03/03/2014 04:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Korean Food: The 12 Essential Dishes You Need to Know From the North and the South


CREDIT: Flickr/Chelsea Marie Hicks

The Korean peninsula is such a powder keg of political tension that it's easy to forget that it's also a powerhouse of flavor. To serve as guides through the fog of war and into the steam of the kitchen, we enlisted two experts to school us on both Seoul food and Kim Jong cuisine: Holly (South) from Beyond Kimchee and Jae Jung (North), a New Orleans chef who's curated dinners that were actually attended by Kim Jong-un himself!

Before you learn more about each country's individual specialties, here's a quick history lesson.

Although there's currently little mingling between the North and South, there isn't necessarily a DMZ line drawn between the culinary traditions. Each culture serves a wide array of small side dishes (banchan), like kimchi and other pickled foods, with meals. Many dishes that originated in the North became South Korean staples as families migrated South after the war.

The differences are largely based on climate and economics: the colder mountainous regions of the North and high levels of poverty lead to blander flavors and a focus on sustenance over style, while the warmer South lends itself to spicier fare and a grander eating culture rooted in royal court cuisine.

More: What the hell is Filipino food? Here are the 7 dishes you need to know.


CREDIT: Flickr/USAG- Humphrey's


What it is: Fermented cabbage with chili flakes, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce
What's the deal: "Cabbage is the most common ingredient in kimchi, but there are over 200 different types. You'll find different varieties of cabbages and radishes, cucumber, green onion, eggplant, and bean sprouts. Kimchi's popularity is growing due to its health benefits, as it contains probiotics (healthy bacteria), and it helps strengthen your immune system."


CREDIT: Flickr/Alpha

Doenjang jjigae
What it is: Soybean paste stew
What's the deal: "This is Korea's most popular comfort stew. It's a quick stew made with fermented soybean paste, various vegetables, and tofu. It uses anchovy stock as a base, but other types of seafood or beef are also used."


CREDIT: Flickr/Stu_Spivak

What it is: Korean BBQ
What's the deal: "Marinated beef ribs, pork ribs, or chicken is grilled on an open fire or griddle over your table. Beef and pork is marinated with soy sauce, and the chicken is prepared with chili paste that can be quite hot."

There's still plenty more dishes from the South and the North you'll want to eat immediately after reading the story on!

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