Bulgogi and Banchan: Korean BBQ and Side Dishes

Bulgogi and Banchan: Korean BBQ and Side Dishes

Chinese and Japanese food has become very common in North America over the last century or so, but Korean food has been somewhat of a latecomer to the variety of dishes that hail from Asia. As a child I cannot recall having much experience with Korean cuisine, and it was not until I actually visited Korea that I realized just how delicious the food really is. Living in a smallish town also means that I have not been able to find many Korean restaurants, indeed if a fast food Korean restaurant had not opened in one of shopping centres I and many people, would not be able to get a quick fix for some authentic dishes such as Galbi (BBQ ribs), Dak Kung Jang ( spicy chicken Wings), Bibimbap ( vegetable mixed rice) or TTeokBokki (spicy rice cakes).


There are probably people out there who believe that making Korean recipes at home is time consuming and complicated (which is the case for some dishes) but it is not, most recipes call for fresh ingredients and frown upon the use of store bought sauces. I like to think of Korean food as simple but full of flavours, something to take your time to enjoy the individual dishes separately and combined with each other. 

In Korea banchan are small side dishes, similar to tapas, that are served along with the main course- usually a meat dish and a bowl orf rice. Traditionally, several plates of banchan are served for a meal and are meant to be shared by the entire table. There are six varieties of banchan: Kimchi( fermented vegetables), Namul ( steamed or deep-fried marinated vegetables), Bokkeum (stir-fry with sauce), Jorim ( dish simmered in broth) and Jeon (pan-fried pancakes). The number of banchan depends on how many people are eating or how formal the meal is.


Today I made some very popular dishes that are easy to make for yourself. I will be making Bulgogi (BBQ beef), Sigeumchi Namul (spinach side dish), and Goguma Mattang (candied sweet potato). You will notice that I used bison instead of the traditional beef, mainly because I wanted bison but you can easily use beef instead or to make it vegetarian use shiitake mushrooms or fake sliced beef. If you are new to Korean food or are inviting people over who are not familiar with Korean cuisine then these three dishes are an excellent introduction. I hope that you enjoy these dishes as much as I do.


Serves 2-3 people     Cook time: 30 minutes     Total time: 3 1/2 hours


1 Pound bison or beef, thinly sliced

4 Cloves garlic, minced

1/2 Medium onion, grated

1/2 Medium onion, sliced thinly

1 Apple, preferably Fuji or another sweet variety, grated

1 Asian pear, grated

3-4 Tbsp soy sauce, preferably Korean but tamari or a light soy sauce will work too

2 Tbsp sesame oil

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 Cup thinly sliced carrots (optional)

2 Spring onions, sliced thinly (optional)


1. Place slice meat into a bowl and squeeze grated apple over the meat using a cheesecloth or tea towel, discard the apple pulp (or keep for use in smoothies). Mix meat in juices and set to side.

2. Mix the grated pear, grated onion, garlic and soy sauce in separate bowl. Taste for sweetness and add sugar until the marinades sweetness is to your liking. 

3. Add the meat with apple juice and sliced onions to the marinade along with the sesame oil. Combine ingredients and massage marinade into the meat for a minute or two. Cove bowl with cling wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours, the longer it marinades the better. 

4. Once chilled for 3 hours, heat up a griddle or non-stick pan on medium heat and add meat to the pan. Cook meat for at least 30 minutes, or until cook through. Serve immediately with bowls of rice and banchan.

Sigeumchi namul

Serves 2 people     Cook time: 5 minutes     Total time: 15 minutes


1 Bunch fresh spinach, stems removed or 1 cup frozen chopped spinach 2 Cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp sesame oil

Sesame seeds (optional)



1. With fresh spinach: blanch leaves in boiling water for a minute. Take out immediately and transfer to a bowl of cold water, let cool, then take out of water and squeeze of any excess liquid, cut spinach into smaller pieces. 
With frozen spinach: defrost spinach and squeeze any excess liquid.

2. Mix garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil together in a bowl. Add spinach and mix to combine. Set in refrigerator until it is time to serve the whole meal. 

3. Add sesame seeds right before serving if wanted.

Goguma Mattang

Serves 2-3 people     Cook time: 20 minutes     Total time: 1 hour

1 Yam or sweet potato, cubed

Vegetable oil for frying

3 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp oil ( not olive oil)


1. Wash and cut yam into bite size cubes. Soak in cold water for 15-30 minutes to remove starch. Drain and pat dry.

2. Heat up oil on high heat in a wok or a wide bottom pot. You will know if the oil is hot enough if you splash a tiny drop of water into it and it “sings”.

3. Carefully put the yams into the wok and cook until yams turn a golden colour (around 10-15 minutes). Remove from oil with slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to remove excess oil.

4. Either remove oil from wok  and store in a heat-proof container or use a new pot to heat up the honey, sugar and oil on medium heat. Stir to mix. Once the mixture begins to bubble add the yams and coat them with mixture. Continue to coat each piece for 2-3 minutes, making sure none of them are sticking to each other. Remove from pan and serve immediately. 

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