Judy Joo Explains How To Eat Korean Food The Right Way - Exclusive

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

She absolutely shouldn't have to say this, but Judy Joo would be the first to roll her eyes and reiterate that the essence of Korean food isn't all barbecue and grilled meats. The Iron Chef has heard every variation of this assumption, even from restaurant critics — including the bizarrely ignorant supposition that Korean and Thai are twin cuisines. "It's not a tropical country, we don't grow coconuts and lime or lemongrass," Joo remarked to Mashed in an exclusive interview. "Figure it out!"

The problem, of course, is that when the conversation begins with countering everything that Korean food isn't — what Joo called "sensationalism, with a smattering of xenophobia and misogyny" — it usually ends before you have the chance to talk about what Korean food is. And Korean food, and the philosophy which grounds it, can be, quite literally, transformative. Korean cooking starts with the idea that food is medicine and, said Joo, is all based on "the rule of five."

Judy Joo explains the rule of five in Korean dishes

When you break it down, the rule of five is a pretty obvious idea. "You're supposed to have the five flavors, the five textures, and the five colors in every single meal," Joo explained to Mashed. "If you do this, the philosophy around it is that you'll get all of your vitamins and minerals and nutrients in one seating. Then, you are taking care of your entire body."

Turns out that your gut is happiest when it gets "a wide variety of different foods," said Joo. (Duh!, right?) "No matter how many probiotics you take, you really should eat a wide and varied diet," Joo elaborated. "That not only means different types of foods, but also different types of preparation." Korean cooking takes this to heart. Not only will you see a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, fish, and meat on a Korean table, but shared Joo, "You should have things that are raw, things that are sautéed, and things that are perhaps fermented or pickled." 

As a result, a Korean table is a symphony of side dishes called "banchan." Affirmed Joo, "You have this whole sharing concept, so you can have lots of different types of food. Koreans are obviously meat-eaters, but we don't just eat meat, it's meat and 16 other types of vegetables and other things around it." She added, " It's a very healthy way of eating and a very interesting and satiating way to eat. You never really have FOMO when you eat in this Korean style, because you get a little bit of everything."

Follow Judy Joo's Instagram for the latest from her everyday life and career. Her most recent book, "Korean Soul Food," is available for purchase.