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Banchan (//, from Korean: 반찬; 飯饌; banchan [pan.tɕʰan]) or bansang is a collective name for small side dishes served along with cooked rice in Korean cuisine. As the Korean language does not distinguish between singular and plural grammatically, the word is used for both one such dish or all of them combined.
The basic table setting for a meal called bansang (반상) usually consists of bap (밥, cooked rice), guk or tang (soup), gochujang or ganjang, jjigae, and kimchi. According to the number of banchan added, the table setting is called 3 cheop (삼첩), 5 cheop (오첩), 7 cheop (칠첩), 9 cheop (구첩), 12 cheop (십이첩) bansang, with the 12 cheop used in Korean royal cuisine.
Banchan are set in the middle of the table to be shared. At the center of the table is the secondary main course, such as galbi or bulgogi, and a shared pot of jjigae. Bowls of cooked rice and guk (soup) are set individually. Banchan are served in small portions, meant to be finished at each meal and replenished during the meal if not enough. Usually, the more formal the meals are, the more banchan there will be. Jeolla province is particularly famous for serving many different varieties of banchan in a single meal.
While the countries surrounding Korea were preserving foods with their abundance of livestock resources, Korea was forced to utilize another way to safeguard their resources. Due to their focus on agriculture, the main ingredients in their fermented foods were grains and vegetables. The fermentation process is necessary as most parts of the Korean peninsula are isolated by mountains from all sides. Additionally, this process of fermentation can be used to enrich the flavor profile of food with the use of gochujang. Kimchi is a perfect example of this enriched food utilizing the flavor and fermentation process together. Therefore, banchan is mainly seasoned with fermented soy products, medicinal herbs, and sesame or perilla oils.
Gochujang was added to enhance each meal. Potentially, this could refer to another chojang (vinegar sauce) that was used as a dipping sauce. Mustard was an additional important seasoning used to enrich the flavor of the foods. Chojang was made by mixing gochujang with honey, vinegar, and ground pine nuts. It was made by adding mustard powder or whole mustard to water and grinding it out, then adding vinegar, salt and sugar and leaving the mixture upside down in a warm place.
For the fermentation of vegetables jangkwa (pickled vegetables and fruit) were served. These dishes were created by pickling the different seasonal vegetables with kanjang, gochujang, and doenjang. However, in the palace, jangkwa also referred to a dish made by pickling cucumber, radish, young radish, parsley, or cabbage heart with salt, then drying it in the sun, removing all moisture; the vegetables were then stir-fried with beef, shredded red pepper, sesame oil, and sesame and salt.
Banchan is thought to be a result of Buddhist influence at around the mid-Three Kingdoms period and the subsequent proscription against eating meat by the monarchies of these kingdoms. Thus, with the ban on meat-containing dishes, vegetable-based dishes rose in prominence and became the focal point of Korean cuisine; court kitchens developed various methods for cooking, preparing and presenting these dishes, while less-affluent commoners produced smaller, simpler arrays of these vegetable-based dishes.
Although the Mongol invasions of Korea ended the ban on meat-containing dishes, as well as meat offerings for rituals such as jesa, approximately six centuries of vegetable-based cuisine in the form of banchan had imprinted itself into Korean cuisine.
During the Chosun Dynasty, Buddhism was shunned while Confucianism remained the dominant ideology that was followed. Tea was no longer served in the palace and slowly began to dwindle, however, the ceremony of tea and rice cakes as snacks endured. Through food, the Chosun kings were able to see the living conditions of their people.  ‘Accordingly, royal cuisine in the final period of the Chosun Dynasty was borne out of a culture of restraint based on Confucian ideology, but experienced changes after the 18th century as taste and personal preference became more dominant values’ (Chung et al., 2017). ‘The Korean Empire was also influenced by foreign cuisine, and western-style banquets were held in Deoksugung (德壽宮) Palace. King Kojong is known to have been a fan of coffee. As Emperor Sunjong took the throne, royal cuisine was introduced to the common people through royal chefs and cooks’ (Chung et al., 2017).
Main article: Kimchi
Kimchi is fermented vegetables, usually baechu (Napa cabbage), seasoned with chili peppers and salt. This is the essential banchan of a standard Korean meal. Some Koreans do not consider a meal complete without kimchi. Kimchi can be made with other vegetables as well, including scallions, gat (갓), and radish (무; mu).
|Nabak-kimchi||나박김치||Watery kimchi with less spicy baechu and mu|
|Dongchimi||동치미||Various vegetables in white brine. Nabak kimchi and dongchimi are referred to as mul kimchi (물김치), literally "water kimchi."|
|Geotjeori||겉절이||Freshly made kimchi to be eaten crisp without fermenting. Usually made with baechu and lettuce.|
|Kkakdugi||깍두기||A kimchi made with cubed mu (white radish)|
|Oi sobagi||오이 소박이||Stuffed cucumbers kimchi, stuffed with chili, spring onions and buchu|
|Chonggak kimchi||총각김치||Whole mu with chili pepper seasoning. It is made with dallangmu, about the same size as sausages.|
|Yeolmu-kimchi||열무김치||Thin and small young summer radish kimchi, which can be prepared either with or without fermented jeotgal.|
|Pa kimchi||파김치||Hot and salty scallion kimchi, seasoned with much myeolchijeot, the Korean version of salted anchovies.|
|Gat kimchi||갓김치||Indian mustard leaf kimchi with a large amount of red pepper powder and the unique bitter taste and aroma. Strong myeolchijeot and glutinous rice paste are added to reduce the hot and bitter taste.|
Main article: Namul
Namul (나물) refers to steamed, marinated, or stir-fried vegetables usually seasoned with sesame oil, salt, vinegar, minced garlic, chopped green onions, dried chili peppers, and soy sauce.
|Kongnamul||콩나물||Cold boiled bean sprouts with sesame oil.|
|Sigeumchi namul||시금치나물||Lightly parboiled spinach dressed with sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce.|
|Miyeok muchim||미역무침||Miyeok (wakame, a seaweed) with sweet vinegar and salt.|
|Musaengchae/Muchae||무생채/무채||Long julienned white radish in a sweet vinegar sauce, sometimes with ground dried chili peppers.|
|Gosari namul||고사리나물||Prepared fern shoots that have been stir-fried.|
|Chwinamul||취나물||Stir-fried and seasoned aster scaber.|
|Bireum namul||비름나물||Parboiled and seasoned amaranthus.|
|Naengi namul||냉이나물||Parboiled and seasoned shepherd's purse.|
|Dolnamul||돌나물||Raw Sedum with pepper sauce dressing.|
|Gogumasun namul||고구마순나물||Boiled/seasoned sweet potato shoots.|
|Gaji namul||가지나물||Boiled eggplant.|
|Doraji namul||도라지나물||Boiled Chinese bellflower roots.|
Bokkeum (볶음) is a dish stir-fried with sauce.
Jorim is a dish simmered in a seasoned broth.
Jjim is a steamed dish.
Jeon denotes a variety of pan-fried, pancake-like dishes. Buchimgae is a near synonym.