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Korean Food 101 – Episode #1:  Rice

Rice (밥 – Pr. “bap”)

A bowl of rice with chopsticksBefore you can talk about Korean food, you have to start it all with rice.  In English, there is only one word for rice while in Korean, there are two.  Even with that, it does goes deeper than that.  Rice is not just a staple for Koreans.  The symbolism is rooted in deep history where rice was and still is a symbol of how one’s life’s prosperity is measured.  In essence, rice equates to “life”.

Ssal (쌀) is the Korean word for “uncooked” rice.  Once you cook it, the name changes to Bap (밥).  However, Bap does not simply mean “rice”.  The word itself speaks of the state of one’s life where people are not asked if they had eaten today, rather, Koreans ask if they have had Bap (rice) today?  The connotation of asking someone if they have had rice today would be the same as someone in Canada asking someone “how are you today?”.  It cannot be emphasized enough how important rice is to Koreans.  Similarly to many cultures and countries in other parts of the world, rice is foundational.  The centrepiece to all meal in Korea, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  

It should be noted that Koreans eat more than just one kind of rice.  In most Korean restaurants, you will likely find the short grain white rice.  There are many kinds of rice Koreans enjoy but for the purpose of this blog, let’s just simply say, rice (bap) is not a side dish, nor is it something that you casually have with your meal.  For Koreans, rice is the centrepiece and without it, it just simply is not a meal.

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