Banchan: All you need to know

Banchan: All you need to know

If you go back to any of the K-Dramas you have seen, there is this one scene which is pretty common: a mother coming to her child's house bringing a big bag full of plastic containers with food to stock up the fridge. All that food you see is called banchan. So what exactly are these colorful, bursting with flavour array of dishes?

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Banchan (반찬) which in English translates to side dish, are served as accompaniments with the main course. They are an integral part of the Korean cuisine, from simple meals made at home to a full spread at celebrations, they are always — always —  there. These dishes can be had as a meal all by themselves.

These scrumptious dishes can be traced back to the mid Three Kingdom period. They are said to have been the product of Buddhist influence. The dominant Kingdoms had adopted Buddhism as the state religion, which led to a nationwide ban on eating meat. With meat out of the picture, vegetable dishes became the primary aspect of meals. Court kitchens developed a variety of methods for preparing, cooking, and presenting these dishes to the Kings. More simple dishes were developed by the less affluent or common people. With the Mongol invasion, the proscriptions on meat ended. Even though meat became a part of the staple diet again, nearly six centuries of a primarily vegetarian fare had left its mark on Korean cuisine.

The best way to get to know banchan is by grouping them into various categories depending on the preparation technique. Almost all the side dishes fall under these categories : kimchi and jangajji (장아찌, fermentation and pickling), namul muchim (나물 무침, steamed, marinated, or stir-fried vegetable, herb or greens), bokkeum (볶음, stir-fried), jorim (조림, simmered in a seasoned broth), jjim (찜, steamed) and jeon (전, pan-fried pancake-like dishes)

This is the essential banchan of a standard Korean meal. Some Koreans do not consider a meal complete without kimchi.  It is the national dish of Korea. Kimch is made from salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radishes, with a variety of seasonings, including gochugaru (chili powder), scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood). It is said that there are over 150 varieties ranging from vegetables, seasoning, and region.

Want to be a Kimchi expert? To know more about this amazing dish and its varieties you can take a look at these articles:
The Different Kinds of Kimchi and Korea's National Dish: Kimchi

Namul Muchim
Namul means vegetable or root; muchim means to season.  For namul any type of vegetable, herb, or green can be used. The ingredient includes roots, leaves, stems, seeds, sprouts, petals, and fruits. Mostly the vegetables are blanched before being seasoned but the preparation method can vary; they may be served fresh, boiled, fried, sauteed, fermented, dried, or steamed. Namul can be seasoned with salt, vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang  (chili paste) and many other things. The dishes can vary according to season.

Common dishes : Kongnamul (seasoned soybean sprouts), Sigeumchi-namul (parboiled spinach dressed with sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce) etc.

In Korean, jorim means “simmer or boil down.” For these, ingredients such as fish, seafood, meats, dubu (bean curd/tofu) and vegetables are simmered in seasoned broth until the liquid is absorbed or reduced down. These dishes are usually soy sauce based, but gochujang or gochugaru can also be added, especially to fishes such as mackerel or cuttle fish.
Common dishes:  Jang-jorim (soy sauce simmered beef), Dubu-jorim (simmered tofu) etc.

Bokkeum includes dishes that have been stir-fried with sauce. 
Common dishes: Bokkeum-bap (fried rice), Tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes), Nakji-bokkeum (stir-fried octopus) etc.

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Jjim refers to dishes made by steaming or boiling ingredients that have been marinated in a sauce or soup. In Korean cuisine, this technique originally referred to dishes cooked in a siru (earthenware steamer). Meat, chicken, fish, or shellfish are usually the main ingredients. They are marinated and put to a boil with a small amount of water. Various vegetables and seasoning are added for enhanced flavor.
Common dishes: Gyeran-jjim (steamed eggs), Galbi-jjim (braised short ribs).

Jeon are pancake like dishs made by seasoning fish, meat, vegetables, etc., and coating them with wheat flour and egg wash before frying them in oil. Some are sweet desserts such as hwajeon (flower pancake).
Common dishes: Gamja-jeon (potato pancake), Pajeon (scallion pancake).

Written by Twinkle

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