Chuseok delicacies you don't want to miss

Saturday, September 13, 2008

?et all the days be as joyful as Hangawi,?goes the Korean saying. Hangawi refers to the three-day lunar holiday for annual harvest celebrations, better known as ?huseok.?And like all other festivals in the world, there's music, dance and of course, food. Here are some of the best known culinary delights enjoyed on the occasion of Chuseok and the season of autumn in Korea.
During Chuseok Koreans traditionally cook rice that comes from the newest crop, knead rice flour to make songpyeon rice cakes, season green vegetables, boil taro soup and present all this to their ancestors first to express gratefulness, before dining.

Because it's harvest season, which brings forth various kinds of fruits and crops, the preparation for ancestral ceremonies requires quite an assortment of food items, from fruits and multi-colored rice cakes to assorted vegetables, fish and meat.

This includes such exotic (to western ears) things as taro, chestnut and ginkgo, vegetables like giant radish, taro, fernbrake and balloonflower among others, and dishes like fish, sanjeok, skewered meat and mushroom, either fried or dried, side dishes of fresh kimchi and water kimchi and finally desserts like sikhye (sweet fermented rice drink) sujeonggwa (traditional sweet persimmon punch flavored with cinnamon), hwachae (honeyed juice mixed with fruit), yugwa (oil and honey pastry), apples, persimmons, dates and others.

The point of Chuseok food, whether rice cake, fruits or vegetables is that it has to be newly harvested, or made from newly harvested ingredients.


You can't talk about Chuseok without mentioning songpyeon. One of the typical scenes of Chuseok holiday is a whole family gathered around to make small half-moon shaped rice cakes.

The prettier the rice cake, the prettier your future spouse or your children will be, the saying goes, and you'll see young people working especially hard on its shape.

Once in a while a pregnant woman will insert a pine needle before steaming the cake. The child in her womb will be a daughter if she bites on the leaves' flat side and a son if she bites into the sharp end of the needle.

The newly harvest rice is ground and mixed with water to form dough. Depending on the region it can be made with potatoes, sweet potatoes or acorns. Songpyeon stuffing includes a mixture of mung bean, chestnut, red bean and jujube among other things.

Fried sesame and sweet potato or honey can also be mixed in to add more variety depending on the region. Songpyeon are then placed on pine needles for steaming. After that one can brush them with sesame oil before eating.

In Seoul, songpyeon is made in a dainty size, while northern provinces prefer to make it bigger. Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province) uses potato starch instead of rice to make the dough and adds finger prints to shape it. People of the Wonsan region in Hamgyeong-do (Hamgyeong Province, North Korea) shaped it liked a clam and on Jejudo (Jeju Island), like a spaceship.

Taro soup

Toranguk or taro soupTaro, a health-giving vegetable, gets especially nutritious and tastes better in the autumn. Because of the egg-like shape of the roots it is called ?oran?meaning ?gg from the earth.?Taro is peeled and washed with either salt water or rice-rinsed water to get rid of its slippery texture. A drop of vinegar takes care of its natural tartness.

Add it to a thick beef soup with radish, dashima (sea tangle) and marinated meat and boil it until soft and there you have it ?taro soup or ?orantang,?good for health.

The soup is consumed together with big dishes like sanjeok (marinated beef), galbijjim (steamed ribs) and other kinds of grilled and boiled food. This is partly because the soup is especially effective in aiding food digestion and relieving constipation. It is a certainly a lifesaver for those who overeat during Chuseok.

Main dishes

Dakjiim, or steamed chickenOne of the major dishes is dakjjim, or steamed chicken cooked in the Korean way. Chicken was always one of the special dishes to present on holidays to receive elderly and special guests. A mother would greet her son-in-law with a big bowl of chicken. A married daughter would take chicken or at least a dozen eggs when visiting her home.

Autumn is a season to finally taste the chicken that was raised from the spring of the same year. One can boil the chicken together with vegetables or add some dashima or dried pollack with a seasoning made of soy sauce, ginger and hot pepper among others. Once the seasoning is inside the chicken, put it in the frying pan and stew it. That should take care of the raw smell of the chicken and make it chewy and tasty. Garnish it with sliced eggs and the meal is ready.

Nurumi is a meat roasted or fried with lots of spice paste added. Beef, balloonflower, mushroom, egg tofu and some other fish is skewered together to be cooked. The skewered food is then covered with raw egg or starch powder to be fried in a pan. Sauce is put on top after cooking. Depending on the proportion of ingredients there's beef nurumi, egg nurumi, oyster nurumi and more. Some provinces use ginseng instead of balloonflower.

Nurumi skewed dish Song-i mushroom (pine mushroom) is a Korean delicacy. Take a soft mushroom, slice it thinly and season it with sesame oil and salt. Hot pepper paste or mustard serves as a nice sauce for dipping in as you eat. There's also song-i sanjeok dish, in which mushrooms cut in thicker pieces get broiled together with beef on a gridiron.

Song-i mushroom broth has the mushrooms slightly heated in a clear soup (seasoned only with soy sauce). Float some shredded small green onions and jidan, a Korean style egg garnish.

Assorted vegetables

Starting from right, spinach, balloonflower and fernbrakeChuseok is also the occasion to hold charye or ancestral rituals. One of the most frequently made vegetable dishes to be presented at ancestral rites is the ?amsaek namul?or three-colored potherbs indicating balloonflower (white), fernbrake (brown) and spinach (green).

The three greens are vegetables unusually rich in protein. Balloonflower, known as ?oraji?in Korea, is good for colds, tonsils and other respiratory diseases; fernbrake for diarrhea, as a diuretic and to bring down fever; and spinach is rich in vitamin C, helping one recover from hangovers and giving a wonderful skin complexion.


Every festival has its own liquor to savor. At Chuseok we have baeksoju, or white liquor brewed with newly harvested rice, from whence it gets its color.

First you wash the glutinous rice, soak it in water until it swells, and then steam it. The steamed version is referred to separately as ji-ae-bab, which needs to be cooled down. Next, mix some with malt powder and put it inside a big jar, but make a hole right in the middle. A day later, scoop up the liquid gathered in the middle, sprinkle it around the jar, then add malt powder and water in the remaining ji-ae-bab inside the jar again and let it ferment for about a week. It's similar to makgeolli (creamy white rice wine) but ferments longer. It is also called sindoju meaning ?ew wine of vigor.?br>

Bae-sook, a traditional fruit punchBae-sujeonggwa (or ?ae-sook? refers to a traditional fruit punch with pear added. A pear is boiled whole and soaked inside honeyed or sugary water. One can adjust the sweetness by adding ginger slices.

The pear is then taken out and cut in about six pieces, and then cut again into triangular shapes, trimmed to take out the core and pepper corns are inserted deep in them.

Bam-dasik, or pressed chestnut sweet in Korean, begins with boiling a chestnut, cutting it in half, digging it out with a spoon and making it into a paste. Add honey and cinnamon powder, mix it together to put it in the press and there you have it. Boil a chestnut in sugar water and fry it with honey and it will be a snack called bam-cho.

By Kim Hee-sung Staff Writer