We used a database approach in developing a dish-based, semi-quantitative FFQ for Korean diet and cancer research. Cancer-related dietary factors (CRDF) recognised in the scientific community and dietary intake data from the 2001 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the 2002 Korean National Nutrition Survey by Season were used. The list of dishes (n 993) was those reported to be consumed by individuals over 30 years of age during all four seasons. The resulting 112-dish list was selected using contribution analyses and variability analyses to detect between-person variation for CRDF and non-CRDF nutrients. Variations of each dish were grouped into one dish for the final list of 112 dishes, which were then linked to the nutrient database. The final 112 dish items consisted of nine Korean staple dishes, including rice and noodles, twenty-five soups and stews, fifty-four side dishes, nine beverages, nine fruit dishes and six alcoholic beverages. The percentage coverages of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate and alcohol intake in the selected 112 dishes were 82·4, 76·4, 68·9, 86·0 and 99·8 %, respectively. Dietary exposure to cancer-related Korean dietary factors can be assessed by this new dish-based, semi-quantitative FFQ. This new instrument can calculate the intake of CRDF along with non-CRDF nutrient intake for cancer research.