While Korean cuisine (Han Shik) often varies from region to region, there are some ingredients that are consistently found in almost every dish. In fact, most Korean food, especially the side dishes (banchan), include similar ingredients that are prepared in different ways using varied ratios. We’ve put together a cast of ten essential ingredients for you to explore. Hover over each to learn more:
You’ll always find a bag of dried anchovies in a Korean kitchen. They’re often used to add rich flavors to broths, kimchi, and other dishes. Sweet, pan-fried anchovies are also a very popular banchan dish.
The chili pepper used in Korean cooking is known for its bright red color and spicy kick. Whether in pepper or paste form, the presence of chili adds complexity to all kinds of dishes from stews (jigae) to bibimbap to grilled meats.
Doenjang, or fermented soy bean paste, is a prized Korean ingredient that has been a part of Korean cooking since the Three Kingdoms. It’s the key ingredient to a number of Korean stews and is also the perfect dip for veggies.
It’s no surprise that Korea is often called the “Italy of Asia”—lots of family cooking and garlic in almost every dish. From kimchi to bulgogi, a healthy serving of garlic is a must.
Green onions, also known as scallions, are added for flavor and color in Korean stews, sauces, marinades, side dishes, and main dishes. Like garlic, green onions are a staple in Korean cooking.
A Korean meal isn’t complete without a side of kimchi, and the most common kimchi is made using napa cabbage. Napa cabbage is also used for cabbage stews and for wraps with pork and oysters.
A drizzle of sesame oil enhances the flavors of Korean dishes, especially rice-based ones like kimbap and bibimbap. Think of it as Korean cuisine’s answer to olive oil.
Whether they are black, roasted, or crushed, sesame seeds are added to many Korean dishes to give it that roasty flavor. You’ll find them sprinkled on/in dduck (sweet korean rice cakes), marinades, and various banchan dishes.
Soy sauce is not just a dipping sauce in Korean cooking. It’s a key ingredient for marinades and broths that is used in small amounts often with sugar, wine, and/or water.
Tofu is one of the most common non-meat proteins used in Korean dishes. Tofu is most commonly served in stews (soondubu jigae) and also used for various banchan dishes.