Korean food for kids: How I use food to teach language and culture

Posted by Habbi Habbi Guest Contributor on

Korean food for kidsBy Guest Contributor: Katie Cadamatre

Korean food is my great connector! For my mixed family, Korean food has been a way for me to connect with my heritage. And now for my kids, I use Korean to introduce culture and language to my kids. Food carries meaning, marks moments in history, accentuates holidays, gathers people, and serves as a gateway to language and connection.  

My first Korean food phrases 

I am ethnically Korean and was born in Korea - but grew up with no exposure to my Korean culture. I was adopted by a non-Korean family in a predominantly non-Asian area in America. So it wasn’t until college that I started becoming familiar with 
Basic words and phrases like 

  • 맛있어요 “tasty,” mashissoh
  • 배고바요 “I’m hungry,” baegopahyo
  • 배불러요 “I’m full,” baebulleoyo
Or popular foods like 
  • 떡볶이 “tteokbokki” 
  •  갈비 “galbi”
  • 잡채 “japchae”
  • 비빔밥 “bibimbap”
  • 볶음밥 “bokkeumbap” 

Arguably, these are some of the most practical phrases you might learn! In fact, food is so important in Korean culture, a common greeting is, “Have you eaten?” 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo) - and is a way to check on someone’s well-being and show you care about them by making sure their bellies are full!

Why teaching my kids Korean is important 

Holding onto Korean language and culture in our home is deeply important to me. As someone who discovered it later in life, I want to instill a sense of cultural ownership, identity, and belonging for my kids. And that starts with food. 

I want them to see Korean food with a sense of knowledge and pride (vs shock and awe, which it was for me.) On my first visit to Korea, I gawked at stuffed blood sausage (sundae 순대) - but quickly realized they are just delicious! 

Challenges of cooking Korean food for my kids 

Embarking on my culinary journey came with an unexpected challenge - I questioned everything. “Ugh, I am an impostor!” Navigating aisles at HMart, I blanked as I stared at fifty brands of glass noodles. “Which would a ‘real’ Korean mom would choose?” In meats, I had to look up Korean vocabulary for different cuts of meat and check recipes. No matter how many videos I watched or blogs I read, I wondered, “Is this the ‘right’ way?” “Am I feeding us food that tastes ‘correct’?’”

Luckily, there is an incredible community out there of families similarly navigating their “Korean-ness.” I quickly learned, there is no “right” way! Everyone who shared their mom’s way was different. People born and raised in fully Korean households confessed they also felt like impostors trying to cook their childhood favorites! I felt a resounding sense of camaraderie and comfort. I realized something so important … 

I am a Korean mom 

That subtitle was hard for me to write, as I didn’t grow up Korean. But I realized that - a childhood comfort food has a special twist that makes it familiar. My way of Korean cooking will have its own unique characteristic making it memorable for my kids. Maybe our brand of soy sauce won’t be the one “most” Korean families use. But, it’s the one that will create that special taste of home for my children’s memories. 

How I use Korean food for kids to introduce language 

Once I was fully able to embrace my ‘Korean mom-ness’ and enjoy serving delicious Korean dishes, I started focusing on trying to use it as a gateway to learn language. Note: Since I’m learning alongside my son, I sometimes have to do vocabulary research ahead of time , and I tell myself that’s ok! 

First off, I love naming ingredients with him. It’s a wonderful way to introduce my son to items he might not see in an American grocery store. I like to show him each item and let him explore it while we say the word. We talk about its characteristics: texture, color, weight, size, etc. 

  • Big 크다 keuda
  • Small 작다 jagda
  • Light 가볍다 gabyeupda
  • Heavy 무겁다 mugeupda

I also like to get him involved in the food prep. This is a great opportunity to expose him to different verbs for cooking-based activities: washing, mixing, stirring, smashing. I also like incorporating different onomatopoeias. (Korean has so many!) 

I also introduce other topics - like time, numbers (My son has learned to recognize numbers, so he reads out the numbers on the recipe in Korean!), taste, temperature, and more. 

  • Hot - 뜨겁다 tteugeupda
  • Cold/Icy - 차갑다 chagapda
  • Spicy - 맵다 maepda
  • Sweet - 달콤하다 dalkomhada
  • Sour - 시다 shida
  • Salty - 짜다 jjada

I also use Korean food for kids to discuss culture 

Learning about and experiencing Korean culture with my son has been an incredibly special experience. There are a lot of foods that hold meaning and significance for Korean people. For example, it’s typical to enjoy a bowl of seaweed soup 미역국 “miyeokguk” on your birthday. Why? Because, this is a food given to new moms to help them regain their strength and heath postpartum. It’s a way to show respect for your mom!

Over the last year, we’ve also made 송편 “songpyeon” rice cakes - customarily served during 추석 Chuseok or Korean “Thanksgiving.” And, we’ve had hearty bowls of 떡국 “tteokguk” rice cake soup during the Lunar New Year 설날 Seollal.
This is just a glimpse into how exploring cuisine can connect our family with our Korean culture. It is a fun and delicious adventure we can embark on together.

My favorite Korean recipes my kids love  

If you’re looking for Korean recipes, my favorite is Korea Bapsang. She keeps it simple and easy and they always come out delicious! She also has a post of “back to school” favorites that kids love. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Japchae (Glass Noodles)
    This is one of my favorite dishes (and a hit with my son.) It’s also great for packed lunches.
  • Mini Gimpbap
    Gimbap is a popular treat for picnics, lunch, or a midnight snack. It’s a great recipe to get kids involved in. Older children can help with prep and younger ones can help with assembly.
  • Slow Cooker Galbi
    I love all of Jean’s recipes because she does an amazing job mixing practicality, nutrition, and (of course) taste! This slow cooker short rib recipe is so easy to set and forget. It’s a hit with the entire family.

Other resources for Korean food fun for kids 

These are a few of our favorite Korean food-related items we love to incorporate in our day (and play!) 

  • Dumpling Mart - All of Dumpling Mart’s handmade play foods are beautifully hand-crafted and add the right amount of Korean flair to your play kitchen. 
  • Woori Show - This is an incredible show that shares a lot of Korean culture and language. I love this episode all about kimchi!
  • Mochi Kids Kimchi Shirt - Mochi Kids is one of my favorite brands. It’s mom-owned and the adorable designs are irresistible.
  • Korean Celebrations by Tina Cho - This is a wonderful book to learn about different Korean holidays, the customs and foods enjoyed.
  • Fun Opposites by Cadamini Books - I created this book to share my love of foods found in the Korean market with my family.  
  • Habbi Habbi Bilingual Books - We love the food books in their series! Foodie Friends & First Words with fruit & vegetables pages. We love this brand - especially because they have a magical Wand that enhances the books with audio, so parents like me can learn alongside. We currently have the Mandarin Chinese (because my husband is Chinese!) but so excited that they will be releasing Korean soon! 

About Katie: 
Katie Cadamatre is an illustrator, mom and transracial Korean adoptee. As a new mom, Katie was frustrated by the lack of accessibility and affordability in Korean resources her family wanted for her son. She launched Tigerboom Creative to fill the need for engaging bilingual content for diverse families like hers. And in 2020, she founded Cadamini Books, publishing thoughtfully designed books that expose children to Korean culture and language in a simple, fun, and inclusive way. 

More from Habbi Habbi: 

We have lots more (fun stuff!) to share here at Habbi Habbi. Check out our free printables, tips for incorporating language learning at home, and of course our magical Reading Wand, books, puzzles & flashcards. Available in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Coming soon in French, Korean, and Hindi! We hope you enjoy! ❤️ H&AL

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