My love and appreciation for banchan began in Canada growing up in a Korean family with a passion for Korean food and continues while teaching with Chungdahm in Korea. Teaching in Korea with Chungdahm is an amazing experience. My students are just wonderful, they love to learn the material and I have so much fun teaching them and interacting with them throughout each lesson. Also, you will really enjoy spending time and going out to eat with your fellow teachers too, and of course, banchan will be involved when you go to eat out.
Banchan, 반찬 meaning “side dish” in Korean, are served as the prelude to the main dish. However, they don’t serve the purpose of appetizers. They add a whole new dimension to a meal and act more as complements and are eaten together throughout the meal. When you eat out, which you will do a lot, expect to see anywhere from 5 to 12 different side dishes, and the best thing about them besides the variety and taste is that you can ask for more once you are finished.
Spicy Fermented Cabbage - Kimchi (김치)
Korea's most traditional and representative food and side dish is kimchi. Kimchi is made by salting basic napa cabbage and adding red pepper powder/flakes, sugar, garlic, ginger, and scallions. After mixing all ingredients and fermenting, you can enjoy this nutritious and healthy banchan which is well known for its spicy flavor, with rice, meats, stews, and even ramen noodles. Below is a link to an article illustrating the many benefits of eating this superfood called kimchi.
Seasoned Soybean Sprouts - Kongnamul (콩나물)
Seasoned Soybean Sprouts are one of the most commonly served side dishes in Korean homes and restaurants. This side dish is mildly seasoned to savor the natural nutty flavor of the soybean sprouts. Ingredients include scallion, garlic, sesame oil and seeds, salt and pepper to taste. In the spicier version it is very common to add red chili pepper flakes, along with a little bit of soy sauce, for a little Korean spicy flavor.
Spinach salad - Sigeumchi Namul (시금치 나물)
Sigeumchi Namul is one of my favorite side dishes as it is so healthy and tastes so good - especially since the added saltiness gives it a nice kick and flavor. In addition, the nuttiness of the sesame oil gives this spinach a deep, earthy flavor that pairs well with grilled meat. A great place for grilled meat if you are in the Hongdae area is a meat buffet restaurant with a salad bar called Meat-ing (미팅 고기뷔페). This is a good choice if you want all-you-can-eat pork and beef with a larger group as it costs only about ₩14,000 per person.
Besides spinach, ingredients include sesame oil, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, garlic, sea salt, and sugar. This banchan is one of the main components in bibimbap which also includes our other popular side dish kongnamul. Below is a link to an article for more authentic Korean barbecue places that provide great quality meats and a superior eating experience.
Stir-Fried Dried Anchovies - Myulchi Bokkeum (멸치 볶음)
A staple seafood banchan item at Korean restaurants that I really enjoy, especially the chewiness and crispiness texture, and nutritional value. The anchovies are salty and sweet, and the mixed in peppers are an interesting addition to tickle the palate. Korean dried anchovies are a tremendous source of DHA which is an important nutrient for the brain. Also, the bones are included when eating whole anchovies providing a great source of calcium for your body. Below is a link explaining the health benefits of DHA.
Braised Tofu - Dubu Jorim (두부조림)
This is a great side dish that is vegetarian, but it provides a meaty taste to your meal as a banchan.The tofu is braised and pan fried with caramelized onion, garlic, and green onions, making it juicy, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Ingredients included are sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, onion, green onion, salt and sugar for seasoning. This versatile side dish is also a standard in Korean dosirak (lunchbox), similar to Japanese bento because it keeps well until lunchtime and supplies a healthy dose of nutrition and protein. Here is an article highlighting key benefits of tofu.
Seasoned Perilla Leaves - Kkaennip Jangajji (깻잎 장아찌)
This is possibly my favorite side dish as I can eat this with just rice alone and it also complements grilled meats very well. Kkaennip Jangajji has a bit of everything as it is slightly sweet, garlicky, and salty, with a bit of mint and a touch of spicy heat. The taste is addictive and it is easy to make at home as well. Key components of this banchan are soy sauce, ground red chile pepper, sugar, garlic, and sesame seeds.
Spicy Bellflower Root Salad - Doraji Muchim (도라지 무침)
Spicy Bellflower Root Salad is a little more exotic and uncommon for a side dish. However it has a crunchy texture and spicy, tangy and bitter sweet flavor that you can fall in love with. Besides bellflower root, other ingredients are cucumber, green onion, sea salt, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, soy sauce, and red chili flakes. This side dish also works really well in bibimbap and has the added medicinal benefit of fighting colds and coughs. It looks similar to the ginseng root and has the similar bitter taste with a strong ginseng type smell. It can be more of an acquired taste, but I really enjoy this one too.
These are some of my personal favorite banchan you will enjoy in Korea as a Chungdahm teacher as the taste and nutritional value is through the roof. Side dishes are a whole new level of eating that will enhance your enjoyment of all the great food you can experience in Korea. So venture out into all of Korea including trying the many different flavors of banchan.
Brian Lee began his second stint teaching in Korea for ChungDahm Learning in February 2018. He previously taught at the Main Mokdong branch back in 2013 and is currently placed at the Mokdong2 branch. He enjoyed his first time so much that he decided to come back for a second time in order to continue exploring and experiencing all that Korea has to offer. Brian is a native of Canada where he graduated from both the University of Toronto and York University.