Banchan is the Korean word for side dish and you cannot have any Korean feast without having banchan. Banchan can range from dressed spinach salad to kimchi to beansprout salads to strips of nori seaweed but they do make the meal. That Korean classic, kimchi, is eaten with every meal and its sour spiciness goes brilliantly with the tame noodle dish, Japchae.
Japchae is a noodle dish that is eaten either hot or cold (I prefer it cold) and is commonly a dish served as Banchan. Literally meaning a mixture of vegetables, the noodles traditionally used in South Korea are glass noodles which are made from mung bean or sweet potato starch, and are called that because when cooked, they are transparent. Meat can be added to Japchae but sticking with tradition, I’m going for vegetables only. You can use whichever vegetables you want, mushrooms, mangetout and spring onions are common in South Korea but I’m staying with just spring onion and carrot today.
As Japchae is sometimes served as banchan, my centrepiece is going to be my Korean Pork Belly. Researching into the Korean food culture, banchan are small dishes that are meant to be shared and replenished at anytime during the meal and there are many different styles of banchan you can have, beyond the dressed spinach salad (sigeumchi-namul) and kimchi. Soups may also be banchan.
It’s strange that we don’t see this sort of side dish culture in the UK. For Koreans, the number of banchan on the table indicates the formality of the meal. In the UK, side dishes tend to be a mere accompaniment yet for Koreans, it is part of the meal itself and I love the fact that every meal has to have some form of addition. It definitely makes the meal much more interesting and exciting.
Vegetarian Japchae Nooodles
4 packets of glass noodles, cooked according to the instructions on the packet and drained
1 carrot, chopped into thin strips
1 spring onion, the green parts only, shredded
4 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp gochujang paste (or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes if you cannot find it)
1 tsp white pepper
50g toasted sesame seeds
In a pan, drizzle in some vegetable oil and fry the carrot and spring onions until they are softened. Tip out onto some kitchen paper to drain the excess oil. Add the cooked vegetables to the glass noodles in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients, except the toasted sesame seeds, to form the sauce. Pour over the glass noodles and using two forks, coat all of the noodles in the sauce evenly. Serve in small dishes and sprinkle over the toasted sesame seeds.
200g fresh spinach leaves
½ tsp salt
The white part of the spring onion from above, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
20g toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp sesame oil
Wash the spinach and place into a hot pan. Cover with a lid and once the spinach has wilted, turn off the heat, drain the spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. In a bowl, add the spinach with all the other ingredients and divide into 3 portions and serve in a small dish.
Quick Cabbage and Courgette Kimchi Banchan
Follow the steps here and serve in small dishes.
Korean Pork Belly
4 strips of pork belly
50g gochujang paste
20g denjang paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
50g runny honey
30g toasted sesame seeds
Little gem lettuce leaves, to serve
Cut the pork belly into thin slices and place into a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix together all of the ingredients apart from the sesame seeds and coat the meat in the marinade. Cover in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for an hour.
In a pan lightly drizzled with oil, pan-fry the pork belly, until the pork belly is sealed on each side. Add in the rest of the marinade with some more water and place on the lid and allow the sauce to reduce down until slightly thicker, making sure that the pork is cooked through.
Serve the pork in a shallow bowl sprinkled with the sesame seeds, drizzle over the thickened sauce alongside little gem leaves.
My favourite cuisine has to be Korean. It’s so beautifully spicy and everything you taste is just so perfectly balanced, in terms of both taste and texture.