Culinary Culture of Korea

Boiled Rice, Staple Food of Koreans


Boiled rice has long been the major staple food of the Korean people.

Different cereals and tools for dietary life, which were discovered in ancient sites, and such data as “The land was so fertile that five cereals and rice plant grew well” in Samgukji, Wiryak and other old records show that the Korean people have lived on boiled rice.

In the initial period of human development, Korean ancestors ate cereals without boiling, but began to have boiled foods after they discovered fire. With the production of earthenware in the Neolithic era, they invented a method of boiling meat, fish or cereals in earthenware with water.

Boiled rice got diversified in kind and its cooking methods made further progress in the period of the feudal Joson dynasty. Korean women attached greater importance to preparing boiled rice than other foods and tried to cook tasty rice.

Boiled rice contains different nutritive substances including glucide, fat and protein needed for living activities of humans.

Many proverbs related to boiled rice came into being in Korea as its people had lived on rice.

They include “Cooked rice is better than medicines”, “A grain of rice removes ten evil spirits” and “Empty the rice bowl and you will enjoy health”.

Though there are so many kinds of boiled rice, it is largely divided into boiled rice and rice boiled with other cereals.

An envoy of China’s Song Dynasty who had visited the Koryo Kingdom in the 12th century wrote in his book that the rice of Koryo is big in size and tastes sweet. Since polished rice is as slick as oil and looks as white as snow, it stimulates appetite further in good harmony with national characteristics and emotions arising from the daily life of the Korean people who enjoy neatness and cleanliness.

Rice boiled with other cereals has also been one of the staple foods. Typical examples include rice boiled with red beans, bean-mixed rice, rice boiled with barley, ogokpap (dish made with all five grains) and yakpap (sweet rice dish).

Among them, ogokpap is outstanding. The grains used for cooking the dish differed a little according to the times and localities, but rice, millet, foxtail millet, barley and beans were the main ingredients.

Tongguksesigi (book dealing with annual events and folk customs of the feudal Joson dynasty, which was written by Hong Sok Mo of noble birth in the first half of the 19th century) says that Korean ancestors had ogokpap on Jongwoldaeborum (the fifteenth day of the first month by the lunar calendar) and it was an old custom. Ancestors established the custom as they prayed for the good harvest of five grains in the New Year and since different nutritive substances in the five grains promote human health.

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