Chuseok 2012 추석

Chuseok (추석) is the Korean thanksgiving holiday to celebrate the harvest, and it is the biggest celebration in the Korean calendar. Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which this year was September 30th, and the day before and the day after are also given as holiday to allow city dwellers to visit their hometowns. Chuseok can also be known as Hangawi (한가위), which literally translates as the ‘ides of August’.

The origins of Chuseok are a little unclear, but many Koreans trace the holiday back to ancient worship of the moon. The full moon was considered a special and meaningful event, and so the harvest celebrations were always held on the day of a full moon. Even today it is traditional to make a wish to the ‘Moon Rabbit‘ on Chuseok.

Dancing beneath the harvest full moon

As with Seollal (Lunar New Year in February), Chuseok sees a mass exodus out of Seoul and Korea’s other main cities, as everyone heads to their hometowns in the countryside to visit their relatives and pay their respects to the spirits of their ancestors. For married women, that means visiting their husband’s family and relatives. In the days running up to Chuseok many Koreans tend the tombs of their ancestors, and on the morning of Chuseok a ceremony (차례) is held, offering traditional food and drink to the deceased. A good harvest is often attributed to the blessing of one’s ancestors.

Chuseok 차례 ceremonial table

Food is an important part of Chuseok, and can be very stressful for the women of the family as they have to prepare so much food. Japchae (잡채 is a dish made from clear noodles stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables and sometimes meat), songpyeon (송편 small, crescent-shaped rice cakes filled with honey, red bean paste or chestnut paste steamed on a bed of pine needles), seasonal fruits, baekju (a kind of rice wine), and freshly harvested rice are among the most popular Chuseok foods.

In addition to the 차례 ceremony, typical Chuseok activities include wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), playing folk games, singing, and dancing beneath the full moon.

Happy Chuseok everyone!

How to make japchae

Japchae (stir fried noodles and vegetables) is one of my absolute favorite Korean dishes. The halmoni who cooks our lunches at school had set the japchae bar pretty high, but last night I decided to have a go at cooking it myself.

Of all the things I thought I’d blog about during my time in Korea, I never imagined that cooking would be one of them! My friends and family will tell you that my strengths do not lie in the kitchen, but I wanted to write this post partly as a memo for me to come back to because there’s no point in me writing it down on paper, I will lose it, but also because I think Korean cuisine is largely overlooked at the moment and I’d love more people to try it.

Japchae is a very versatile dish and can be eaten hot or cold, as a main or a side dish. Seasonal vegetables can be added, as can beef, pork or chicken.

Ingredients

(serves 2)

  • Starch noodles (dangmyun)
  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • 1 medium size carrot
  • A small pack of mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pepper
  1. Slice the mushrooms, cut the carrot into strips, tear the spinach and mince the garlic.
  2. Boil 1 bunch of dangmyun noodles in a saucepan of boiling water for about 3 minutes until soft then drain. Put them in a bowl and add 1 tbsp of soy sauce and 1 tbsp sesame oil and place to one side.
  3. Keep the boiling water to blanche the shredded spinach in while the carrots and mushrooms are cooking.
  4. Heat a couple of drops of oil in a frying pan and add the carrots and the mushrooms. Stir fry over a medium heat for a couple of minutes or so until the mushrooms and carrots are about half cooked (not exactly a technical term sorry!) and then add the minced garlic, blanched spinach and ½  tbsp of soy sauce. Stir fry for another 30 seconds.
  5. Lower the heat and add the cooked noodles, 2 tbsp of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of sesame oil and ½  tsp of black pepper to the pan just to warm through.
  6. Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Japchae was first served during the Joseon Dynasty, in the early 17th century, at one of King Gwanghaegun’s dinner parties. The king was so pleased with this creation that he promoted the cook to the position of hojo panseo 호조판서 (Secretary of the Treasury). That’s the sign of a good dish. Enjoy!

My guide to Korean cuisine

Korea has such a wide and varied cuisine, and it would be impossible to cover all the different types of bulgogi, galbi, and jigae in this post, but these are just some of our favorite Korean dishes!

Japchae

What makes japchae so much better than other noodle dishes is the type of noodles used. They are called ‘glass noodles’ or dang myeon and are made from sweet potato starch. The noodles are stir fried with sliced vegetables, like carrots, mushrooms, and spinach, in sesame oil and soy sauce and topped off with a few sesame seeds. Japchae is probably my favorite Korean food so far!

Galbi

Galbi literally means ‘ribs’ in Korean, and is usually beef or pork, although dakgalbi (chicken meat) is also popular. The meat is marinated in soy, garlic, and sugar and is brought to the table raw for you to cook it yourself. In the middle of the table is a grill over hot coals and you cook it barbecue style. Galbi comes with an array of banchan (side dishes) which vary at different restaurants, but they usually include lettuce leaves, garlic, shredded onions, pickled radish, kimchi, and a couple of soups and dipping sauces.

Shabu shabu

The perfect winter warmer, shabu shabu is Korea’s answer to a Lancashire hot pot. A big, bubbling pot of spicy vegetable soup is placed in the middle of the table over a burner. First round; the meat. Again DIY style, pieces of thinly sliced, semi-frozen beef are thrown into the pot to cook for a few seconds then dipped in a sesame sauce, yum yum! After the meat comes the noodles, which are also put in the soup to cook and soak up the spiciness. Lastly, the soup is poured off into a bowl and fried rice is cooked in the pot, in the remnants of the soup. It is a pretty big meal anjd you have to be really hungry to properly appreciate shabu shabu, but it’s another personal favorite!

Gimbap

Gimbap seems to be one of those foods that can be eaten anytime. My co-teachers often have it for breakfast, a snack at lunchtime, or at picnics. It is made from rice (bap), and various fillings like cucmber, pickled radish, squid, spam or cheese, rolled in gim (sheets of dried laver seaweed).

Mandu

Another street food, and one of Nath’s absolute favorites, mandu are steamed Korean dumplings. They usually have a pork or kimchi filling, and are normally about the size of a tennis ball. They are served with a soy sauce and vinegar dipping sauce. Even if you can’t read Korean, mandu street stalls are instantly recognisable by the huge, steaming vats outside.

Tteokbokki

An eternal favourite with Korean schoolchildren, tteokbokki is sold on almost every street corner. In its simplest form it is just bitesize pieces of white rice cake in a red, spicy sauce, although tteokbokki with seafood, noodles, sausage or cheese are also very common.

Samgyeopsal

Samgyeopsal is fatty pork belly meat, like thick bacon, and is cooked in a similar way to galbi. It is one of the most popular meals in Korea, with apparently 70% of Koreans eating it at least once a week. The name literally means three (sam) layered (gyeop) flesh (sal) and unlike galbi is not seasoned or marinated. Samgyeopsal also comes with a range of banchan including lettuce leaves, perilla leaves, green chilli peppers, garlic, onions and kimchi.

Chicken and beer

Hardly a traditional dish but fried chicken and beer is hugely popular in Korea, with a chicken ‘hof’ (bar) every few yards. Fried chicken is rarely a meal in itself but is served as a drinking snack (anju) and for this reason is often referred to as chi-maek (chicken and maekju – beer). KFC (Korean fried chicken) can be either with sauce or without, but I prefer it without. Chicken fried in rice instead of wheat flour is also becoming very popular here.