Literally translated to “small dishes,” banchan is a staple of Korean cuisine. Don’t think of them as appetizers, though. The snackable condiments, typically served cold or at room temperature, are meant to be enjoyed throughout your entire meal to provide contrast, texture and heavenly flavor combinations.
Lisa Hamblen’s business name Kimchi and Bap (8750 Penrose Lane, Lenexa, kimchiandbap.com) was born from her personal mantra: “You can always make a meal out of kimchi and bap (rice).” Historically, Koreans use banchan to create diverse meals efficiently. Their cooking processes require, as Hamblen describes, a lot of “tender loving care,” so they’re made in larger batches. When it’s time for a meal, the premade banchan can be divided into small bowls and enjoyed with rice or marinated meats.
“Those little dishes, although small, make the meal, and that’s what Korean food is all about,” Hamblen says. “It’s all about the color, the different tastes on the table and the variety.”
Gyeran Mari (Pan-Fried Egg Omelet)
A thicker omelet created by layering and rolling the eggs, it’s commonly enjoyed with rice. The green onions in the omelet have a way of marrying the two dishes together.
Hobak Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Zucchini)
Salt, garlic and a little sesame oil are all that is needed to bring out the zucchini’s bright piquancy. Simple yet mighty, its flavor provides great contrast to savory bites of beef bulgogi.
Eomuk Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Fish Cakes)
Tossed and fried in a tangy sauce, the pureed fish strips are more umami-flavored than fishy.
Fermented napa cabbage typically flavored with salt, garlic, ginger, green onions and Korean red pepper flakes. Seasonings and ingredients can vary, but whatever the concoction, the glorious sour and tangy condiment is quintessential to Korean cuisine. Even though banchan offerings differ at every restaurant, kimchi can always be expected at the table.
Kongnamul (Seasoned Bean Sprouts)
Slightly cooked and tossed with sesame oil, garlic and green onions, this crunchy veggie delivers a subtle nutty taste.
Gamja Jorim (Braised Potatoes)
When it comes to flavor, Hamblen describes this one as packing “a little bit of everything.” Sweet and savory, a touch of soy sauce in the cooking process makes the potatoes burst with umami.