The Secret To The Best Version Of This Summer's Hottest Culinary TikTok Trend Is Korean “Girl Dinner"

Picture two pickles in an ocean of brine. Some wilting strawberries in their plastic cage. A Tostitos bag rolled down, almost to the bottom. Definitely not something you’d post on the ‘Gram.

By Amelia Buzzard3 min read
Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

And yet, that’s just the beauty of it. Throw these bits together, and you have a quick meal that doesn’t try too hard. This summer’s “girl dinner” trend is an anthem of solidarity for girls who know they’re not perfect and are okay with that. We see 10,000+ TikTok videos of snacky, no-prep foods set to a jubilant chorus of female voices belting, “Girrrrrl Dinner”, and we’re all singing along. 

There’s a reason #girldinner has 470 million views on TikTok. It’s a trend that can squeeze itself into any aesthetic, especially this summer’s TikTok microaesthetics, which seem to be conveniently food-themed. Tomato girl? Slice up a tomato and pair it with a rind of brie. Lemon girl? Pair your leftover pound cake with a glass of lemonade. Strawberry girl? Try eating some, well, strawberries.

Perhaps due to its versatility, girl dinner has been accused of glorifying unhealthy eating habits and triggering eating disorders. Videos featuring an ice cream bar or even just drinks are prompting comments like, “Where’s the food?” 

Like many trends, girl dinner has developed a darker side. But how did it begin?

Girl Dinner’s Medieval Origins 

Most people forget that in the original video that sparked the trend, TikToker @liviemaher cites medieval Europe as the trend’s inspiration. She says, “A girl just came on here and said how in medieval times peasants had nothing to eat but bread and cheese and how awful that was, and she was like that’s my ideal meal … I call this ‘girl dinner’ or ‘medieval peasant.’” 

The historical reference got me thinking about traditional foods in Asia, from salty Indian chutney to earthy Korean bibimbap. Most girl dinners have French and Nordic inspirations of charcuterie and smorgasbord. But what about the rest of the world? Perhaps European peasants were content with bread and cheese, but that was not true of Asian peasants. Could a healthier vision for girl dinner be found in the traditional diet of my Korean ancestors?

What Koreans Do Differently 

The story of Korean cuisine begins with cold weather. As summer gave way to fall, then winter, Korean peasants didn’t want to suffer scurvy, so they came up with methods to preserve vegetables through the winter months. They brined them in salt and buried them in clay pots, down in the ground where the temperature was just right. The resulting dishes were not only healthy but tasty. (So tasty that later generations of European peasants might have stolen this Asian idea and called it sauerkraut.) 

These vegetable side dishes, called banchan (반찬), remain a staple of Korean cuisine today. There’s spicy cabbage kimchi, famous for its bite and hint of bubbly fermentation on the tongue; gamja jorim, potato cooked soft and crumbly, sticky with a sweet and salty sauce; oi muchim, thinly chopped cucumber, sour, crisp, and cold from the fridge. Pick any vegetable, and chances are, there’s a banchan dish made from it. 

The vast constellation of banchan is ever-growing, and this variety is important to the Korean way of eating. A Western meal is organized like an indie folk band, with a main dish (singer), a starch (double bass), and a side (mandolin). A Korean meal is organized like an orchestra. The main dish takes center stage, but it needs a whole symphony of banchan to create a harmonious flavor. At a fancy restaurant, your meat might arrive at your table with as many as 20 little banchan, each in its own dish.

Generally, braised short ribs or another freshly cooked meat is the focal point of the meal, but on a lazy day, all you need is rice and banchan. At a kimchi-making party a few weeks ago, my Korean friend Juhyae explained to me how easy this is: “Yeah, just some kimchi with some rice, that’s an easy meal.” If you stock up on banchan, you can store it for months, sampling a taste whenever the craving hits.

Why We Love It

Still squarely in the category of a medieval peasant’s meal (albeit Asian peasant, not European), banchan brings an intentional, and dare I say, a more mature flair to the original “girl dinner.” It checks the main boxes: delicious, immediate, and down-to-earth. But it adds to a fleeting trend the deeper flavor of tradition. Rather than snacking on the scraps of last night’s wine tasting, you’re feasting on the product of thousands of years of dietary wisdom. Even if it’s still made from leftovers!

Even the Korean eating style is healthy, forcing you to slow down as you fill your tank with well-balanced fuel – a bite of kimchi for each bite of rice.

Banchan dishes offer a variety of health benefits. Many are fermented. The probiotic bacteria in kimchi helps your microbiome thrive and may improve your immune system. Because Korea was historically a poor country, most banchan are plant-based, chock full of micronutrients and antioxidants. By selecting dishes like mung bean sprouts and braised tofu, you can also maintain your protein intake. Even the Korean eating style itself is healthy, forcing you to slow down as you fill your tank with well-balanced fuel – a bite of kimchi for each bite of rice.

How To Make Your Own Korean Girl Dinner

Now, I’m sure you’re just aching to know how you can make this for yourself. You could prep all the dishes at home, but if you want to retain the effortlessness of the true girl dinner ethos, head over to your local H Mart to stock up (or even better, let them deliver to you). For banchan, you should find the little plastic containers near the refrigerated area where you usually get your sushi. Let your cravings lead you, and pick a variety. Every option is healthy, so don’t worry about overindulging. Then, if you don’t have it already, pick up some rice. If you don’t have a rice cooker, learn how to make it in a pot or buy instant rice.

That’s all you need to bring time-tested tradition to this TikTok trend. So, what are you waiting for? Grab some chopsticks and embrace your Seoul girl era this fall. It’s banchan time!

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