Mystified by the assortment of small dishes that accompany every Korean meal? Click on each dish to learn more about the most common types of banchan.
Bean sprout salad (kongnamul muchim)
This is one of the most common banchan in Korea. It’s quick to make: You steam the bean spouts with a pinch of salt and season with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Soy spinach (sigeumchi namul)
This is another common banchan in Korea. You blanch the spinach and season it with soybean paste, garlic, and sesame oil. This simple seasoning can also be used to make dozens of other vegetable side dishes. It’s one of the healthiest ways to incorporate a lot of vegetables into your daily diet.
Steamed Asian eggplant (gaji namul)
Asian eggplant is more delicate and sweater than the western kinds. In this dish, you steam the eggplant and toss it in sesame oil and sauce.
Spicy bok choy (cheonggyeongche muchim)
This is a variation on traditional banchan recipes for Korean mountain vegetables like bellflower roots and water dropwort. You blanch the bok choy and squeeze out the water, then season it with gochujang (Korean red chile paste), vinegar, and sesame oil.
Potato in soy sauce (gamja jorim)
Boiling ingredients in soy sauce is a very common preservation method in Korean cooking. This salty side dish can keep in the refrigerator for a long time.
Acorn jelly salad (dotorimuk)
Acorn jelly is a very unique ingredient found only in Korean cuisine. Acorn jelly doesn’t have much taste by itself. Because it’s very mild and delicate, it makes a great base to absorb other seasonings to make a very refreshing and healthy side dish.
Cold cucumber soup (oinaengguk)
This is thinly sliced cucumber seasoned in salt, sugar, and vinegar and served with ice cubes to keep it extra cold on the table. It’s a very popular summer treat.
Pan-fried tofu (dubu buchim)
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to eat tofu.You simply pan-fry firm tofu in oil and season it with soy sauce.
Black soybeans in soy sauce (kongjaban)
This is a very traditional Korean side dish that’s both savory and sweet. Boil the beans in water, then glaze them in soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. You can find the dried black soybeans in Korean or Asian grocery markets.
Banchan means “side dish” in Korean and there are hundreds of different kinds. At least a couple of banchan are always served at a Korean meal along with a bowl of rice and a soup, and they’re meant to be shared with everyone at the table. The most common banchan are seasoned vegetables (namul), fermented vegetables (kimchi), pickles (jangachi), and cured seafood (jeotgal). They make great side dishes for lunch boxes, too, because they are salty enough to keep without refrigeration for a day. Because they are salty, a little bit goes a long way when accompanying your meal. Unlike the main dishes in Korean cuisine, which are usually served extremely hot or cold, the side dishes are meant to be served at room temperature. You can store them for a long time in the refrigerator.
Born in Seoul, Korea, Robin Ha moved to the United States at age 14, and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration. Her work has been published in independent comics anthologies including Secret Identities and The Strumpet, as well as in the pages of Marvel Comics and Heavy Metal Magazine. Her blog Banchan in 2 Pages features Korean recipe comics, and her first book, Cook Korean! was published by Ten Speed Press in 2016.
Illustration reprinted with permission from Cook Korean! by Robin Ha, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.