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Obsessed with Korean: The Banchan

As a country, we seem to be quite smitten with Korean food—and for good reason. It's anything but subtle, boasting intense flavors ranging from fiery to potently garlicky to fermenty-funky to salty-sweet … or some glorious combination of all the above. Here, an exploration of some of the defining dishes from this burgeoning cuisine. 

Typical restaurant meal in Seoul, South Korea, with lots of banchan (side dishes) on the table. Photo by Lauryn Ishak.

A classic Korean meal has this wonderfully charming characteristic: lots and lots of little dishes of this and that kimchi or wilted vegetable or tasty nugget. At restaurants, they come out to the table and threaten to push each other off, things get so crowded. These dishes are called banchan, basically Korean side dishes that complete the meal—offering various tastes and textures that balance everything else. Sometimes, a Korean meal is nothing but an assortment of banchan plus rice and soup. And that's part of the fun of dining at a Korean restaurant; you get to taste your way around so many different dishes that sport spicy, sour, sweet, savory, or pungent flavors. If you're planning a Korean dinner party, try picking up some banchan at your local Korean market (if you have one), or whip up some of these recipes.

Shang Kimchi (Summer, or Raw Kimchi) is different from classic Korean kimchi in that it's "fresh," not fermented. Though it's ready in a day (as opposed to weeks), it has a surprisingly authentic taste.

There are many styles of savory Korean pancakes, and these Scallion Pancakes are a superfast, easy version. Delicious, too, especially when dunked into Korean Dipping Sauce.

Radish and Carrot Salad is iconic; it offers a sweet, lightly pickled flavor at the table.

Seasoned Spinach yields big flavor with just a handful of ingredients. Be sure to use this on your next bowl of bibimbop.

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