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Banchan: Essential Side Dishes Guide

Banchan: Essential Side Dishes Guide

Banchan: Essential Side Dishes Guide

Unraveling the Magic of Korean Banchan

As I stepped into the bustling kitchen of my favorite Korean restaurant in Boston, the aroma of sizzling meats and the vibrant colors of an array of small dishes caught my eye. These were the banchan, the indispensable side dishes that set the stage for a truly authentic Korean dining experience.

Banchan, the unsung heroes of Korean cuisine, are so much more than just accompaniments to the main course. They are a delightful symphony of flavors, textures, and colors that elevate the entire meal. From the crisp and tangy pickled radish to the earthy, savory soybean sprouts, each banchan dish is a testament to the depth and diversity of Korean culinary traditions. [1]

As I sat down and began to explore the banchan spread, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. These little plates weren’t just side dishes – they were windows into the rich tapestry of Korean culture, each one with its own story to tell. [2]

The Art of Banchan

The art of crafting banchan is not merely about following recipes; it’s about understanding the underlying principles that shape this integral part of Korean cuisine. According to food blogger Kim Chan-Sook, banchan is influenced by Eastern philosophy, where the goal is to create a harmonious balance of flavors, colors, and textures. [3]

This philosophy is reflected in the traditional guidelines for banchan composition. The ideal banchan spread should feature a variety of dishes, each representing one of the five colors – green (or blue) for east, red for south, yellow for center, white for west, and black for north. Additionally, the number of banchan dishes is often dictated by the principles of yin and yang, with odd numbers being considered more auspicious. [3]

But beyond the philosophical underpinnings, the true magic of banchan lies in the diverse cooking techniques employed to create each dish. From the delicate blanching of soybean sprouts to the robust braising of lotus roots, the banchan repertoire showcases the culinary prowess of Korean home cooks and chefs alike. [4]

Exploring the Banchan Spectrum

As I delved deeper into the world of banchan, I was struck by the sheer variety and versatility of these side dishes. From the ubiquitous and beloved kongnamul (seasoned soybean sprouts) to the more unconventional dotorimuk muchim (seasoned acorn jelly), each banchan dish held its own unique charm.

One of the standout banchan that captivated my senses was the oi muchim, or spicy cucumber salad. The thin, crunchy slices of cucumber were tossed in a tantalizing blend of hot pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and fragrant sesame oil, creating a bold and refreshing flavor profile. [3]

Another banchan that left a lasting impression was the maneul jangajji, or pickled garlic. The pungent yet sweet-sour flavor of the quick-pickled garlic cloves was the perfect accompaniment to the rich and savory main dishes. What’s more, the leftover pickling liquid could be used as a versatile dressing or dipping sauce, showcasing the ingenious resourcefulness of Korean cooks. [3]

As I continued my banchan exploration, I encountered a wide array of preparations, from the delicate steamed eggplant known as gaji namul to the delightfully crunchy mu saengchae, a spicy shredded radish salad. Each dish seemed to have its own unique story and cultural significance, making the experience of dining on banchan akin to embarking on a culinary adventure. [3]

Banchan in the Modern Kitchen

While the traditions and techniques of banchan-making have been passed down through generations, the modern Korean kitchen has also seen a renaissance of innovative interpretations. Chefs and home cooks alike are pushing the boundaries of what defines a banchan, experimenting with new ingredients and flavor combinations.

One such example is the Korean-style macaroni salad, a dish that has gained popularity in recent years. By blending the creamy, tangy flavors of a classic macaroni salad with the umami notes of soy sauce and the subtle sweetness of sugar, this banchan offering has become a beloved staple in many Korean households and restaurants. [5]

Another modern twist on banchan is the gochujang mayo tuna patty, a delightful fusion of Korean and Western flavors. The richness of the canned tuna is enhanced by the mild tanginess and umami punch of gochujang, a Korean fermented chili paste, and creamy mayonnaise. Breaded with crunchy panko breadcrumbs, these patties are a satisfying and versatile banchan that can be enjoyed on their own or as a topping for bibimbap. [5]

As I sampled these innovative banchan creations, I couldn’t help but marvel at the way Korean cuisine continues to evolve, seamlessly blending tradition and modernity. These dishes not only showcased the ingenuity of Korean cooks but also highlighted the versatility and adaptability of banchan as a culinary concept.

Banchan: A Lifelong Exploration

As I bid farewell to the Korean restaurant, my mind was abuzz with the flavors and textures I had experienced. Banchan, it seemed, were more than just side dishes – they were a gateway to understanding the rich tapestry of Korean culture and cuisine.

From the meticulously crafted kongnamul to the playful Korean-style macaroni salad, each banchan dish I encountered was a testament to the creativity, resourcefulness, and culinary prowess of Korean cooks. And as I continue on my own banchan exploration, I can’t wait to discover even more of the hidden gems that make this aspect of Korean cuisine so captivating.

Whether you’re a seasoned Korean food enthusiast or just starting to explore the wonders of this vibrant culinary tradition, I encourage you to dive into the world of banchan. For in these unassuming side dishes, you’ll find a world of flavors, textures, and cultural insights that will forever transform the way you experience and appreciate Korean cuisine. [6,7]


[1] AFAR. (n.d.). How to Eat Korean Banchan and a Guide to the Most Iconic Dishes. Retrieved from

[2] My Korean Kitchen. (n.d.). Korean Side Dishes (Banchan). Retrieved from

[3] AFAR. (n.d.). How to Eat Korean Banchan and a Guide to the Most Iconic Dishes. Retrieved from

[4] Thrillist. (n.d.). Banchan: A Guide to Korean Side Dishes. Retrieved from

[5] I Am a Food Blog. (n.d.). Korean BBQ. Retrieved from

[6] Beyond Kimchee. (2022, April 4). 21+ Easy & Quick Korean Side Dishes (Banchan). Retrieved from

[7] Reddit. (2022, November 28). Help! My banchan game is weak. Tell me about your favorite banchan! Retrieved from