Banchan – Korean side dishes (part 1 of 2)

Last week fellow blogger “myeverydayeats” asked me about my favourite Banchan, after I had commented on some that she had bought and blogged about. Her question inspired me to dedicate a blog post about these amazing range of side dishes, and to show you some of my favourite ones.

(This will a very long post, so I will split it in two and post about what I actually bought in a second blog post).

Banchan, or aka Korean side dishes, are an essential part of a Korean meal. They are not just snacks or side dishes, but often can be the meal, together with rice and soup.  Banchan is so important that restaurants are judged by the quality of their banchan—and how often they get refilled. (Unfortunately, here in the UK most restaurants will charge for banchan but luckily, I live close to New Malden where the Korean restaurants will always give you some for free)

Banchan are set in the middle of the table to be shared, and are always served in odd numbers, because even numbers are considered bad luck. Usually, the more formal the meals are, the more banchan there will be.

Korean families typically cook up large batches of these sides to be eaten over the course of the week. Depending on the cooking technique, they can last between 1-2 days (like some of the namul) up to months (most pickles and kimchi). There are endless variations of banchan, but the most common ones served are:

  • Kimchi: fermented vegetables (cabbage, cucumber, radish).
  • Namul: steamed, marinated or stir-fried vegetables usually seasoned with sesame oil, salt, vinegar, minced garlic, chopped green onions, dried chili peppers, and soy sauce.
  • Bokkeum: stif-fried food
  • Jjim: steamed food
  • Jjorim: food simmered in flavoured broth
  • jjeon: variety of pan-fried or pancake food
  • Ganmul: pickled food
  • Salad: this can be anything from simply some iceberg lettuce to korean potato salad
  • Gyeran mari: rolled omelet
  • Gim: seaweed

When I was at the supermarket yesterday (I went to both H mart and Korea Foods), I grabbed some of my favourites but I also made a few photos to show you the huge variety of food available.  Aside from banchan, the supermarkets also sells ready made food that is a meal on itself, like japchae and fried chicken. When I’m lazy or very busy, I often buy some of this and pack that for my lunch, like the supermarket lunch I wrote about in this post.

Loads of different banchan:

Loads of ready made food:

Bibigo had a food stall to promote their new mandu: 맛있어!!

And just to show you the sheer size of ramen options! So many to choose from… 😛

I will write in my next blog post more about the banchan I bought, so keep tuned! Or if you have any questions about the food seen in these photos, please let me know in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Banchan – Korean side dishes (part 1 of 2)

  1. Wow! I love this post! I love how you listed the different types of banchan. Most of my family has to eat gluten free. Do you think H Mart would custom make banchan for us so they were allergen free?

    • I’m not sure, you would have to ask them. There is such a huge range of banchan though that I’m sure there are some gluten free ones and I noticed that they do put some allergen info on the label. The biggest challenge is that not all Korean soy sauce is 100% gluten free (something to do with the production process) and of course soy sauce is such a staple ingredient in the Korean cuisine.

  2. Thank you for mentioning my blog 🙂

    This is full of great information! Now you remind me that my Korean friend did teach me how to make Namul a while ago, so I should make my own next time instead of buying. I really don’t remember the recipe tho. Making own kimchi might be fun too. Since there is a huge Koreatown in LA (where I live), I will try to find a kimchi making class.

    • You’re welcome, you inspired the post!
      Have a look on the internet, there are so many websites around that show how to make Korean food. I like Maangchi, crazykoreancooking, Kimchimari, Korean Bapsang and a few more that I can’t recall the name of right now.
      Having said that, I often buy instead of making purely because it’s so convenient and I can buy small portions

  3. What an amazing selection! It is quite mind-boggling, actually!

    I don’t have a lot of experience with the new popular breed of Korean eateries that have opened up in Singapore (fried chicken, bingsoo), but growing up, we did go to some Korean BBQ places with served a good selection of banchan. I have never seen such a wide-selection in a store, though.

  4. Pingback: Banchan – Korean side dishes (part 2 of 2) | dosirakbento

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