1. Get the right ingredients
Korean cooking is pretty straight forward if you have the right ingredients. Fortunately, the majority of the most important authentic Korean ingredients have a long shelf life, so they can be bought in advance in one go and kept on standby for whenever you need them.
As a great starting point, we would recommend buying the following Korean ingredients. All of them, including the kimchi, will last for months if stored properly, and you will be able to make a huge range of dishes from these Korean ingredients, supplemented with ingredients from your local supermarket. You can also check out my website for full information about all the essential ingredients for a Korean store cupboard – http://www.jordanbourke.com/ingredients/
- Gochujang chilli paste
- Gochugaru chilli powder
- Doenjang miso paste
- Korean roasted sesame seed oil
- Dried kelp, ‘dashima’ in Korean, also sold by the Japanese name ‘dashi kombu’
- Large dried anchovies, ‘myeolchi’ in Korean, usually in the refrigerated or frozen section
- Sweet potato noodles, ‘dangmyeon’ in Korean
- Kimchi, you can make your own, but to start out, buy a good quality pre made version
- Good quality short grain rice, preferably from Korea.
2. Be open to new flavours
Many people assume all Korean food is ridiculously spicy and full of garlic and ginger, perhaps because some of the nation’s most famous dishes are! However, there are a great range of dishes that are not overly spicy, or pungent, and those that are can easily be adjusted to your taste when cooking. However, as with any new cuisine, you should approach it with an open mind. For example, something like kimchi, a fermented, spicy cabbage, smells far stronger than it tastes! It is served with pretty much every meal in Korea and very quickly becomes an addictive must-have with every meal!
3. Make some side dishes ahead of time and have them stored in your fridge
If you are new to Korean food, you would be forgiven for thinking that an average meal takes hours to cook, as there are so many side dishes served alongside the main dish. In fact, most Korean side dishes are either fermented or pickled or naturally preserved in some way, so they can be made in advance and stored in the fridge, ready to dip into as and when needed. We would recommend making some kimchi, pickled garlic, seasoned lotus root, dried seasoned anchovies and spicy dried squid. The recipes for all of these dishes are in our book Our Korean Kitchen, and all of them last for weeks, if not months, kept in an airtight container in the fridge. Then all you have to do is cook a simple Korean dish, and serve it with a little of each of the side dishes, and you have an epic Korean meal right there!
4. Best dishes to try out as a beginner
If you are completely new to Korean food, we would recommend trying out:
- kimchi pancake
- bibimbap (see recipe here!)
- tofu kimchi
- beef & vegetables with sesame glass noodles, ‘japchae’ in Korean
- tofu & soybean paste soup
5. Learn to share!
Sharing is a huge part of Korean dining culture. Meals are not served in courses, instead all the dishes are served at the same time (apart from dessert). Depending on the number of people, there might be 2 or 3 main dishes, consisting of some kind of meat or fish, noodles and perhaps a stew of some kind. Alongside this, there will be multiple side dishes (as explained above). Everyone at the table has their own bowl of rice, but all the other dishes are enjoyed together, as a sign of companionship and fellowship with your family and friends. It is truly one of the most fulfilling parts of having a meal in Korea, as everyone looks after their family and friends first, ensuring everyone is looked after, before thinking about themselves. So try it out, invite over some friends, and have your own Korean feast!