Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the fall’s harvest and share the bounty with loved ones. This year, Chuseok fell on September 21, and the people were able to enjoy a five-day holiday which started from Saturday (September 18) and went all the way to Wednesday (September 22).
Despite the pandemic, Chuseok still brought the same festive mood. Following strict social distancing measures, families gathered in small numbers. Families got together to honor their ancestors and give thanks for the past year. They also shared a special meal together and wished for good fortunes for everyone for the coming year. On the evening of Chuseok, the full harvest moon could be seen in the night sky. Viewing the full moon and making a wish is an important old tradition that is still observed today.
To celebrate Chuseok, families prepare special dishes that are representative of traditional Korean holiday foods. Here are some of the favorites:
Chuseok is never celebrated without songpyeon. It is the quintessential Thanksgiving food, made of rice dough filled with sugar, red beans, or other sweet ingredients. Families gather before Chuseok and make this rice cake, usually in the shape of a halfmoon. It is steamed over a bed of pine needles, thus giving it an aromatic scent. The word “song” actually means “pine” in Korean. The shape and filling vary according to region, but the most popular ones are the bite-size or halfmoon shapes.
Gamja songpyeon is a variety of songpyeon which originates from Gangwon province. Instead of the usual rice powder, this rice cake is made from potato starch powder and filled with red beans, chestnuts, or other beans. This is very chewy and tasty.
Namul refers to a dish that may include edible herbs, leaves, vegetables, seaweeds, or mushrooms that are blanched and then seasoned with salt, sesame oil, soy sauce, and other condiments. Namul is usually served as a side dish and is best eaten with five-grain rice. It can also be used to make bibimbap.
Twigim is assorted deep-fried food, also known as the Korean tempura. There are many varieties of twigim: vegetable (yachae twigim), squid (ojingo twigim), shrimp (saewoo twigim), dumpling (mandoo twigim), seaweed spring rolls (kim mari twigim), sweet potato (goguma twigim), and many more.
Twigim is crispy and savory. It is always eaten during holidays. The key for a perfect Korean tempura is batter, how you coat the ingredients with the batter, and the oil temperature for frying. If you can master all three, you can always have perfect tempura.
Japchae is often present during festivities in Korea. It is a dish made by mixing glass noodles with vegetables and meat. Making this dish requires a lot of work. Each of the vegetable ingredients have to be sliced thinly and stir-fried. The meat (usually beef) has to be marinated and cooked separately, and the glass noodles have to be boiled and then seasoned. After preparing everything, all the ingredients are then mixed together, making that flavorful harmony of vegetables, meat, and noodles!
Joen is a savory pancake made by coating the ingredient of choice with a light flour batter or beaten egg and then frying it. Jeon can be made with fish, meat, seafood, or vegetables. There are many varieties of jeon but on Chuseok, the most commonly served are gogi wanja jeon (pan-fried meat balls in egg batter), dong-tae jeon (pan-fried pollack), san jeok kochi (Korean kebab skewers).
Fall is the season when many of the fruits ripen. In Korea, apples, pears, and persimmon represent autumn fruits. Koreans enjoy these fruits as desserts. They are not only sweet but also full of nutrients.
Persimmon fruit usually grows fully in late fall and early winter. It is very sweet when ripe. Changwon is the first region to grow persimmons and is famous for dan-gam (sweet persimmon).
Our Chuseok celebrations may have been restricted due to the pandemic, but the custom of eating delicious traditional food lives on. A hearty home-cooked meal shared with loved ones can warm up the soul. May you have a lot of things to be thankful for this year!