[FOOD COURT] Celebrate Chuseok with songpyeon and all that jeon
The Chuseok holiday starting Friday is one of Korea’s two biggest family holidays, alongside Lunar New Year. Like all good family celebrations, food plays a crucial part of every gathering.
One of the most important food items to get into the Chuseok spirit is songpyeon, or moon-shaped rice cakes with a sweet paste inside.
Firstly, what is Chuseok?
Chuseok is often referred as the Korean Thanksgiving, although it comes a little earlier in the year and has just as much in common with the harvest festivals seen in other countries all over the world. The Korean holiday falls on Aug. 15 based on the lunar calendar, so it normally falls somewhere between September and November.
Unlike Thanksgiving, Chuseok is about wishing for a good harvest, not celebrating one that has passed. Usually Chuseok falls shortly before the harvest, when farmers are in something of a lull as they prepare for the busy picking season. During that time, the Chuseok holiday offers a chance to thank their ancestors for the crops and fruit in the fields. Traditionally they make an early harvest of crop and fruit to use in the Chuseok celebration.
What’s one crucial thing you need for Chuseok?
One of the main things people eat is songpyeon. Historically, this particular tteok, or rice cake, is supposed to be made with rice harvested early. To bring out more flavors from the unripe rice, people usually steamed it and dried it before making the dough.
To compensate, something sweeter is put inside, such as a sweetened paste of sesame seeds, chestnut or black beans. In order to make it easy to recognize which has which paste, people make dough in different colors, such as yellow, pink or green.
The yellow color is usually extracted from chija, or gardenia seeds, the pink comes from red omija berries and the green is from ssuk, or mugwort.
To make songpyeon, you take the dough as if you are making dumplings and put the sweetened paste inside. Then you close it up and roll it before making it into a desired shape. Each household or individual takes a different shape: Some make it more round like a ball, and others make it like a half-moon.
When ready, you steam the songpyeon inside a large pot. People usually lay songpyeon on top of pine leaves for the subtle scent. Back in the old days, covering up tteok with pine leaves was necessary to keep it edible for a little longer.
What else should I try?
Other than songpyeon, the food you see a lot is similar to what people eat during the Lunar New Year.
Sanjeok, or skewers made with beef marinated in soy sauce, and other colorful vegetables, are some of the basics. Jeon, often referred to as small pancakes, are also popular. Each household usually cooks more than one kind of jeon: they make donggeurrangttaeng, a type of meat ball, hobak jeon, made with pumpkin, or pajeon with green scallions.
Marinated vegetables called namul are also a must. Gosari (fern), sigeumchi (spinach), radish, and doraji (balloon flower roots) are a few of the commonly made namul at home.
As all the aforementioned items are considered banchan, or side dishes. Rice is usually made with the first harvest of the year, and the soup is clear and made with radish, tofu and beef.
Some of the other specialties people prepare at home for the holiday are galbijjim, or beef stew, and bulgogi, or marinated beef.
Where to go for Chuseok food?
Unfortunately, there are not restaurants that offer a real Chuseok meal as people normally eat at home. But there are ways to do it yourself without cooking. Many grocery stores and online malls offer holiday food cooked and packed up so all you need to do is buy it, maybe warm it up, and pop it on your table.
BY LEE SUN-MIN [email@example.com]