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No self-respecting Korean chef would even start of prepping a traditional meal without a set of the most common and essential Korean cookware.
So, make sure you check our detailed guide below before you start shopping for Korean kitchenware.
Korean cuisine mostly involves the use of pots, grills and rice cookers. Most traditional dishes don’t really depend heavily on using cooking oil and their daily diet often has pickled vegetables, sesame seeds, kelp and tofu.
The most famous Korean food without any doubt is kimchi, which is made from spicy, flavored and fermented cabbage.
Before we get to the best Korean cookware to have in your kitchen, let’s first look at Korean cuisine a little bit deeper.
What’s so special about Korean cuisine
Korea is a country known for the variety and quality of its traditional cuisine. Korean cuisine differs from those of neighboring countries, notably Japan and China, however one could find quite close taste profiles and ingredients of foods prepared in the relatively distant province Hubei in China.
Korean cuisine uses quite a lot of chili, especially when making kimchi (김치) or gochujang (장), also sesame seed and sesame oil is a constant ingredient in Korean recipes. You will often find garlic, as well as a wide variety of vegetables, seafood and wild mushrooms in traditional food.
There are differences in Korean dishes depending on the different parts of the peninsula, but in general the cuisine of the regions further north is less spicy than that of the food prepared in the Korean South, especially with regard to kimchi.
All the meals and side dishes are traditionally offered at the table with the family.The main dish can be served individually and some meals can even follow a more classic serving sequence seen in the Western countries, but the advantage is to be able to alternate tastes in a free and often creative way.
So, each family member or guest picks a little of each meal and enjoys whichever they like the most.
History Of Korean Cuisine and Cookware
Korean cuisine has more than 2,000 years of history going way back to 1500 BCE of Jeulmun pottery period. This is when Koreans started making fermented products such as the mentioned earlier and incredibly famous kimchi.
Behind this success that goes beyond the appeal for the beef bulgogi, there is an ancient and varied gastronomy tradition offering original meals and a dietary balance which can provide quite a healthy touch to your diet.
Why Is Korean Cuisine Healthy?
Because fermented food, which comprises a large portion of the Korean cuisine, offers not only improved taste profile of the food. But is also a natural preservation method and a nice way to add beneficial probiotic bacteria which helps maintain proper tummy health and keeps overall body condition in good shape.
The Korean Art Of Fermentation
Korean cuisine is mostly all about fermented food par excellence. In order to understand why Korean food is so good you should first learn about the traditional fermentation process they use.
What Is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a process of decomposition and transformation of food into a new product under the action of enzymes.
The term “fermentation” derives from the Latin “fervere”, meaning “boil”. It was used because the microorganisms in fermented food products seemed to “boil” during fermentation.
History Of Fermentation
The fermentation technique has been used worldwide since the dawn of time. It was already used a long time ago in prehistoric times to make fruit wines, bread and cheese.
In around 6000 BC, yeast was already used to produce beer, mold for cheese, and Acetobacter for vinegar production. In ancient times Koreans also developed a number of fermentation methods and have long history of developing and improving the various flavors of the food they used.
The most popular fermented products among Koreans include: ganjang (soy sauce), kimchi, pickled fish, vinegar, sikhye (sweet rice drink) and various traditional alcoholic drinks known as sul (술).
The exact principle of how fermentation works remained unknown until the end of the 18th century. In 1787, A. L. De Lavoisier, one of the pioneers of modern chemistry, discovered that fermentation was a process of decomposing glucose into alcohol and carbon dioxide in grape juice. In the early 19th century, a fierce debate took place between J. J. Berzelius, J. Liebig and other influential chemists suggesting the catalytic theory of fermentation, and Louis Pasteur and other microbiologists who believed in yeast fermentation theory instead.
In 1857, Louis Pasteur examined the fermentation of lactic acid in the fermentation of milk and alcohol in sugar. He eventually concluded that the theory of abiogenesis was unfounded and defined fermentation as “the activity of airless microorganisms”. However, after the death of Pasteur in 1897, E. Buchner discovered that without a living cell, according to the method of extracting yeast, sucrose fermented, which proved that fermentation was a catalytic reaction by enzymes.
Later, in the early 1900s, A. Harden, W. Young and other yeast chemists discovered and separated the enzymes and co-enzymes involved in the fermentation of juice containing yeast, thus allowing a scientific explanation of the fermentation process.
According to a document called “Wiji-dong-Ijeon”, from the history of the Three Kingdoms, the people of Goguryeo often consumed vegetables by preserving them in salt.
Subsequently, during the unified Shilla and Goryeo Dynasty era, kimchi changed from a simple pickled vegetable to a kimchi seasoned by a mixture of different sauces, spices and vegetables.
When red pepper was imported during the Choseon dynasty, it began to be used in kimchi preparation, resulting in the creation of various different types of kimchi flavors.
Salted fish was also used in many different ways. From the book “Jeungbo Sallim gyeongje“, written in 1776, we can see that there were 41 different kinds of kimchi back then, and the method of preparing kimchi was very similar to the current process, using cucumbers, radishes, as well as whole Chinese cabbage.
Kimchi And Food Fermentation Beneficial Effects On Your Body And Health
1. When kimchi ferments, the yeast creates lactic acid bacteria that reduces acidity in the intestines when consumed and prevents or kills the growth of harmful bacteria. The presence of lactic acid bacteria in food makes the intestines much stronger and keeps their proper functions.
One such very beneficial and popular probiotic bacteria is Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, which is used to make traditional Bulgarian yogurt.
2. Kimchi as a fermented food promotes the secretion of gastric acid, which is helping proper digestion. An abundant amount of vitamins A and C also acts as antacids and have strong anti-aging effects, which can increase appetite and strengthen blood circulation, also leading to an increase in healthy bladder activity.
3. Natural fiber found in kimchi helps to keep the bowels regular, which could reduce the level of cholesterol and sugars in the body. These effects of dietary fiber are also useful for the prevention and treatment of diabetes, obesity and other common food related diseases.
4. Vegetables, which are the main ingredients of kimchi, can prevent colorectal cancer, and garlic which is often added as seasoning prevents stomach cancer too. Kimchi also has beneficial thiocyanate and bactericides, which are a kind of natural antibiotics that were proven to effectively prevent and treat cancer.
Did you know?
There are 5 important colors in all Korean dishes and according to their philosophy, each color is beneficial for the part of the body that corresponds to it: red (heart), yellow (spleen), green (liver), black/mauve (kidneys), white (Lung). In addition, these colors are linked with the five elements: water, fire, earth, air and metal.
Every time Koreans cook, they always think about health effects before the taste of the dishes they make.
Korean gastronomy has gained quite a popularity in recent years, thanks to specialties such as Kimchi, bibimbap and bulgogi that have become a taste sensation all over the world. Korean cuisine is also deeply connected with the country’s long agricultural history.
Korea has developed a full range of unique foods, which stand out from the diet of their close neighbors, China and Japan. However, as in these other Asian countries, rice and fresh vegetables remain an important base in many recipes and the main cooking methods are mainly stir-frying, steaming and braising.
So, what are some common food ingredients used in Korean cooking?
The most common food in Korean cuisine are :
- Rice, usually plain or flavored with sesame oil, as in gimbap.
- Glutinous rice flour, which is used to make dishes of various types, salty (like tteok) or as sweet desserts.
- Sweet potato, alone or in sweet potato vermicelli (dangmyeon).
- Lotus root (yeongeun, 연근/蓮根).
- Wheat, for example, to make mantu.
- Buckwheat (Tartary buckwheat?), mainly for a type of buckwheat noodles.
- Sesame seed or oil.
- Chili Pepper.
- Salt and sugar is often added too.
Common Korean foods Sources of protein
- Soybeans (yellow, green, black) in different forms, as paste, fermented, made in tofu, as well as other types of beans, such as the red bean (azuki).
- Beef is one of the most used meats in Korean cuisine.
- Algae, is used in many types of dishes.
Korean Cookware and Kitchen Essentials
Below we will talk about the most common traditional kitchen utensils you can find in any self-respecting Korean household. When it comes to Korean cuisine, traditional Korean dishes are somehow different from other Asian cooking methods. So, getting the right kitchen tools for preparing your favorite recipes is really a must in order to make them according to the tradition.
We will start with the knives, which are not very different to what can be found in other Asian cuisines. Except that a Korean cuisine uses several types of knives and often of respectable size, because you have to cut everything into small pieces: which you can easily pick and eat with chopsticks.
And since we talk about chopsticks, that’s another widely used Korean and Asian kitchenware. But the chopsticks for cooking are not the same as the ones used for eating, they are much larger.
As a Korean cookware you can’t really go without the cutting board, which is not intended to cut only meat, but also all kinds of vegetables too.
On the other hand, a can opener is very rarely found in Korean cuisine, for the simple reason that food in tin cans are not very common there. Tuna or some canned seafood can be found, but usually they are bought fresh straight from the fishmonger at the local fish market.
Traditionally, the Korean stove was not like our modern gas stoves and it was one of the most important elements of the house. The kitchen in Korean homes was usually built on the ground, half a floor lower than the other rooms.
The stove was also below the floor level. This arrangement was due to the fact that the chimney of the furnace passed under the rooms of the house. The heat of the furnace was therefore reused to heat these rooms, which is the principle of the heating system ondol (온돌, 溫突).
Like most Asian countries, rice (“bap” in Korean) is the staple food of Koreans. There is also a significant presence of kimchi, soups and noodles (“Ramyeon” in Korean) in most Korean starters and entrees.
Koreans also like to grill meat for most recipes.
Restaurants usually have a stove in the middle of the dining table, where guests can pick their favorite meat dishes, such as grilled bulgogi and beef samgyupsal.
Choose the Best Korean Cookware
In order to make these delicious Korean meals you’ll need to equip yourself with the kitchenware given in the list below. So, here we go:
Traditional Korean Earthenware Pot / Stone bowls
Koreans often use terracotta bowls and stone pots to cook their food. Since cooking at home and even in restaurants is almost always done over gas flame, these sturdy heat retaining pots are placed right on top of the burner. There are two main types of Korean cooking pots.
Ddukbaegi is a Korean terracotta pot traditionally used to cook and serve soups ( “Guk” in Korean) and stews ( “jjigae” in Korean). Korean hot served meals are also suitable for this kind of kitchen cookware.
Dolsot is a Korean stone pot or bowl used to make meals of mixed rice ( “dolsot bibimbap”). This dish consists of steamed rice, vegetables, kelp and (possibly) meat, which is then topped with spicy Korean Red Paste and raw egg which is added to the hot dish.
Using these traditional Korean cookware kitchen utensils for soups and other Korean dishes allows the food to heat quickly and cool slowly. They keep food hot longer than conventional pots or bowls, due to their high heat retention.
Pressure Rice cooker
Most Korean dishes are prepared with rice, so a rice cooker is one of the most used types of Korean cookware. It’s also used for steam cooking of other foods too. Cooking rice the Korean way usually involves the use mostly of glutinous rice.
Koreans may also prefer to add beans, sesame seeds and other ingredients combined with white or brown rice. White rice is mainly used for traditional meals, especially when making bibimbap.
Cooked white rice is also used for the Korean version of the Japanese maki sushi, which is better known as Kimbap. Kimbap is a common on the to go food (like burgers, sandwiches and cookies) for Koreans.
Stovetop Barbecue Grill
Serving meat the Korean style usually involves the use of minced meat (or traditionally, the meat is also cut by kitchen scissors) into bite-sized pieces before being cooked. It is also a Korean favorite to prepare meat on a barbecue. A stove top barbecue grill is a regular cooking companion for Koreans, whether at home or in restaurants. A typical Korean restaurant usually offers a stove or BBQ grill in the middle of the table for fresh preparation of meals.
They often offer marinated meat, vegetables and other traditional meals served by waiters ( “ajoshi”) or waitresses ( “Ajuma”). The food is cooked right in front of customer and customized based on their preferences; they can even cook the food themselves if they wish.
Traditionally, Koreans cooked their rice, soups, broth and most of their dishes in a kind of pot called gamasot. Everyone knows that the main food of Koreans is rice. And many people think that rice meals prepared by their grandmother is better, including myself ;-). But that’s not always the case. So, how Koreans make their rice so delicious.
One of the secrets of the Korean cookware contributing to this pleasant taste comes from gamasot. The word gama corresponds to a closed hearth, and the word sot is the Korean word for a cauldron. The size of the gamasot varies depending on the size of the family. Its bottom is usually flat for improved stability. This pot is mostly made of cast iron and has a flat ring in the middle to keep it above the heat source. It also has a strong thermal inertia: it takes a long time to heat and a long time to cool down.
In addition, the food does not burn easily because the bottom is quite thick. For this reason, the gamasot is a very popular cooking utensil and can be found in the kitchens of most Koreans even today.
Today, modern equipment such as pressure cookers tend to replace the gamasot.
Korean mortar and pestle Jeolgu, 절구
One of the important dishes for Koreans is tteok, 떡. It is a rice cake that is eaten when they celebrate different holidays or ceremonies, such as birthdays, weddings, rites, etc. Now you can buy these cupcakes in specialized Asian stores, but in the old days, Koreans used to make them only at home. In order to make this rice cake, one needed a special kitchen utensil: the jeolgu.
The Jeolgutong, 절구통 is a large stone or wooden mortar and the jeolgugongi, 절구공 is its pestle. When you put these two utensils together, you get a jeolgu. Koreans use it to grind cereals and when they want to make tteok. This mortar container is deep enough that the cereals don’t come out easily when grinding.
When using a very large traditional jeolgu in the old days, two people often worked together. To brighten up and punctuate the work, folk songs were usually sung.
Jeolgu, which was used in the past, is recreated nowadays as a smaller model, so it can be used in today’s kitchens to grind seeds, garlic and other foods, to make different sauces or pesto.
Finally, we can also mention the rice spoon, a kind of spatula wide enough and rather short, which is able to put the cooked rice in the bowls without squashing the soft rice. Since the rice is quite sticky, you will need a special non stick spoon that is moistened with cold water beforehand to reduce the stickiness of the rice.
Additionnal set of Korean cookware
If you want to have a full set of Korean cookware for your yummy Korean recipes check also these notable kitchen essentials:
Cooking plastic or rubber gloves
Stainless steel mesh for making broth
cooking scissors / Kitchen shears
Korean Mandoline Slicer / Radish slicer
With these really handy kitchen utensils you can easily make Korean meals at home no matter where you live.
I really think Korean food can appeal to anybody who likes Asian style cuisine. I also think that it’s easily made at home, provided that you have a minimum amount of cooking knowledge or experience.
Before you dive deep into Korean cooking you should make sure you have access to some key Korean/Asian ingredients(mentioned above). Normally, these specialty ingredients can be found in Korean grocery stores or Asian supermarkets. The rest of the products (fish, meat and vegetables) can be found pretty much anywhere, so you’re all set up and can get wild in the kitchen the Korean style.
As you can see Korean food is not only delicious, spicy, economical(mostly) and beneficial to your health, but is also easily prepared at home given that you have the right tools in your kitchen.
So, I guess it’s time to go shopping now ;-).
If you have any questions or suggestions on picking the right Korean cookware, let us know in the comments below.