Korean culture has long been a subject of international interest since the Halyu, or Korean Wave, of the 2000’s. Everywhere from music, fashion, technology, and food has found its way into the norm of the Filipino palate and style.
The Korean mainstream was introduced through telenovelas on our local airwaves, which grew in popularity due to the new style of storytelling. The fascination towards these telenovelas fueled the interest in Korean music, food, and culture.
Check out the introduction into the Korean culture in this basic guide to their entertainment, food, and drinks.
A musician plays the Gayageum, a traditional Korean zither-like instrument historically played as accompaniment for court or lyric songs.
The mysterious music makes it very hard to peel ones eyes from the player’s fingers.
A group of women dance the mesmerizing Buchaechum in Dangui costumes and customary Jokduri tiara.
The fans are decorated with bright pink Peony flowers, which the synchronized dancers manipulate to resemble blossoms, trees, and waves. You have to see it to believe it!
A Korean immersion is lacking without a high energy K-Pop (Korean Pop) dance stint. K-pop refers to a wide selection of music accompanied by flashy visuals.
It is nice to observe the evolution of culture from the music, costumes, and choreographies.
Traditionally, Korean men and women will wear the Hanbok (meaning Korean clothing) during festivals and other special occasions.
This clothing comes from the Joseon Period and typically consists of a Jeogori (upper garment covering the arms), Chima (skirt for women), and Baji (pants for men). On some occasions, men will wear the Jokki (vest) or a Magoja (long jacket that covers the Jeogori).
Director of the Korean Cultural Center, Oh Choong-Suk is awarded a certificate of appreciation while wearing his Magoja.
The Cultural Center teaches a variety of programs including Gayageum music lessons, dance lessons, Taekwondo (a Korean martial art focusing on kicks), cooking demonstrations, and more.
You can visit their website for more information: Korean Cultural Center Official Website
KOREAN DRINKS TO TRY
Soju (Green bottle)
Soju is an alcoholic rice drink that tastes like Vodka—it’s very easy to pair with a variety of dishes due to the clean flavor. Soju’s alcohol content ranges from 16%-45%, so drink responsibly!
Makgeolli (Korean Rice Wine)
This off white, milky wine has an alcohol volume of 6-8% and its sweet-sour flavor is popular with the ladies!
Its health benefits range from beautiful skin to good digestion. Did you know that this fermented drink has similar “good” bacteria found in Yakult? According to our guide, one bottle of Makgeolli is equal to 100 bottles of Yakult. That’s one happy stomach! :)
Bokpunja Ju (Black Raspberry Wine)
Bokbunja Ju’s distinctly pleasant taste comes from Black Raspberries fermented in water. While it is sweet and almost juice-like, its alcohol content is 15-19%!
“Bok” means upside down, while “pun” means “toilet bowl”, and “ja” means man. The comedic explanation behind this lies in the idea that drinking Bokpunja gives you the strength to turn your toilet upside down. Other benefits of this drink include virility and prevention of liver disease.
Insamju (Korean Ginseng Wine)
Insamju has an alcohol content of 20% and is typically known as a medicinal wine drunk by Korean elders.
Some of its benefits include a cure for the lack of appetite, paralysis, blood pressure, infertility, and weak sexual stamina.
KOREAN FOODS TO TRY
Contrary to the more popular Hot Bulgogi, the cold variety highlights the delicate flavors of vegetables in the dish. Vegetables you can easily distinguish in this variety are the fresh radish, bean sprouts and bell peppers.
Bulgogi refers to a dish with strips of sirloin beef marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and pepper.
Another variety of Bulgogi made with rice cakes that are soft and chewy in texture. Since they taste bland on their own, they get most of their flavor from the sauces.
The Ddukbokki, or the tubular rice cakes, are generally eaten as a street food with Gochujang (fermented chili sauce).
Dwaejibulgogi (Korean Pork Barbecue)
Usually, this marinated grilled pork belly is eaten wrapped in fresh lettuce with garlic. It’s best to share among a large group of friends!
Its un-marinated form, called Samgyeopsal, is also largely available in Korean restaurants for grilling.
The Spicy Squid’s main sauce is Gochujang, a fermented chili paste—giving the dish that signature sweet, sour, and fiery flavor.
The term “Bokkeum” is a generic name for a typical Korean stir-fry in a sauce. So if you see “Bokkeum” in the menu, you’ll have an idea of what to expect!
Hobakjeon (Pan Fried Korean Zuchini)
The Hobakjeon is usually eaten as an everyday Banchan (side dish). It’s recommended that you eat them with milder tasting Korean dishes to appreciate the subtle flavors of the battered vegetable.
SIGNATURE KOREAN DISHES & HOW THEY'RE MADE
Kimchi is a fermented side dish popularly made with vegetables as the main ingredient. Historically, this side dish was developed in preparation for the harsh winters where vegetation was scarce. Thus, to make vegetables available year-round, Koreans fermented them in large clay pots underground.
The basic ingredients of Kimchi consist of Napa Cabbage, carrots, sweet glutinous rice flour, sugar, salt, radish, green onions, chives, Korean pear, Minari (dropwort), garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, fermented salted shrimp, and Gochugaru.
The chef salts and soaks the Napa Cabbage in the brine for 2 hours prior.
The chef combines all the precut vegetables (minus the Napa Cabbage) with the glutinous rice paste and mixes it well to make a “rub” for the Kimchi.
Kimchi gets its color and fire from Gochugaru (dried hot pepper flakes).
All ingredients are mixed well into a "rub" for the Kimchi.
The next step is rub the red paste all over the cabbage.
The key to a good Kimchi is really getting as much rub on the cabbage as possible! Remember: the redder, the better.
Since the paste is the most important part of the fermented side dish, you can opt to use other vegetables like cucumber or radish.
Once the rubbing process is complete, make sure to keep your Kimchi in an airtight container.
You can choose to eat it right away, or choose to let it ferment for a few days at room temperature. Putting it in the fridge slows down fermentation.
Kimchi is best enjoyed when it’s sour—you can achieve this after 3 days to a week of fermentation.
Gujeolpan (Platter of 9 Delicacies)
Gujeolpan refers to an octagonal serving dish that is segmented into 9 different portions. The outside portions contain sliced vegetables and meat, while the inner portion contains a “wrap” made of flour or thinly sliced radish.
This modern variety of the Gujeolpan contains crabstick, carrot, cucumber, Shiitake mushrooms, Enoki mushrooms, eggs, Bulgogi, cucumber, and radish. It can be served as a main dish or as an appetizer.
The basic preparation calls for julienned (cut into matchsticks) vegetables, marinated beef, sautéed mushrooms, and cooked egg cut into thin strips.
The large radish is expertly cut into thin slices; this makes the “wrap” for the vegetables, meat, and sautéed mushrooms.
You can choose to mix and match your wrap.
You can even eat the wrap with different sauces like Gyeoja (Korean mustard powder, water, vinegar, and sugar) or Kan Jang (soy sauce, vinegar, and wasabi).
Japchae (Stir-fried Glass Noodles)
Japchae is a Korean specialty made of an assortment of vegetables and glass noodles made of sweet potato.
Its basic ingredients include sesame oil, carrots, onion, spinach, and mushrooms.
Historically, Japchae had no noodles at all!
However, the starchy noodles were soon added to the dish when the Chinese introduced it in the 20th century. You can either soak the noodles overnight or boil the noodles for 6 minutes. You can opt for rice noodles or egg noodles, but this will change the flavor of the dish.
The chef adds the stir-fried veggies to the marinated glass noodles.
Sesame oil is added for the distinctly Asian flavor.
The chef mixes the noodles and vegetables well and adds some sesame seeds for fragrance and extra flavor.
While commonly served as a side dish, it can become a main course when on a bed of steamed rice (Japchae-Bap).
Korean culture is rich, unique and so full of history. There is a lot you can learn simply by observing another country’s food and drink.
We hope our guide can teach you to eat, drink, and party like a local before you head on your next trip. Anyeonghi gaseyo!
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Live an Awesome Life,
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Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: Our coverage of Korean culture and food was courtesy of Sofitel Plaza Manila and Spiral Buffet. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here.
P.S. You can still try out the delicious food at Spiral Buffet's Korean Atelier.