Side dishes – Panchan – 반찬
One of the great things about eating out in Korea is the panchan, or side dishes, that almost always accompany your meal.
The panchan is really a mini-me meal. A small offering of food that can be re-filled and accompanies the main dish. It adds colour, taste and depth to any meal.
How many you receive and how good they are depends both on what you eat and the kind of establishment you eat at. Most of the Kimbab Cheongug restaurants often provide 3-5 side dishes. My favourite one close to my house will often provide egg, some frankfurter type deal, potatoes, kimchi and maybe one other, such as soup, although that depends on what is ordered.
The side dishes are small, snack like portions. However it is totally fine to ask for a panchan re-up as a side-dish you particularly like may not last long. They are not entirely dissimilar to small portions of tapas in Spain, and are placed in the centre of the table to be shared by everyone, unless you are eating alone. Irregardless, you will get the same amount.
The one place that truly blew me away was in Gyeongju. In this area, one can pay around 10,000won ($10) per person for Ssambap. For that you get a main dish, which depends on the house special for the day. It could be pork, it could be bulgogi etc. But the best part is, you receive around 15-20 side dishes, including a number of types of lettuce to wrap the meat from the main dish in.