A dosirak is a Korean lunchbox, similar to the more well known Japanese bento. Like the bento, a dosirak can have all sorts of side dishes but almost always has rice, side dishes, and some main protein.
For many years in Korea, it was customary for moms to pack lunch for their children. In my mom’s family, she took on that responsibility as the middle child. My mom had 4 siblings, so she was packing 5 lunches a day!
If you’ve seen Squid Game or are familiar with modern dosirak items, you’ve probably seen mostly things like Spam or other tasty meats. Back when my mom was in school, Spam was pretty new in Korea and only the rich could afford it. My mom grew up kind of poor so her lunches were often made with fish cakes or cheap sausages. Spam and beef were for special occasions and were seen as treats back then. Another dosirak item that my mom made for special occasions is omurice- this was her favorite!
What to pack in your dosirak
Korea has four distinct seasons, and this played a big factor in what you were able to pack for lunch. Since there were no microwaves or refrigerators in schools at this time, you could only pack foods that would keep in the natural temperature at the time. For example, my mom would only pack perishable vegetables such as spinach and bean sprouts during the fall and winter months.
Most lunches had to be eaten at room temperature, but sometimes kids would put their dosirak on top of burning coals to heat it up. I am not sure where these were set up in the schools, but my mom recalls heating up her food this way.
In my mom’s house, the most common side dishes that were always in her refrigerator were seasoned spinach, seasoned bean sprouts, stir fried anchovies, and kimchi. She would often pair these with some rice, seasoned seaweed, a fried egg, and stir fried fish cakes.
Some other side & main dishes that my mom included in her lunchbox rotation are: stir fried potatoes, Korean potato salad, meat patties, kimbap, mandu, kimchi fried rice, rolled omelet, and pan fried fish.
These days, Korean lunches are packed in more modern lunchboxes that are often layered and can fit/organize more food. The metal container that I used here is somewhat of a thing of the past, but it has been making a comeback in restaurants due to the nostalgic experience it brings, and because it is somewhat of an “interactive” menu item- unlike the Japanese bento, Korean lunches are sometimes shaken vigorously inside the lunchbox to mix everything together like bibimbap. The dosirak has also recently been popularized by the viral Korean Netflix drama, Squid Game.
You can find disposable dosirak sets at convenience stores all over Korea now as well. I would compare them to gas station food, but 10 times better. I survived off these lunches when I visited Korea a few years ago- they are very good!
Dosirak 도시락 (Korean Lunchbox)
Stir Fried Fish Cakes
- 5 oz fish cakes
- sliced onion
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
- 1 tsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 2 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp rice syrup
- seasoned spinach recipe linked below
- seasoned bean sprouts recipe linked below
- stir friend anchovies
- Seasoned seaweed
- Fried egg
- Cut your fish cakes into bite sized pieces if they are large. You can use any kind you prefer- sheets, fish balls, etc.
- Add some oil to a pan on medium heat and stir fry the onions and fish cakes for about 1 minute.
- Add the sauce to the pan, but reserve about 1 tablespoon of the sauce to use for your dosirak (optional).
- Stir fry for 2-3 minutes but be careful not to burn. Lower the heat if needed.
- Pack your lunchbox with the fish cakes, rice, and whatever banchan you have. I am using kimchi, seasoned spinach, seasoned bean sprouts, and stir fried anchovies (recipe soon).
- Top the rice with the reserved sauce from the fish cakes, some seasoned seaweed, and a fried egg.
- Shake the dosirak vigorously to make bibimbap or you can just enjoy as is.