

            French food can and does morph into the food of neighboring counties: Alsatian, Basque, Provencal, and Breton cuisines have some commonality with neighboring cultures.

            But almost anyone could tell if they were eating a meal from a Perigourdine kitchen or a Spanish one. And then once you get to the Auvergne or further north, then there are few similarities.

        3. Don't know where you live in California, but in Los Angeles there are many sushi places that are owned by Korean's. The Little Tokyo Shopping Center is now owned by Korean's. Even the Todai AYCE sushi chain is owned by Koreans.

          1 Reply
          1. re: monku

            The majority of burb (Americanized) sushi places are owned by Koreans or Chinese - they own the majority of Asian restaurants and have been serving Americanized pseudo-Japanese ever since it became popular. It's a business - not a cultural shrine. Not a whole lot different than Americanized-Chinese, other than about 100 years of exclusive experience (it's all about the history). We shouldn't discount the influence of Moonies - mainly Korean religious converts and followers of Sun Myung Moon (Unification Family Church) that owned virtually every sushi place with the name Sakura in it starting in the 70's (still operating today in the wholesale fish world).

            There is a tremendous amount of history to understand in dealing with the differences in cultures and cuisines. A lot has been written here - some back searching will yield great information.

          2. See, I don't really think of Korean food as being spicy and meaty. Sure, the stuff that's made it to restaurants for public consumption is pretty spicy and heavy on meat. But the stuff I've grown up eating is what I'd call subtle and heavy on fish and tofu.

            15 Replies
            1. re: soypower

              I think everyone grows up differently even within the same demographics... Here, not as heavy on the meat, but it was definitely a part of every meal. And every meal had dishes that were spicy, salty, subtle/refreshing, crisp, bitter, etc.

              1. re: soypower

                Both Korean and Japanese cuisine are heavy on fish and tofu, and share many common ingredients. IMO the key difference between Korean and Japanese food is that Koreans tend to prefer their food to be lean, chewy and aggressively seasoned, whereas Japanese seem to prefer their food fatty, soft, and delicately seasoned.

                You can clearly see this kind of preference in play when you look at a couple of dishes present in both cultures, such as Miso Soup vs. Denjang chigae: they more or less share the same key components but the end products are quite different. You can also see a real basic divide in cooking philosophy - Miso Soup is never boiled, and gently steeped where as Koreans boil the living crap out of their denjang chigae, hell, it's servered still boiling in a lava-hot dish at most restaurants!

                Another good example is sashimi - Japanese prefer fatty cuts like Toro and usually like their raw fish aged a little bit so it becomes more tender, whereas Korean sashimi is killed and consumed live, and is extremely chewy and lean in comparison.

                1. re: joonjoon

                  The fatty cuts of sashimi are considered a delicacy. They are not a cultural preference. And it really depends on the fish in terms of what is aged and what isn't. Impossible to make a blanket statement. Some fish, like hirame or fugu, are appreciated for being chewy or lean.

                  Modern Japan and the cuisine emerged out of relative isolation from the outside world and then an intense period of interaction with and influence from the outside- but mostly the West. There was active trade between Japan and Korea during the closed country time, but political and cultural exchange seem to have been minimal. Both countries though, can trace a culinary legacy back to China and other parts of Asia- rice, noodles, plenty of fermented stuff.

                  In Japan eating meat was prohibited under Buddhist dietary laws for a long time and for hundreds of years prior to opening, the country was controlled by military regimes that eschewed consumption, complexity, and any sort of extravagance. This explains traditional lack of meat and spicing and is what modern Japanese cuisine rose out of. But today, it is much more diverse and meat plays a large part of home and restaurant meals. Korean food is also very popular in Japan. So are Chinese, Italian, and Indian foods. There are many similarities in Korean and Japanese cuisines but they are very distinct geographically. Japan is a volcanic archipelago that stretches about 1,000 miles through multiple climatic zones. Korea is a mountainous peninsula connected to Asia by land with a couple of different climates.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    I have to admit judging japanese unfairly due to the trade networks of everyone else in teh region. live and learn?

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Regarding meat, this jives with my very limited experiences being in Japan Once in 1970 and again in 2009. The first time I could hardly find any beef. In 2009, it is everywhere.

                      2009 was also the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the port of Yokohama. So Japan's strict isolation with the rest of the world is still fairly 'recent.'

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        @Silverjay/K K,

                        Right, but it's still my assertion that overall, Koreans overall prefer their food to be more...aggressive than the Japanese do. E.g. Denjang Chigae vs. Miso soup. Do you disagree?

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          Interesting you use the term aggressive, I would say for that part I agree, because it is also inherent in the culture. Perhaps it is a rather stereotypical typecasting thanks to for example one of those World Cup soccer games in the 80s when the Korea team would do Tae Kwon Do style slide tackles and jump rotatary like side kicks to hinder the efforts of Argentina which was then a powerful team, or movies like My Sassy Girl, My Wife is a Gangster (and many other Korean movies which made waves across Asia before Hollywood dumbed them down) that portrayed characters to be pushy/bossy/demanding/overpowering/aggressive that while may not represent the entire population, is in a way inadvertently doing that through culture to humor (and at times you can't tell if the writers are being half or truly serious), or characters drowning their sorrows with soju only to be violent and humorous later. But all the scenes involving restaurants, street food stalls in tents, and what the characters ate and drank (including peasant village like food) looked really good.

                          Then came that TV series Dae Jong Guem (apologies if I spelt it wrong) where you can see some history of royal/imperial cuisine that was based upon using food as medicine, herbs that cure and nuture, and used with food. Some restaurants in Asia would claim to serve the cooking of Dae Jong Guem, and even from scanning some cookbooks, the food does not appear to be aggressive at all (with possible exceptions), and is somewhat parallel to cooking through healing in parts of China, Taiwan (not sure what Japanese cuisine has with regards to this, but if any, I would assume it is already integrated into the cooking via examples like shojin Buddhist vegetarian where it is implicit rather than in your face

                          I've only had Denjang Chigae once (at a place that didn't execute the cuisine that well overall) and I have to say yes it was bold, overly salty, not something that I was used to. But I respect it for what it is, and might try it again at a much better restaurant. In the California I would rather eat Korean BBQ than Japanese yakiniku, but would gladly have Japanese style yakiniku in Taipei and Korean BBQ in Taipei at the same time.

                          One more comment, in your example you are somewhat unfairly comparing a Korean miso stew pot with a bowl of Japanese miso soup. The miso stew would have additional vegetables, mushroom, scallions, maybe cubes of firm tofu, and a much thicker soup base. A bowl of Japanese miso soup is a lot more simpler and is not a stew. I'd say if you want to compare, then pick something like Hokkaido style ishikari nabe, a miso based hot pot with assorted vegetables like carrots, cabbage, salmon + maybe salmon fish head, tofu, konnyaku, or whatever other Japanese item that has a similar kind of miso stew to level the playing field.

                          But overall, comparing the two food cultures and cuisines or saying what is superior (with some overlapping similarities but numerous differences) is a bit of a futile exercise. Almost as bad as the Malaysian board of Tourism trying to reclaim Hainan Chicken Rice and saying Singapore has no rights to claim its ownership as the national dish.

                          1. re: K K

                            Korean food uses more spices and garlic than Japanese so I don't think it's unreasonable to call it a cultural preference. I don't think my Japanese in-laws, who are obviously older, could even eat many of the spicier Korean dishes. However Korean food has enjoyed a boom in Japan in the last 20 years and kimchi or chigae nabe is very popular these days. I used to eat it all the time at izakaya or we'd make it at home. With my in-laws though, we make miso or shoyu-based nabe.

                            1. re: K K

                              Hey KK, that's a lot of interesting stuff you mentioned there...lots of stuff I didn't know. I just wanted to make it clear that I was in no way suggesting or implying that one cuisine is better than another, merely noting some basic differences in the way Koreans and Japanese approach food. I love Korean and Japanese food alike. :)

                              1. re: joonjoon

                                The comment about comparing the two cuisines wasn't directed at you, just a general statement.

                                @Silverjay, I think the wave of Korean TV soap dramas and movies I would say about 10 years ago helped push the K-food frenzy further across Asia (Singapore/Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, three very strong consumer markets of K pop culture, fashion, food, etc). Of course Japan already had Korean immigrants settling in Japan (western part?) doing their own thing a while back with restaurants and incorporating some great delicious spicy stone hotpots and what not with kimchi and pork bellies, also replicated in izakaya's in Taiwan.

                                Here's another interesting parallel, the dried delicious mullet roe, Karasumi in Japan, Myeongran in Korea, and Wuyuzi (烏魚子) in Taiwan (and to an extent, bottarga in Sardinia). Then there are spinoffs like karashi mentaiko and whatever equivalent cod roe is put into Korean hot pots (tofu or stew soups/chigae).

                                But yes, there's nothing quite like baechu kim chi, even Northern Chinese equivalents aren't the same.

                                1. re: K K

                                  Was definitely eating chigae nabe well before "Winter Sonata" and Yon-sama appeared on the scene.

                          2. re: Silverjay

                            Are you certain that eating meat was prohibited under Buddhist dietary laws? Eating fish would also be prohibited as such, but fish is ingrained into Japanese dietary culture. I would have guessed that Japan is too mountainous and small to be able to support large herds of pigs, cattle, and the like.

                            1. re: raytamsgv

                              it's a grey area. the buddha was NOT a vegetarian - he died choking on a piece of pork.

                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                Yes, I'm very certain. This is an historical and well-known fact. There were multiple edicts issued over hundreds of years. The official ban was rescinded during the Meiji Restoration when the Emperor made an announcement that he ate meat on a regular basis. It was never actually a complete ban in the periods prior to the Meiji Era though. People hunted game like deer and wild boar. There were also some elicit meat restaurants that were serving meat as a sort of bogus health food. It was actually called "kusurigui" which means "medicinal food". But meat was generally considered taboo and was not a part of regular diet. There was NEVER a ban on fish. It's an island nation. However, some Buddhist sects practiced strict vegan style diets among clergy. Shojin ryouri is the legacy of this. They tried to spread this to the general population, but no one paid much attention. After all, it's not like a samurai army is going to go out and slice people up and crack skulls on a diet of dandelion greens, tofu, and green tea.

                            2. re: joonjoon

                              There are also places in Japan that serve fresh fish straight from the tanks, slaughtered, debone to order as sashimi, like horse mackeral (aji) for ike-jime, amongst many others (geoduck/mirugai, certain shellfish, spot prawns or other raw prawn equivalenti). I recall Andrew Zimmern in some Japan visit episode where he also ate live octopus, so it is not only a Korean thing.

                              Demand for Korean halibut (hirame) off the coast of Jeju Island has seen a spike in demand even at some California Japanese sushi bars (and tastes great).

                              Domi-chim or jjim, basically stewed sea bream is another interesting use/prep of the fish in Korea. It is very highly sought after in Japan.

                              Where there is definitely common ground.... kimchi stir fried with pork belly, and chives. Good stuff.

                          3. England vs France. An even shorter distance.

                            1. I am not surprised by their differences. Even within one country, two places can have regions with very diverse culinary styles right next to each other. But I like to compare and contrast and see how the two cuisines overlap, because I find what they have in common and what is distinct to be interesting. This includes Korean and Japanese cuisines.