What Is Banchan?

What Is Banchan?

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Korean BBQ has taken the world by storm, but who’s surprised? Going to Korean BBQ is such an experience in itself. The nice aroma of the different cuts of meat cooking, while chatting with your friends over a nice cold beer after a long day is unbeatable. That’s the beauty in Korean BBQ, not only do you get to eat delicious food, but it brings people together. Fun fact: This is how the idea of KPOP Foods was born! Aside from the meat, one of the best parts of Korean BBQ is the banchan that comes out before your meal. It’s those little tasty dishes that hold you over until the main course arrives.

What Is Banchan? 

Banchan, which translates directly to side dishes, are the small plates served before the main course and complement the meal. They’re a staple for Korean cuisine and no meal is truly complete without it.  Every Korean restaurant will serve you banchan no matter what you order. Sometimes you may even get as many as 10-20 banchans for your table! There’s such a huge variety of different banchans and ways to prepare them; you may feel like you’re encountering new ones each time. Here are some of the most popular banchans you’ll find at your local Korean restaurant!

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Fermented Cabbage (Kimchi) 

Kimchi is by far the most popular banchan out there; you can almost guarantee that it’ll be served with your meal. It’s cabbage that's been  fermented with a mixture of vegetables, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and fish sauce. Generally speaking, kimchi has a sour, spicy, and umami flavor. Of course, everybody has their own rendition on how they make it with their personal tweaks. Some like it more pungent, while others may prefer it more mild in flavor. It all depends on how long the fermentation process has been. 

Check out how to make Kimchi here!

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Mung Bean Jelly (Cheongpo Muk)

Mung Bean Jelly, also known Cheongpo Muk or Nokdu Muk is made from mung bean starch. Unlike American jellies that are typically sweet, this jelly has a light savory flavor. The jelly itself does not have a strong flavor of its own, rather it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce you dress it with. Most often it’s tossed in a mixture with just a couple of ingredients, including sesame oil, chili pepper, garlic, and more. The texture is bouncy and chewy, which gives a nice contrast when eating a lot of meat.

Check out how to make Mung Bean Jelly here!

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Pickled Radish (Danmuji)

Pickled radish is another banchan that is commonly found in Korean restaurants. Most people are familiar with radish being white. However, the Korean pickled radish holds a bright yellow color largely due to the turmeric that it’s pickled in. It has a refreshing yet tangy flavor to it, which is great at cutting through oily foods. Many will have this in between bites when eating something heavy. 

Check out how to make Pickled Radish here

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Potato Salad (Gamja Saelleodeu)

This potato salad is amazing for those who have a sweeter palette. Unlike the traditional American mashed potatoes that just have milk and butter, this has a lighter refreshing taste. To start, it’s served cold and mixed with cucumber and apples which give it a nice crunch every bite. You can also take out or add whatever you like to make it the perfect Gamja Saelleodeu for you! 

Check out how to make Potato Salad here!

Now that you know all about banchan, next time you go out, try and see how many you recognize when you eat at your favorite Korean restaurant! Even better yet, you can take on the challenge of trying out those recipes and make an entire spread for yourself at home. What makes banchan so great is that it can be eaten with any meal and lasts for a long time. If you make them, your meals will be set for days!