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The journey of Korean food

Jun 07,2021 - Last updated at Jun 07,2021

The phenomenal growth of Korean popular culture is owed in no small measure to Korean food, or Hansik, which has evolved through centuries of social and political change to rise to international prominence.

Patience, effort, philosophy and principle have guided the journey of Korean food and helped it endure, while formality, manner and taste have helped inform Korean and, more recently, foreign palates, making Hansik as popular abroad as it is on the Korean Peninsula.

Influenced by Confucian formalities and convention, Koreans apply stringent protocols to culinary practices. Rather than treating food as a means of mere sustenance, traditional Korean societies strictly maintained customs and formality at every meal. Old recipes show the balance and delicacy with which ingredients and food elements were combined, making meals remarkably proportioned while containing assortments of meat, vegetables, seasonings and sauces.

Not the type to nonchalantly eat, Koreans’ ancestors kept count of side dishes designated for each occasion, even for ordinary meals, with each assembled meal featuring evenly balanced combinations of plant- and animal-based items, of main and side dishes and of the five primary ethnic colours.

Globalisation, popular culture, music, movies, drama and online games brought Korea closer to the Western public; its cuisine has gained many aficionados, because it is both tasty and healthy

Grains, legumes, meats, condiments and seasoning blend to make Hansik ever more popular and Korean restaurants a fixture in many western countries. 

Rice, a crucial staple of Korean food, is often mixed with a variety of dishes that witness constant evolution in both its traditional and fusion forms.

If once only the Korean barbecue (bulgogi) was familiar to non-Koreans, now having Hansik constitutes a new and exciting culinary experience. Its unique flavour and depth are given by the use of fermented foods that include sauces, infused in the dishes, the famous kimchi — which epitomises Koreans’ culture of community and sharing, and some varieties of which were registered with UNESCO’s list of Humanity’s Intangible Cultural heritage in 2013 — pickled vegetables, soy bean paste or traditional rice wine. These fermented food items are unique to Korean cuisine. An essential part of any Korean dish is the seasoning, which consists of various sauces made from ingredients such as sesame oil, minced garlic, green onions and ginger.

Korean food reflects the abundance of ingredients each of the four distinct seasons has to offer, is infused with the colours, smells, textures and flavours of the season, and reveals a careful balance, for, Koreans continually sought to find ingredients that could work together in perfect harmony and be beneficial for health.

Healthy and delicious, elegant and varied, Korean food is making a reputable name, solidly asserting itself in the fickle culinary world and proving that it is here to stay.

This article is contributed to The Jordan Times by the Korean embassy on the occasion of the launching of K-food in Amman from June 10 to 12.

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