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A Guide to Those Awesome Korean Condiments: Omi's Banchan

A Guide to Those Awesome Korean Condiments: Omi's Banchan
All picures by Lori Bandi, click to embiggen

Without a doubt the most interesting part of any Korean meal is the banchan, a number sides that come to the table in tiny individual bowls to be eaten on their own, or used to compliment grilled meats and other dishes. The only problem: they tend to hit your table with little explanation, and you can often be left wondering what the hell you're pushing around with your chopsticks.

While dining at Omi, the subject of this week's review, I cornered one of my waitresses and had her explain each dish to me. After I was done with my visits, I had photographer Lori Bandi capture some of the sides you'll likely encounter at Omi. Most of them are common enough that you'll see them at any Korean restaurant.

This is only a fraction of what you'll see in during a visit.

Don't fiddle with your meat as it cooks. Wait till you get a good brown crust on the first side before you flip it over.
Don't fiddle with your meat as it cooks. Wait till you get a good brown crust on the first side before you flip it over.
This take on cabbage is similar to a bland version of American coleslaw
This take on cabbage is similar to a bland version of American coleslaw
These bean sprouts are quickly boiled and then chilled. The flavors are a little bland but the crunch and coolness makes this banchan worthy of your chopsticks. They're great for adding texture to other bites.
These bean sprouts are quickly boiled and then chilled. The flavors are a little bland but the crunch and coolness makes this banchan worthy of your chopsticks. They're great for adding texture to other bites.
Now things are starting to wake up again. This eggplant is sauteed with garlic, chili, sesame oil and other seasonings for a slightly sweet, slightly spicy banchan that's good enough to eat on its own.
Now things are starting to wake up again. This eggplant is sauteed with garlic, chili, sesame oil and other seasonings for a slightly sweet, slightly spicy banchan that's good enough to eat on its own.
Fish cake is what you get when you throw fish in a blender with additives and seasonings, form it into a loaf or sheet and steam it till it's rubbery. Some versions lean towards "fishy" flavors but Omi's fish cake is actually very mild.
Fish cake is what you get when you throw fish in a blender with additives and seasonings, form it into a loaf or sheet and steam it till it's rubbery. Some versions lean towards "fishy" flavors but Omi's fish cake is actually very mild.

 

Omi's radish kimchi boasts massive hunks of daikon treated with seasonings similar to a cabbage kimchi. The results are a familiar spicy flavor with a lot more crunch.
Omi's radish kimchi boasts massive hunks of daikon treated with seasonings similar to a cabbage kimchi. The results are a familiar spicy flavor with a lot more crunch.
The soft, sauteed zucchini is very mild
The soft, sauteed zucchini is very mild
Vinegar and sugar give this cold salad sweetness and brightness while onions add texture to the chewy seaweed
Vinegar and sugar give this cold salad sweetness and brightness while onions add texture to the chewy seaweed
Another dish that's good enough to eat on its own. Korean noodles with beef and the subtle sweetness of sweet potato
Another dish that's good enough to eat on its own. Korean noodles with beef and the subtle sweetness of sweet potato
A simple zucchini tempura, that's great dipped in a little sesame oil or bean paste
A simple zucchini tempura, that's great dipped in a little sesame oil or bean paste

This is just the start, of course. There's still traditional cabbage kimchi, pickled daikon slices you can use like taco shells for grilled meats, miso soup and egg soufflé. There are lettuce leaves for wrapping ingredients and spicy greens for adding crunch and heat and the staff will replenish any bowl that you finish. It's truly an endless procession of flavors.


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