7 Condiments That Make Korean Food Delicious

Want to cook delicious Korean food at home? Here's the seven condiments you need.

Kara Rota
2-minute read
Episode #112

Robin Ha presents Korean home cooking recipes through graphic novel format in her new book, Cook Korean!  She's a cartoonist by training, and attended art school . Robin was born in Korea and grew up eating Korean food, but didn't fall in love with cooking until she was studying abroad in Italy during college. There, she learned that many of the Italian dishes she loved were basic ingredients combined simply, iconic flavors like garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes. Then, Robin realized Korean food was much the same. She calls it "rustic,." like Italian food, with lots of one-pot dishes that take less than 30 minutes to make, the majority of the work consisting of chopping vegetables, sauteeing meats, and flavoring them with a combination of basic key ingredients combined in different ways.

There are seven key condiments in Korean cooking that combine to make the profiles of many Korean dishes. You'll be able to find most of these ingredients at your local grocery store, Asian market, or online.

1) Korean red chile flakes: these spicy flakes are what give kimchi its heat, and are used in many dishes.

2) Soybean paste: similar to Japanese miso, the salty pungency gives Korean cooking its deep, complex flavor.

3) Sesame oil: the last touch, sesame oil is drizzled over already-cooked dishes to add a nutty, rich fragrance.

4) Sesame seeds: when toasted, they add crunch, as well as a nutty flavor that echoes that of sesame oil.

5) Fish sauce: an excellent source of umami flavor, and plays an important role in kimchi as well as in hot dishes.

6) Soy sauce: Korean cooking features two types: gukganjang, which is saltier and used to flavor soups; and junganjang, the darker, sweeter, all-purpose soy sauce. 

7) Red chile paste (gochujang): this spicy and sweet paste is a must for making sauces in Korean cooking.

Listen to our interview with Robin Ha, author of Cook Korean!, in the top right hand player, or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify (simply search the mobile app!).  Don't forget to sign up for the forthcoming Clever Cookstr newsletter, full of tips and tricks from the kitchens of the world's best chefs.

Check out the graphic recipe from the Cook Korean! book below.

Reprinted with permission from Cook Korean!, by Robin Ha (Ten Speed Press, 2016).

cook korean food  

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.