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Symbolism Of Korean Food

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Table of contents

  1. Side Dishes – Kimchi and Danmuji
  2. Kimbap
  3. Rice cakes
  4. Bibimbap

Side Dishes – Kimchi and Danmuji

This Korean food lately had a lot of attention from the world, which makes Korea now one of the top country that is very well known in this aspect of their food tradition. One of the food tradition is a side dish, named ‘kimchi’. The meaning of ‘kimchi’ is a spicy pickled cabbage, which mostly they eat with the main dish. Spicy pickled cabbage is the most well known as a side dishes by the global, even to just eating the kimchi with rice. Not only that, there are various types of kimchi other than using cabbage. This various types of kimchi also will let the traditional table settings become full of side dishes. The person who eat the formal Korean table will enjoy the harmony of eating various vegetables which they believe that eating more vegetables every day will become more energized and healthier.

Other than that, ‘danmuji’ also one of the most popular side dishes other than kimchi. Danmuji is basically a yellow pickled radish, where most of them they enjoyed with noodles. In fact the origin and history of these two is quite interesting because one is originally from Korea but one more originated from Japan. When we talk about history of kimchi it means we talk about history of Korean soul because in essence it is a living history and the most important kimchi is truly the embodiment of Korean culture. While danmuji also called as “takuan” in Japan is not original Korean culture foods but it was very famous which is created by Takuan Soho.

The effects of food globalisation on these two foods is had been exported to many countries so that other country can enjoy the way of eating of Korean tradition. Actually, this scenario happened due to a lot of request by the Korean food lover’s across the world. In fact, South Korea imported more than 275,000 tonnes of kimchi in 2017. These kimchi and danmuji tend to be one of the top side dish food that have become favourite among the global.


Word of kimbap is actually came from kim and bap, kim means seaweed while bap is rice but it also called as ‘gimbap’. Kimbap is a Korean dish and also one of traditional food in Korean, it is actually made from cooked rice that had been wrapped in dried seaweed. It is often called Korean sushi because the appearance both of it is almost the same, usually the ingredients of kimbap in the roll are cucumber, fishcake, meat, imitation crab, spinach, danmuji, egg and so on.

Kimbap is one of the famous take-out or packed meal in Korea, because it is well wrapped and does not use any liquid ingredients that makes it really easy to enjoy the food and can avoid from getting messed. Thus, it also make Kimbap known as a convenient food because of it portability which is easy to bring during picnics, outdoor events and more.

There is a lot of contention about the origin of Kimbap. Actually, there is two theories about the origin of kimbap. First, it is originated in Korea which is the creation of kimbap is because of the old tradition eating cooked rice (bap) and vegetables wrapped in seaweed (gim). Second one is it claims that kimbap is derived from Norimaki, in which it is a type of Japanese sushi. In all probability both are correct, given the long history of both peaceful and violent contact between Korea and Japan. Ssam or gim has been recorded in references as existing from the time of Goryeo, and the use of laver as early as the Silla period. The use of laver as a wrap probably transferred from either Korea or China to Japan, where it eventually evolved into sushi, and was then transferred back to Korea as that form.

Along with the recent Korean Wave which is K-dramas and K-pop, Korean food has also garnered a lot of attention and gained significant popularity. Little do people know that there is a relatively large population of Korean expats here in the Malaysia. As a result, the impact of globalization on the Korean culture foods happened here where there are many restaurants in Malaysia now are served kimbap and other certain Korean dishes even if the restaurant is not meant to serve for Korean cuisine. Furthermore, in Malaysia also there are a lot of Korean food lovers who always seeking for the best place to enjoy Korean meals.

Rice cakes

Other than that, the food that is well known from the Korea is spicy rice cakes. It can also be known as tteobokki (ddeobokki), a cylindrical, chewy white rice cakes called tteok are stir fried in a delicious spicy gochujang based sauce. Tteokbokki is a traditional Korean street food which can be usually purchased from street vendors also called “pojangmacha” in Korean. A savoury elements are added to the sauce by way of anchovy stock, dried kelp and a splash of sesame oil.

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This rice cakes can also be toasted in a cast iron pan or even charred over a grill, slightly crunchy on the outside and still stay pleasantly chewy and soft on the inside. This type of food are well known also from the Japan, which is called Yaki Mochi. Mostly people enjoy roasted rice cakes with sweet sauce such as brown sugar sauce or honey. This non-spicy rice cakes is often eaten by people who don’t eat spicy food and people who prefer sweet, soft and chewy foods. It is one of the most famous Korean street-foods, tteokbokki is being eaten as a snacks, for Korean people, which can be at the afternoon or midnight.

If we look at the history of tteokbokki, there are many different stories about it in which is regarding to when the first ttekbokki are created in the history. According to bibliographic data, the first tteokbokki ever created in Korean history is during Josean dynasty as written in the book called “Siui Jeongso” in the late of this dynasty. In the other hand, some said that tteokbokki already exist before the Three Kingdoms period, it means the history is longer than what we were expected and considered.

Besides, during Joseon dynasty there is a medical officer, Jeon Sunui who writes a book titled “Shingnyo chanyo” which contain the information on how to cure people through food and the word “tteokbokki” found in that book. Actually, tteokbokki is one of the food that proposed by him that had been used to cure people. Tteokbokki also one of the Korean royal court cuisine during Joseon dynasty but it is slightly different from our version of tteokbokki, their version was called “Gungjeon tteokbokki” or Palace tteokbokki. Gungjeon tteokbokki was in brown coloured and tasted plain compared to our version of tteokbokki which is red and spicy. Just like the name given, gunjeong tteokbokki is the main example of Korean haute cuisine it is the combination of tteok, meat, vegetables and some seasoning.

During 1950s, due to the Japanese influence in Joseon dynasty gochujang was introduced and since then tteokbokki became red and spicy. Gochujang is Korean spicy paste made of chilli peppers. It’s believed that the history happened also called as food globalisation which is the origin style of tteokbokki had changed because influence of Japan. In addition, most of people said the main transition from plain to spicy tteokbokki occurred when it is happen after the independence day of Korea. This is the reason why tteokbokki modern version were sold in the street vendors is in red colour and it tasted spicy.

The impact of globalisation on this food is tteokbokki has become one of the instant and convenient food like instant noodle that is sold in any markets. It is been wrapped in airtight packaging and sold in most of every country markets. The most interesting is that the product got a good response in many countries as we can see there were many videos of “tteokbokki food review” in social media.


Other than that, the main dish that is traditionally popular among Korea and have become one of the most attractive dish that attracts the world is called ‘bibimbap’, which it is truly a unique dish. Most of the people are so used to it until that they forgot the uniqueness of the dish, but there is nothing in the world that is a messy mixture of ingredients like bibimbap. Bibimbap is a very colourful dish with various colourful vegetables, rice and also served with an egg for the toppings, which are mixed with the addition of gochujang (red chili paste), or sometimes they serve separately, making the texture very different from what it was in the beginning.

Furthermore, its taste is very unique. This is because the mixture of the ingredients gives this dish a taste that is of a different dimension altogether and also can actually taste all of its individual ingredients. This is where the mystery of bibimbap lies. This dish truly reflects the character of the Korean people. There are many types of Korean dishes that involve mixing and harmonization.

Here some briefs about the history of bibimbap. Bibimbap is only about a century old, but it derives from Goldongban, a meal that use the concept of mixing up all the things you got including rice, vegetables, meat also the ‘special’ sauce. It is far older, emerging sometime during the Joseon dynasty. Goldongban had a ritualistic, and potluck, component to it. It was eaten on the eve of the Lunar New Year, allowing people to clear out their pantries at the year’s end, throwing whatever was left over into their rice bowls, tossing it together, and considering it as a dinner.

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Symbolism Of Korean Food. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Symbolism Of Korean Food.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
Symbolism Of Korean Food. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
Symbolism Of Korean Food [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Dec 6]. Available from:
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