Korea’s currency is the won (₩). The name comes from the same character as the Chinese yuan and Japanese yen, meaning “round shape.” Currency first appeared in Korea during the Chinese Han dynasty 2300 years ago. The current Korean won was pegged to the U.S. dollar for most of the second half of the 20th century before joining the world market in 1997—1001 years after Korea began minting its own coins. The won was heavily devalued after it split from the dollar, but it has strengthened along with the Korean economy and is now remarkably stable.
For most of its history Korea was primarily an agricultural nation. Like most other south and east Asian nations, Korea grew rice as the staple food since ancient times. Modern Korean cuisine features a smorgasbord of meat and fish dishes typically served with wild greens and vegetables. Fermented and preserved food are also popular. Nutritious Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), jeotgal (matured seafood with salt), and doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) are signature Korean dishes. Regional cuisines are plentiful, and great value is placed on locally grown food. Virtually every meal features seafood of some variety, as Korea’s location on the southern tip of a peninsula gives its people access to the fish of three different seas. The valleys support rice, beans, and vegetables; mushrooms and bellflower, among other wild plants, thrive in the mountains. Vegetarian meals, some with roots going back to the early days of Korean Buddhism, are still common, though meat consumption has been rising for decades.