Korean cuisine has many characteristics. The biggest feature is that everything starts with rice. The rice in a bowl we eat contains our history and culture of Korean food.
Bap is the most basic food in Korean cuisine. In fact, it’s more than just food to Koreans. In the Korean language, we have several words for rice including ‘ssal’ which refers to the white polish grain. ‘Bap’ which refers to the cooked rice or even in some cases the entire meal itself.
In Korea asking someone if they’ve eaten is a common way of saying hello. It is because eating reflects how you are how life is. As the saying goes ‘Bap’ is medicine. For many centuries ‘Bap’ has been at the center of Korean life. Time hasn’t diminished the importance of Bap in the Korean culinary culture.
Join us as we explored the meaning of Bap and its culture in Korea.
What is the significance of Bap to the Koreans over the centuries?
What is Bap to Koreans?
The table that’s set for a baby’s first birthday is known as it were ‘Dolsang’. And this is where the ‘Doljabi’ or the symbolic grabbing of a certain item which is to predict a certain future for the child.
What significance does Bap have on the ‘Dolsang’
The ‘Dolsang’ is filled with various kinds of food. The bowl of rice and spoon on the table represents the baby’s ability to wean itself from mother’s milk. On their first birthdays, babies receive a rice bowl and spoon and begin to learn how to eat on their own. The ‘Dolsang-Bap’ represents the hope that the child grows up healthy and strong.
Accompanying this Bap is the ‘Banchan’ which our traditional Korean side dishes and this completes the table. Now traditional Korean table have come in a variety of forms, but how has the modern table changed since then.
In the past, Korean meals are composed of Bap and side dishes. Bap is as the center and the sides are Kimchi, seasoned vegetables grilled fish soup and other dishes. Everyday meal table includes Bap and 3 to 12 Cheop or side dishes. The three Cheop-Bansang include three side dishes in addition to the basic Bap, soup, Kimchi and soy sauce. The table setting is expanded by adding dry, stews, grilled and raw food. Korean meals are largely composed of a vegetarian diet and adding side dishes of various ingredients or seasonal dishes helps to maintain nutritional balance.
Bap is the staple food of Korea. There are also a variety of side dishes that you can eat with it. The eating customs of the Koreans includes table set with three, five, seven and nine Cheop or side dishes. The custom of Bansang began around the year 1400.
The Bansang then is not too different from what we see today. However, the one difference is that in the past white rice was precious because of its scarcity and underdeveloped milling techniques.
Today people prefer multigrain Bap for health reasons. So when did Bap first appear in the typical Korean diet?
Bap became a staple food around 5,000 to 4,000 BC We can find the origin of Bap in the Carbonized rice that was extracted in Gahyeon-ri. The Carbonized grain suggests that Bap first appeared in the Neolithic Age. Today’s Bap was born when metal pots were first developed. The estimated date is 20 AD judging from historical tests that mention rice was cooked in pots. Rice also became a staple food in Korea in the late 1400s which were when the production of rice increased significantly. The rice grown on the land that passes through four distinct seasons was washed, boiled, steamed and burned to become Bap. The process of making Bap from the pots, with the adjustment of heat and time, is grounded in science. There are several types of dishes included in one set of dishes for a table called Bansanggi, which includes Balee(a rice bowl), Tangi(a soup bowl), and varying types of ChaengCheop (small side dishes). The number of ChaengCheop could vary between 3 Cheop,7 Cheop, 9Cheop, and 12Cheop.
**Bansang > Traditional Korean table setting for a meal originating in the year 1400.
**Carbonized rice > Rice from 5000-4000 BC, Neolithic Age, excavated in Gahyeon-ri