The usual diet of the Koreans consists of boiled cereals, soup, kimchi (pickled vegetables) and stew made of vegetables and meat.
The custom of using boiled cereals as the staple food was established long ago because rice, foxtail millet and barley suitable for cooking have been grown in large amounts all over the country from early times. Wheat was raised in the southern part of the Korean peninsula in ancient times, but before the 15th century its consumption was limited. The side dishes in the usual diet of the Koreans are mainly soup, kimchi and stew made of vegetables and meat.
Boiled cereals are traditionally taken together with soup at every meal all the year round. As a Korean saying goes, "Cooked cereals may be taken without side dishes but not without soup." This is because bean paste and soy sauce, indispensable in making soup, were used as the main seasonings from early times.
As compared to soup prepared using Western cuisine techniques, Korean soup uses a wider range of cooking methods, ingredients and seasonings. The real taste of soup depends on the taste of the liquid part. So attention is paid to making the liquid part nutritious and tasty, rather than to the solid ingredients.
The Koreans consider that the real taste of a meal cannot FOLK CUSTOMS be appreciated without kimchi. It is a dietary custom peculiar to the Koreans that kimchi is always served in all seasons, although other dishes may not be always served. Kimchi is a nutritious foodstuff which is fermented by lactic acid bacilli and abounds in various kinds of vitamins and microelements. It plays an important role in neutralizing the acid humours with alkali ones for the Koreans who eat boiled cereals as their staple food. The taste of kimchi represents a culinary art peculiar to each family, which is handed down from mother to daughter to such an extent that it can be said to show the level of cooking skill of the housewife. Kimchi, called the "masterpiece of Korea", is characteristic of Korean cuisine.
Stew is a side dish containing vegetables and meat boiled in a thicker soup, and seasoned and salted appropriately.
In the diet of the Koreans bean paste and soy sauce are indispensable basic seasonings and, at the same time, important subsidiary foodstuffs. As a Korean saying goes, "The taste of food means the taste of bean paste and soy sauce." Bean paste and soy sauce determine the taste of almost all the dishes. Particularly, bean paste is a nutritious subsidiary food. Foodstuffs basically made of Korean soya beans called "meat growing in the field" and their processing techniques are called "soy food culture". Paste made of soya beans holds an important place in it. Korean bean paste was introduced to Japan in the 5th century. The Japanese bean paste, called miso, derives its name from miljo, a dialect word of the Koryo period.
Specialists in cookery worldwide appreciate the tonic nature of Korean dishes. This can be traced back to the old days, when the Koreans constructed their diet on the principle that "medicine and food have the same origin." Hence, the names of many Korean dishes are prefixed with the term "medicinal". To mention a few, among the varieties of cooked rice, there is boiled medicinal rice prepared with glutinous rice mixed with honey, jujubes, dried persimmons, pine nuts, chestnuts and sesame oil; among the varieties of rice cake there is medicinal rice cake, prepared with white-rice and glutinous- rice powders steamed with chestnuts, jujubes, dried persimmons, pine nuts and honey, and dyed light pink, green and yellow with the juice of Schizndra chinensis, Angelica gigas powder and pine pollen; among cakes, there is medicinal cake made of flour kneaded together with oil. honey and wine, and fried; among drinks, there is medicinal wine for the promotion of health; and among seasonings, there is a condiment which not only harmonizes the taste of food but also is taken in small doses for curative purposes.
Korea has four clearly distinct seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter and diverse seasonal foods. These originated in the seasonal festivals associated with firming.
A typical Korean table is set with one spoon and a pair of chopsticks for each diner. It is a traditional custom of the Koreans that all members of the family sit around a table laid with various kinds of dishes and seasonings on a heated floor and eat warm food, using spoons and chopsticks. Children, juniors or hosts do not begin to eat before parents, elders or guests take up their spoons and chopsticks, and the former do not put down their spoons and chopsticks on the table or rise from their seats before the latter do so. Instead, they wait, placing their spoons and chopsticks on their soup bowls till the latter finish their meals and put down their spoons and chopsticks. They observe this protocol out of respect for elders and guests.