By: Jen Soo of The Korean Baby
Even though the staple food in both Chinese and Korean culture is rice, the style of cooking, the way of serving and everything is just so different between the two.
Having come from a Chinese background, each time I prepare food, I find myself comparing the Korean rice table with the Chinese one. In fact, I can easily point out 101 differences!
In our Chinese culture, we serve food piping hot or at least warm. Except for dishes which are meant to be taken cold, all dishes have to be hot. This is especially so when you have guests. Every dish on the table has to be something that is freshly prepared. Serving anything made hours ago (unless it’s a dish meant to be that way) or something leftover from yesterday or even lunch is not acceptable in most cases.
We all know that the Korean rice table is usually made up of a piping hot dish (e.g. chigae/stew) accompanied by many kinds of side dishes (banchan). These side dishes do not need to be served hot but most of the time they are foods that were prepared beforehand or sometimes, even days before.
I remember my first Lunar New Year spent in Korea. We prepared a lot of food for the ancestor offering (jae-sa) and the main food was deep-fried stuff. The actual event was supposed to start at 7am the next morning so we prepared all the food on the eve of the Lunar New Year. The next day after the offering, guests started pouring in. We served them the deep-fried sweet potato slices, prawn fritters and squid that were prepared the day before - cold straight from the refrigerator. I believe every household does differently and some of them may heat the food up before serving but for in laws, they serve cold but guests still enjoyed them.
To me, that was rude and I would be offended if someone served me Chinese or Korean food that way. Not only considered rude but people of Chinese heritage believe that eating cold dishes is bad for the stomach because “wind” has settled into the food and by eating them, "wind" will form in your stomach (actually referring to having gas in the stomach). Even something cooked during lunch time has to be well heated up if you wish to take it again during dinner.
Another obvious difference is the size of the dish or plate. Korean food is served on small plates and if you have more people at the table, you will definitely find 2 or more plates of the same dishes. They will be evenly placed on different sides of the table so people on either end can get a taste of the dish. That makes the table look very presentable but not so pleasing to the person who has to wash the dishes (usually me).
In contrast to the Korean table, the Chinese table has only main dishes. If there are 3 kinds of dishes there will only be 3 big plates on the table. When on a bigger table with more dishes, a rotating platform will be placed on top of the table for everyone to reach all dishes easily. More people means increasing the kind of dishes instead of increasing the number of plates with still the same kind of dishes. You may never see more than 1 plate of the same dish on the table.
I am not a fussy eater and I enjoy most Korean and Chinese food. Many people are curious about my rice table at home because of the mixed culture in my family. Since I enjoy both, my dishes are usually made up of Chinese and Korean. For example, I may have a Sweet & Sour Pork, cold vegetables in Korean namul style and an egg omelette on one day and a Kimchi-chigae, fried vegetables in Chinese oyster sauce and a tuna salad on the next day.
I believe that a mixture of Korean and Chinese dishes is probably the best way to neutralize the "Korean vs Chinese" arguement in my family.