In 2013, Korean traditions of making kimchi, the country’s staple side-dish of fermented cabbage, or kimjang, was added to the UNESCO Representative of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
UNESCO has evaluated the culture of making kimchi as a part of maintaining the cohesiveness of Korean communities and identified the food as being an essential part of Koreans’ cultural identity.
Likewise, Korean food has transformed from a fad to a foodie trend over the last three years, becoming a cuisine that diners crave and finding a spot among Western menus.
More and more chefs are fusing Korean food elements with other cuisines from Mexico, France, the US and Japan to create Mexican/Korean fusion, bibimbap burgers, Korean sausages and Korean fried chicken.
Western restaurants, food trucks and eateries all over the world have even focused on Korean food types such as Korean barbecue, bibimbap and royal court cuisine.
Korea’s economic developments in technology, transport, finance and the spread of popular culture such as music, movies and television have piqued the world’s curiosity about the country.
When tourists visit Korea, they discover a country with a 5000-year history, creative and approachable people, a varied geography and climate, and an infinite number of restaurants serving a varied range of foods from barbecue, stews, soups and noodles to simple snacks.
Many Koreans have travelled overseas and have brought back Italian, French, Indian and American themes to add to the vibrant food scene in Korea.
Korean chefs are perfecting their recipes while adding their own unique twists to create remarkable restaurants. Some of these Korean restaurants, cafes and bakeries are currently expanding overseas.
Korea’s history, varied geography and four distinct seasons combined with Korean philosophy and culture have created a unique cuisine that is refreshing, energizing and diverse.
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Korean cuisine is based on the idea of Um Yang Ohaeng, which illustrates contrasts (um yang) and five elements (ohaeng): fire, earth, water, metal and wood. Koreans believe that everything is made up of opposites such as black/white, male/female, spicy/sweet, salty/bland, hot/cold, etc. The one cannot exist without the other so that there must be balanced harmony between them, which makes up the um yang. Ohaeng is the belief that everything in the universe is made up of five elements, which have corresponding flavors and colors.
Korean cuisine follows this philosophy by using varied ingredients prepared with different cooking techniques with a dynamic array of colors. The Korean dishes, Dolsot-Bibimbap (Spicy-mixed Rice in a Stone Bowl) and Japchae (Mixed Glass Noodles with Vegetables and Beef), demonstrate this concept of balanced contrasts and the five elements.
The influence of Confucianism is prevalent in the culture as well in the cuisine. Sharing, respect for the elders and the importance of family are vital in Korean table manners. The way that one acts in life and at a dinner table is a reflection of how individuals were raised by their parents.