K-Culture: Korean Side Dishes

People often overlooked those in the sidelines. Everyone seems to focus on the things on the center and no one looks things beyond that. Like we often take for granted the K-drama female lead’s sassy best friend or the too-good-to-be-true second lead. Fortunately, that is not the case when it comes to Korean food.

Those who are not used to Korean meals might be surprised with the array of small plates being served as part of the main dish. It might be overwhelming but it is typical to serve at least three side dishes ranging in flavor. Unlike western appetizers, banchan is never meant to be eaten alone and is usually mixed with the main dish.

Let’s put the spotlight on this tasty treats!

All About Side Dish

A basic Korean meal is typically served with 밥 (bap or cooked rice), 국 (guk or soup), 찌개 (jigae or stew), and small portions of 반찬 (banchan or Korean side dishes). Banchan has a variety of flavors from savory, salty, spicy, and sesty. The number of banchan added depends on the table setting (삼첩 or 3 cheop, 오첩 or 5 cheop, 칠첩 or 7 cheop, 구첩 or 9 cheop, 십이첩 or 12 cheop.

Fun fact: 한정식 (hanjeongsik) is that Korean-style full-course meal you often see in saeguk served for kings and royals.

Fun fact: 도시락 (dosirak or Korean lunch boxes) have little compartments for side dishes.

Most Popular Side Dish and their K-drama Second Lead Counterparts

Korean side dishes don’t always get the spotlight when talking about food from this East Asian country but there is always this one banchan we will fall in love with. And if you do, there is no turning back. Just like K-drama second lead, you know it’s futile but you’ll still give your fangirl heart to them. So I named five of the most heart-wrenching K-drama second leads that is comparable to side dishes (This web-universe is made up of all kinds of list so why not this!)

Seo Jung-woo (Lee Joon-gi) from My Girl is your classic kimchi that is essential to any Korean meal or in this case list of second leads. Admit it you are probably on this casanova’s side whenever Seol Gong-chan (Lee Dong-wook) is becoming too much of an insensitive Kdrama cliche.

Kim Jung-hwan (Ryu Jun-yeol) from Reply 1988 is like 콩자반 (Kongjabano or soybean), a sweet character that made K-drama fans salty when he didn’t end up with Sung Deok-sun (Lee Hye-ri).

Moon Jae-shin (Yoo Ah-in) from Sungkyunkwan Scandal is your spicy 오징어채 볶음 (Ojingeochae Bokkeum or fried dried squid strips). Why, you ask? Jae-shin is your ragged second-lead that gives you the kick you get in spicy food.

There is no doubt 감자조림 (gamja jorim) or glazed potatoes is similar to Kang Shin-woo (Jung Yong-hwa) from You’re Beautiful, sweet and simple.

I’ll stop here before you remove our blog from your go-to read. On a more serious note, Korean side dish is just one reason to love this country’s food and culture. It doesn’t go boring and gives you variety even those meant on the sidelines. Because sometimes, that is what we need in our bland life.

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’re gonna get. You may get a bitter chocolate and there’s nothing else you can do. That is the fate that I’ve chosen. There are no regrets, no tears and there is no need for a heartbreak.”
– Kim Jung Hwan, Reply 1988

References (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)
Image Source: (1)(2)(3)(4)



  1. Ah, this makes me hungry. I love 감자조림… Luckily I will be in Seoul in December so I can eat as much Korean food as I can. Thanks for the article!


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