If you ask anyone what Korean food consists of, you’ll most likely get typical answers like kimchi, or many small little bowls with a variety of different items being served with your meal. To those who may have more experience with Korean food, you may even get answers like bibimbap, japchae or bulgogi. While all of these are correct, there’s so much more to Korean cuisine that flies under the radar.

The main differences in Korean cuisine when compared to other Asian cuisine include the condiments, seasoning, the prevalence of dried items and the way dishes are served. Typically when sitting down for a Korean meal, you will be served banchan – or side dishes that include many pickled items (like kimchi) and boiled items that are marinated with sesame oil (spinach or bean sprouts, for example). Banchan can consist of anywhere between four to 12 dishes, depending on the type of meal you’re having. Korean cuisine tends to be on the healthier side, as uncooked vegetables served as salads and pickled vegetables are a mainstay on the menu. The cuisine consists heavily of beans and vegetables, and before rice was introduced – millet.

Many believe Korean food to be spicy, due to the use of chili peppers in many dishes – however the peppers are used more so as a flavour enhancement than for its heat. Interestingly enough, chili peppers and rice were not a native crops in Korea. With the introduction of the Silk Road, merchants came through from all different parts of the world and introduced various ingredients into Korean cuisine.

Another notable difference at the table is the use of metal chopsticks and a long-handled spoon. The spoon is used for soups, which are an important part of every meal, and unlike in Chinese cuisine, the spoon is also used for eating rice. It is believed that metal chopsticks were first used by royalty to protect themselves from being poisoned (as silver would change colour when in contact with poison). Metal chopsticks became popular with the common folk, as they wanted to emulate royalty.

Seafood and chicken are the more common protein staples in Korea. Much like many other Asian countries, red meat was considered a delicacy.

Samsoonie Dumpling Trail
Fried Mandu from Samsoonie. | ​ Photo: Dee de los Santos

When it comes to dumplings, the Korean version called mandu is very similar to many other Asian counterparts. It’s made with flour wrappers and filled with pork, beef and vegetables. There are two theories behind where mandu originated from. One states that with the Silk Road, dumplings were introduced to hungry travelers. Another theory is that the Mongolians brought the acceptance of eating more meat, and with that, brought more dishes that incorporated meat, including dumplings. Mandu is typically served with a vinegar and soy sauce dipping sauce and kimchi.

While Richmond may be known mostly for its Chinese eateries, there are pockets of great Korean cuisine. One of these places is Samsoonie Noodle & Rice (140-8211 Westminster Highway), which opened up two years ago. Samsoonie is a modestly sized restaurant, designed to feel more homelike and cozy. The service is warm and welcoming. Mandu is served several ways at Samsoonie: boiled, pan fried, deep fried.

Samsoonie Dumpling Trail
Samsoonie’s Spicy Dumpling Plate. | ​ Photo: Dee de los Santos

They also serve them spicy. The spicy mandu dish ($11.99, pictured above) is larger than the other appetizer-sized ones, with a mix of fresh vegetables including shredded lettuce, carrots, cabbage cucumber and bean sprouts. These dumplings are served over a bed of cold noodles as well. When served, they bring the spicy sauce separately so that you may add as little or as much heat to your dish.

Be sure to check out Samsoonie Noodle & Rice next time you're in Richmond!