When you’re dining in a Korean Barbecue restaurant, you will encounter the servers placing numerous small bowls right in front of you—more often than not, even before the main course arrives. These small bowls are not to be confused for appetizers, these are what the Koreans call banchan or side dishes.
Locals from South Korea usually wrap a mix of banchan and the grilled meat or samgyupsal in crispy lettuce before eating it all in one bite. Good thing these Korean BBQ side dishes are unlimited! These banchan add a contrasting or complementary flavor to each meaty bite.
There are a variety of banchan in South Korea, but your are most likely to encounter in at least one of these samgyupsal side dishes in of the ubiquitous Korean Barbecue restaurants here in the Philippines.
Here are the Korean BBQ side dishes you’re sure to want second and third servings of:
1 Kimchi (salted and fermented vegetables)
Kimchi is one of the most popular and well-known Korean side dishes. It’s a traditional spicy-tangy side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables, commonly cabbage and radish. The spiciness of kimchi comes from the chili powder, garlic, ginger, red pepper, and sugar, and fish sauce.
3 Kongnamul Muchim (seasoned soybean beansprouts)
Kong means “soybean sprouts,” while Namul means “vegetable side dish.” These non-spicy soybean sprouts are commonly lightly seasoned, which makes it a great addition to spicy meat. This banchan also adds a bit of crunch and texture to each bite.
3 Algamja-jorim (braised baby potatoes)
The algamja-jorim is made with baby potatoes that are braised in soy sauce and rice syrup. You know that this sweet side dish is cooked to perfection when the baby potatoes’ skin is crunchy, while the inside is soft and fluffy.
4 Japchae (glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables)
Japchae is a sweet potato starch noodle dish that is typically made with beef and a mixture of vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, onions, mushrooms, cucumber, and bell peppers. The crunchy and vibrant vegetables also give it a contrasting texture from the springy, chewy noodles. For a more filling Korean Barbecue experience, you can add a bit of this classic sweet-savory Korean side dish to your lettuce-wrapped grilled meat.
5 Eomuk Bokkeum (fish cakes)
The eomuk bokkeum is a fish cake side dish that’s typically made with fish cake sheets. Eomuk bokkeum is best made when the fish cake sheets are thinly sliced so the flavor is easily soaked up by the fish cake sheets. This is commonly served as a side dish, but can also be eaten as is or added to a bowl of soup or noodle dishes.
6 Gyeran-jjim (steamed egg)
Even though the gyeran-jjim looks a lot like egg souffle, this Korean side dish is steamed instead of baked. It’s slightly salty, savory, with a fluffy texture–that’s reminiscent of clouds. This is best paired with peppery grilled meats that can tone down the spiciness.
7 Hobak Bokkeum (stir-fried zucchini)
The hobak bokkeum traditionally uses Korean zucchini, which is slightly thicker and with a more tender flesh compared to other types of zucchini. What gives this banchan a salty flavor is the saeu-jeot, which is salted and fermented tiny shrimps.
8 Chicken Mu (pickled radish)
The chicken mu is a pickled radish that’s crunchy, sweet, and commonly served cold. It’s usually served with crispy Korean fried chicken, but it can occasionally be seen in Korean BBQ restaurants as well. This is a great side dish that can cleanse your palate when you’re in between sampling spicy meats.
9 Oi Sobagi (spicy cucumber kimchi)
The oi sobagi is made by stuffing vegetables and kimchi paste in between a sliced cucumber. It’s a crisp, crunchy samgyup side dish that goes well with beef.
While it’s technically not a banchan, lettuce plays an important part in the whole experience of eating at a Korean barbecue restaurant. The lettuce serves as the wrap that holds together the grilled meat and the banchan. To enjoy a perfect bite of samgyupsal, simply tuck the meat, some banchan, a bit of rice, and a dollop of sauce in the lettuce, and pop it in your mouth in one bite.