How to Enjoy Korean Barbecue: Pick the Right Side Dishes!

Now that you know the different types of pork cuts, it’s time we talk about side dishes you should never forget when you’re having Korean barbecue. My definition of side dishes in this article is wide-range, so it would include vegetables for ‘쌈(to be explained later),’ cold noodles(냉면) and even soup!


  1. 쌈 (Ssam)

Maybe it’s not accurate to say 쌈 is a side dish because it’s a way of eating Korean barbecue, not a separate dish. 쌈 refers to a variety of vegetables like lettuce with which you wrap meat and rice.

The most standard procedure would be; 1) spread a piece of lettuce on your hand; 2) put some rice, meat and  a piece of garlic dipped in 쌈장(ssamjang), a traditional Korean sauce for 쌈); 3) wrap everything up and eat it! But of course, you can enjoy it in whatever way you want to. For instance, some people put kimchi in their 쌈 too. I think this works for samgyeopsal (삼겹살) since it’s rich in fat. Personally I prefer perilla leaf (sesame leaf/깻잎) to lettuce. People who are new to 깻잎 may find its smell very strong, but I think it’s addictive like coriander leaf! If you’re unfamiliar with 깻잎, start by using both lettuce and 깻잎 when making 쌈. This way the smell of 깻잎 gets less strong, but you can still feel the difference between lettuce and 깻잎.


  1. 냉면 (Cold noodles/Naengmyeon)

냉면 is a noodle that comes in two ways. 비빔냉면 is cold noodles mixed with spicy chili paste. 물냉면 comes with cold soup(made with beef broth and vinegar). Both of them go really well with any type of barbecue, but I think a combination of marinated galbi (갈비) with 냉면 is undoubtedly the best.

You can enjoy this pairing at places like “Yooksam Naengmyeon (육쌈냉면)”, where 냉면 comes with a small serving of marinated barbecue. When it’s a bit too much for you to visit barbecue places, it’s much simpler and cheaper option for you.

I once read that many foreigners find 냉면 unlikeable because cold noodles is something beyond their imagination, especially if it comes with soup (물냉면 would be the perfect example here). If you’re reading this article and happen to be someone who hasn’t tried 냉면 yet, I strongly recommend that you go out and try 냉면. I think it’s one summer food that you should not miss along with 빙수 (Bingsoo; ice flakes with  different toppings)!


  1. 찌개 (Soup)


찌개 is thick stew with vegetables, meat, seafood and etc. Types of 찌개 depend on the ingredients used in it, and the most common 찌개 Koreans like to eat with barbecue is 된장찌개 (soybean paste stew). You can make 된장찌개 with many different ingredients as long as you don’t forget 된장 (soybean paste) and tofu. This explains why there are so many variations of 된장찌개! Anyhow, 된장찌개 usually comes without charge when you order rice at barbecue places. If not, you can still order it at a very cheap price. 김치찌개 (kimchi stew) is another type of stew that goes well with barbecue. 김치찌개 also has variations but its options are much simpler. With kimchi as the main ingredient, you can add pork, canned tuna, spam(if you add lots of ham and sausages then it becomes another type of stew, 부대찌개)or even mackerel.

Both 된장찌개 and 김치찌개 definitely have a solid entry barrier; you may not like it at your first try. They have a strong flavor that comes from the traditional ingredients or seasonings, and I can guarantee that it takes time to get used to it. However if you enjoy Korean barbecue on a regular basis, you’ll learn to like it over time.


Article by Jieun from Korea, a Senior in Business Administration

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