“Chuseok” or Korean Thanksgiving: Rice Cakes, Family and 5,000 Year Old Dance


Celebrate Chuseok with Korean Half Moon Cake
Image Credit: Shutterstock

When we encounter the word ‘thanksgiving’ our brain immediately provides us with images of stuffed roast turkey, bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, and candied yams – all the signature dishes of a hearty northern dinner. – American tinged with warmth and family values. However, those in the far eastern country of Korea give thanks a little differently – it happens when the moon is full and the family sits down to bake sticky crescent-shaped rice cakes using the fresh harvest.

Chuseok or Mid-Autumn Festival is sometimes referred to as Korean Thanksgiving Day, although such a superficial definition can do it a disservice. Koreans call the festival ‘Han-gawi‘, which means an important day that falls in the middle of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, which is September 21 of the Gregorian calendar this year.

Korean women in hanboks

Korean women in hanboks
Image Credit: Shutterstock

When the harvest moon becomes big and bright just before the autumn equinox, Koreans take advantage of the three-day national holiday and return home on an annual pilgrimage to set the table for their ancestors or ‘charye’, play games. traditional games and feasting on delicious home-cooked meals, while wearing ‘hanbok’ or traditional Korean clothing.

– Chuseok Traditions

Hanbok illustration

Illustration of a traditional Korean hanbok
Image Credit: Shutterstock

When the harvest moon becomes big and bright just before the fall equinox, Koreans take advantage of the three-day national holiday – and make the annual pilgrimage home to set the table for their ancestors or ‘charye‘, play traditional games and feast on delicious home-cooked meals, while wearing the’hanbok‘or traditional Korean clothing.

“Even in historical documents of our country such as’Samguk sagi‘, we find that our ancestors celebrated Chuseok with food, dancing and singing, ”Annie Chung, co-owner of Hyu, a Korean restaurant in Dubai, told Gulf News in an interview. It was referring to a monumental 12th-century work detailing the history of the three ancient Korean kingdoms. “During Chuseok, so many people visit their parents and loved ones in their hometown. Especially in this busy modern world, they like to feel the love and care of their families.

And the weather seems to be perfect for that, too – neither too cold nor too hot, with the pleasant fall making the commute and meal prep easier. The latter is largely undertaken by the women of the family, according to Chung, who, as a resident of Seoul, would take the train to the coastal city of Busan to visit her grandparents and cousins ​​for the party. crops.

“I helped my mom and other female family members prepare and cook the food,” she said, recalling her exciting train trips that involved munching on hard-boiled eggs. “I was very good at doing”songpyeon‘or rice cakes, that’s why even after moving to Dubai, I make them myself because I know how to prepare the toppings.

korean charye

Korean charye or table set to honor ancestors
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The half moon to happiness

Half-moon colored rice cakes or songpyeon are bite-sized delicacies that are most famous made and eaten during Chuseok. We rely on the whole family to do the job. Freshly harvested rice flour is used for the dough, which is then cut into small balls and filled with a sweet filling of your choice (red bean paste, chestnut paste, honey, sesame seeds and more) in the center. The batch is then traditionally sealed and left to steam in a bed of pine needles.

Even in historical documents of our country such as the “Samguk sagi”, we find that our ancestors celebrated Chuseok with food, dances and songs. During Chuseok, so many people visit their parents and relatives in their hometown. Especially in this busy modern world, they like to feel the love and care of their families.

– Annie Chung, co-owner of Hyu, a Korean restaurant in Dubai

Korean songpyeon rice cakes

Colorful crescent shaped rice cakes or “songpyeon”
Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque / Gulf News

Songpyeon is made of rice powder; it is a kind of ‘tteok’ or small rice cake. We can put many kinds of toppings inside, such as toasted and seasoned sesame seeds, and boiled and seasoned chestnuts or beans, ”Chung said, adding that men and children get involved by peeling. chestnuts and shaping the sticky dough. Chung shares his own family recipe for songpyeon, from Seoul.

Tradition has it that those who make the most beautiful songpyeon will be blessed with beautiful offspring, but the feat is easier said than done. Chung says it as it is, “The shape is ugly.” Even though the treats mark the full moon, they are, with great effort, shaped to resemble its half-phase. Tae Kim, owner of Korean restaurant Sobahn in Dubai, said this is done in anticipation of a happy future as the growth phase eventually gives way to a full moon.

Chuseok

People exchange gifts with loved ones in Chuseok, Korea
Image Credit: Shutterstock

A traditional Chuseok favorite that we here in the UAE can particularly enjoy are dates – which Kim says mean wishing descendants success and prosperity when put on the table. He said, “Dates (jujubes) have the peculiarity of producing so many fruits that it is difficult to count them from a single tree. There are no flat flowers, and the blooming spot will surely bear fruit, symbolizing the infinite prosperity of the offspring.

Other traditional foods prepared for family celebrations include ‘galbi jjim‘- a tender, spicy and sweet prime rib dish, a special holiday dish in the country. It’s made by slowly simmering the ribs in a rich sauce with Asian pear, spring onions, soybeans and more and finally garnished with thinly sliced ​​dates and fried eggs. Households also prepare various types of ‘jeon‘or savory pancakes for the day – buchujeon, you can find the recipe for the delicious chive garlic galette here, vegetable galette (yachaejeon) and seafood galette (haemul pajeon).

A 5,000-year-old dance circle

Beyond participating in these symbolic meals with each generation of the family at home, you will also find a vibrant background of folklore activities within the local community. ‘Ganggangsullae‘or the Korean circle dance, listed on the UN Representative List as’ Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’, is a 5,000-year-old ‘harvest and seasonal fertility ritual’ where clothed women of colorful hanboks celebrate by dancing in a large circle, hands entwined.

Juldarigi or a tug of war and community ritual meant to bring good fortune and a good harvest, and traditional Korean wrestling or SSireum range on the rougher side of the day’s festivities. One game anyone can play is Dalkssaum or Chicken Fighting Game, which sees players jump on one leg and try to knock the others down.

Korean dance circle

Korean dance circle
Image Credit: Shutterstock

For Korean expats in the United Arab Emirates, far from the noisy competitions of Juldarigi, Chuseok is a happy family affair. “In the United Arab Emirates, we celebrate Chuseok as a family, sharing traditional dishes such as Songpyeon, Japchae (sweet potato noodles), Korean apple and pears and galbi jjim. We also send our greetings to our family and friends in Korea, ”Kim added.

As the streets calm down in South Korean cities and families retire today for colorful meals and cheerful games, if you want to join us in celebrating the moon, try the Meaty galbi jjim recipe, make a savory buchujeon or try Chung’s family songpyeon – for a sweet and fun family dinner.


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