Guide: Korean banchan 101

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Korean dining first-timers are often surprised when a procession of anywhere from four to nine small metal bowls filled with a variety of small bites arrives at the table. Worry not-they're complimentary, and as a group they're called banchan.

The contents vary from restaurant to restaurant and even day to day (and you don't get to choose what you get), but the goal is to provide a wide range of flavors and textures. The one thing you can count on is at least one kimchi dish.

Here's an explanation of the banchan offerings you might receive at Min-Ga, 800 Bethel Rd. on the Northwest Side.

1. Miyeok julgi bokkeum: Sauteed sea plant, also called seaweed stems. They're crunchy, a little chewy and briny in flavor.

2. Kongnamul muchim: Soybean sprouts. Cold, crunchy and flavored with sesame oil.

3. Baechu kimchi: Napa kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage.

4. Ggakdugi: Radish kimchi, moderately spicy fermented turnip cubes.

5. Hobak namul: Sauteed zucchini with sesame seeds.

6. Cheonsachae: Pickled kelp noodles. They take on a purple hue because they're cooked with red cabbage.

7. Gamja jorim: Potatoes and carrots cooked in a sweet soy marinade and served at room temperature.

8. Miyeok: Seaweed with shredded radish. Mild vinegar flavor.

9. Gamja bokkeum: Lightly pan-fried shredded potato with carrot.

10. Uh mook jorim: Stir-fried fish cake strips. Mildly fishy in flavor, a little starchy and chewy.

11. Oi moochim: Spicy fresh cucumber.