Behind Banchan: The Dish on Korean Sides


For all you shy diners, The Local Dish has put together a helpful guide to navigate your way through this vast spectrum of sides that range from pickled daikon to boiled bean sprouts. Ah, Korean cuisine – known for its flavorful, pungent barbecue with a smell that can linger in your hair and in the fibers of your clothing for days after.  If you’ve ever been to a Korean restaurant, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably also tried its array of side dishes known as banchan. But unless you have roots in Korea, you’ve probably just eaten what’s put before you – no questions asked.

According to Jun Kim, the owner of San Francisco’s popular Han Il Kwan, banchan is a staple of Korean meals with its roots in the old country where farming families were large and meat was scarce. These side dishes, which can range from a couple side offerings to as many as twenty, are mainly vegetables and can vary depending on which region of Korea you’re in. But enough talk, you want to see the pictures right?

Spicy, crunchy Kim Chee.

Kim Chee: We’ll start off easy. I bet you know this one, Smarty Pants. No Korean meal is complete without kim chee, a traditional side usually made of fermented Napa cabbage in various spices. It’s a little bit crunchy, a little bit spicy and tangy – the perfect accompaniment to barbecue, jasmine rice, soup and many other dishes.

Diced Radish Kim Chee: This is one of the many variations of kim chee made with Daikon white radishes. It has a crunchy bite with a sweet and earthy flavor.

Pancake with dipping sauce: These pancakes can be made of flour or finely shredded potatoes (think round little hash browns), and enhanced with additions like green onion or seafood. The texture is crispy on the outside, while soft and spongey on the inside. The experience is complete with a dipping sauce of soy and vinegar.

Quick-pickled cucumbers with sesame oil.  

Quick Pickled Cucumber: These cucumbers go through a short pickling process, so it doesn’t quite have the crunch or sour bite as your average American Dill pickle. After a fermentation period of as little as 20 minutes, these pickles are tossed with a bit of sesame oil.

Boiled Bean Sprouts: These bean sprouts make a quick side dish that is simple, yet satisfying. The sprouts are boiled in water for a few minutes and then tossed with sesame oil. Give or take a couple optional ingredients like garlic or green onion, and it’s ready to go! 

Bean Jelly: This pretty little side dish is made from mung bean starch. Its lack of flavor is compensated with various toppings of vegetables, garlic and a soy and vinegar sauce.

Anchovy Madness!

Stir-fried Dried Anchovy: These little sundried anchovies are a favorite, if you don’t stare at their little eyes for too long. One of the more flavorful banchan, these chewy guys are usually stir-fried with a bit of hot pepper paste, garlic and sugar.

Sauteed Potatoes: Another popular side, this heap of julienned and sautéed potatoes can be made with other vegetables like carrots or mushrooms, and then dressed with a touch of sesame oil.

Potato and Fruit Salad: Those Koreans are full of surprises. Here’s a side that is very similar to the American potato salad; however, the Korean version can incorporate elements like apple, macaroni or ham. Mix with a bit of mayo (no vinegar), for a mild and cooling side to flavorful barbecue.

Steamed Egg: Fluffy and heavenly in its simplicity, this is one of the few hot banchan dishes. This steamed egg dish is usually served in a stone bowl and garnished with scallions.

Next time you find yourself in a Korean restaurant, you’ll be equipped to order a variety of dishes for a tasty, satisfying meal!

Let us know which ones you tried – and which are your favorites – in the comments.

Photos: Victoria Nguyen

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