“Chuseok” is a Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in Korea on the 15th of the eighth month of the year, according to the lunar calendar when the full moon is said to appear. Chuseok is also referred as “Han-ga-wi,” which is an ancient name for this harvest celebration in Korean, meaning “The great middle of the autumn.” The three-day holiday, along with the Lunar New Year is the most celebrated festival in both South Korea. This year in 2016, Chuseok was celebrated on the September 15th; the holiday lasted from September 14th until 18th and included the weekend.
Traditionally, the purpose of this holiday was to give honor and gratitude to their ancestors at the end of the harvest; this tradition is still very much alive to this day in Korea and for all Koreans around the world. Relatives get together from all parts of Korea and abroad to prepare and consume food together, share gifts - basically to spend this holiday to reconnect as one family.
During this Korean National holiday, families take the time out to revisit their ancestral regions or their deceased ancestors’ graveyards to pay their respects or hold rituals. Some choose to spend it domestically at with their relatives while some take a trip abroad with their close family and friends.
Because the mass majority of Korea’s population is relocating thus every major highway will be heavily jammed by bumper-to-bumper traffic. If you’ve spend this holiday in Korea it; you’d know what a big deal Chuseok is for Koreans.
Here is a list of some of the main Korean dishes and beverages served during Chuseok.
Songpyeon is a traditional Korean rice cake which dates back as far as the Goryeo era (918–1392) and is one of the best-known delicacies for Chuseok.
“Song” refers to “pine tree” and “pyeon” indicates “steamed rice cake.”
The glutinous rice cakes (“tteok” in Korean) contain different sweet fillings; sesame seeds, honey, red beans, chestnuts steamed over pine needles and the ingredients come in various forms and sizes. The pine needles contribute to its aroma and the beautiful visual. The shape, size and ingredients of the cakes are become very diverse depending on which region they are made in Korea.
For example, Seoulites tend to make their rice cakes bite-size small, making them efficient to prepare and eat. Many Southern regions of Korea prefer theirs in a bigger quantity. People from the Kangwondo - a Northern region of South Korea - utilize potatoes as starch and acorn instead of flour for their rice cakes. The rice cakes can easily be purchased at local stores and supermarkets, but during Chuseok, crafting Songpyeon by hand with family and friends is considered an immensely enjoyable activity for many. It requires a lot of practice to master a perfect rice cake. Family members gather around for hours, sometimes late into the night in order to make these rice cakes by hand for themselves, and to gift them to relatives, friends and neighbors.
There are various tales why Songpyeon is half-moon shaped; the majority of the opinion derived from the era of Baekje, an encrypted phrase, “Baekje is full-moon and Shilla is half moon”, was found on a turtle’s back and it predicted the fall of the Baekje and the rise of the Shilla. The prophecy came true when Shilla defeated Baekje in their war and ever since, Koreans referred to the half-moon shape as an indication for "victory and a bright future." So during Chuseok, families gather together and eat half-moon shaped Songpyeon under the full-moon, wishing themselves a brighter future.
Other popular Korean traditional desserts that are served during Chuseok and other festive events would be the dessert or confectionary known as ‘Han-gwa.’
Han-gwa is formed of natural colors and texture, in various shapes and patterns, with rice flour, honey, fruit, nutmeg and cinnamon which would be healthier ingredients than the average dessert or cookies.
Because of the fiber and nutrition these desserts contain, Koreans have these delicacies for special events held any time of the year. The most famous types of traditional Korean Han-gwa would be Yakgwa, Dasik and Yugwa.
Yakgwa, literally means “medicinal confectionery.” Because during the Joseon Dynasty, honey was considered as a form of remedy, the dessert was sometimes used in replacement of medicine. Dasik is also form of dessert people enjoy during celebrations. They are usually served with various types of tea. Dasik is kneaded, pressed with dasik-pan and decorated in order to showcase many different patterns, shapes and colors.
Yugwa is mainly formed of honey, sesame oil and wheat flour and shaped by being pressed by decorated wooden or tiles. It attained its name because “Yu” refers to honey and “gwa” indicates confectionary in Korean.
Sikhye (which also goes by the name “Dansul” or “Gmaju”) is a traditional Korean sweetened beverage, often served as a dessert. Both of these names literally mean "sweet wine" but “Gamju” is slightly alcoholic and fermented by yeast. The beverage is produced by pouring malt water onto cooked rice. The malt water steeps in the rice at approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit until the rice emerges to the surface. The liquid is then poured, leaving the rougher parts and boiled until it is sweet enough.
There are many variations and of Sikhye depending on which part of Korea they originate. Homemade Sikhye is often served after meals and is believed to be effective for indigestions, preventing colds and other symptoms, since it contains dietary fiber and anti-oxidants. Canned Sikhye can also be purchased at any Korean groceries all around the year.
There may be excessive alcohol involved during the celebration of Chuseok, therefore Shikhye could be a great remedy because it relieves hangovers.
This dish is that it can be easily prepared, as an appetizer or a sidedish for any festive event of the year, which definitely includes Chuseok holidays in Korea. Jeon refers to a dish that has been “pan-fried battered” in Korean, and there are typically two types of Jeon.
The examples of the first type would be Pa-jeon(scallion), Buchu-jeon(garlic chives), Gamja-jeon(potato) and Kimchi-jeon(Kimchi) where all the ingredients are mixed with flour batter and then pan fried into a crispy pancake-like form. The other type of jeon takes small ingredient pieces individually into the pan-fried in egg batter to and this has many variations, which include, saengseon-jeon (fish), hobak-jeon( zucchini), saewoo-jeon (shrimp), gul-jeon (oyster) beoseot-jeon (mushrooms), gochu-jeon (chili pepper) and the list can go on.
Any combination of these is called Modeum-jeon and your own version can be created with your combination of ingredients of your choice. This dish can be consumed hot or cold.
A version of this article by Jc.Chung at TastyKFood.