Have you ever eaten at a Korean restaurant? You’d know then about the side dishes they serve with the main.
These banchan as they’re called, are small portions; typically vegetables such as kimchi (fermented vegetables) and namul (steamed, marinated or stir-fried vegetables). There might also be meat-based banchan, such as stir-fried anchovies, stir-fried pork, or stir-fried baby octopus in a spicy pepper paste sauce.
Banchan are thought to have originated when Koreans were on a non-meat diet due to Buddhist influence during the Three Kingdoms period, which explains why they are generally vegetable-based. They’re placed in the middle of the table to be shared, and in odd numbers because even numbers are thought to be unlucky.
Because of the number of banchan, people unfamiliar with them might wonder how they’re supposed to be eaten. But there’s no right or wrong way to eat banchan. Some people might eat them as appetisers, while others prefer to treat them as condiments and flavour enhancers to complement their main dish, which might be rice and a soup. Banchan have a purpose, but it’s up to the person eating them to decide what that is.
As South Korean comedian and renowned foodie Kim Joon Hyun says, “There’s no banchan that’s meant to be a decoration. They make a meal more delicious.”
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