In the agricultural society of the past, Koreans were very attentive to the changing seasons. For each month, people had unique folk customs to celebrate and commemorate the change of the weather, and they enjoyed special dishes made from seasonal products. Variations of these customs can still be observed today at numerous times of the year. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day)
At Seollal, Koreans hold a memorial service for their ancestors and perform the Saebae (a formal bow of respect to their anchors, as a New Year greeting). The most common food on this day is tteokguk (rice paste soup). It is said that one cannot become a year older without eating a bowl of tteokguk at Seollal.
Jeongwol Daeboreum (Day of the first full moon of the year)
The day of the first full moon of the lunar calendar is the time to perform rites to avoid disasters and bad luck. The most typical dishes for this day are ogokbap (rice with five grains: rice, red beans, beans and two kinds of mljo) and mugeun namul (nine to twelve dishes of dried vegetables, such as: ferns, radish leaves , roots of campanilla -campanula- and mushrooms). At the dawn of the Jeongwol Daeboreum, people crack walnuts, chestnuts or peanuts and sip rice wine, praying for good health throughout the year.
Sambok (three days to mark the hottest days of summer)
The three days of Chobok, Jungbok and Malbok are called Sambok and mark the beginning, middle and end of the hottest traditional summer period of the lunar calendar. Since ancient times, people eat hot meat dishes on these days to increase their energy. A typical Sambok food is samgyetang (chicken and ginseng soup).
Chuseok (Thanksgiving Day)
Chuseok and Seollal are the two biggest holidays in Korea. During Chuseok, people visit the graves of their ancestors, to thank their ancestors for the good harvest and well-being of the family. Songpyeon (medlaluna-shaped rice cakes) and torantang (taro soup -yam, Colocasia esculenta-) are special foods for Chuseok. Songpyeong is a rice cake filled with sweetened red beans, chestnuts, jujubes, or sesame seeds, and steamed on a bed of pine needles. Along with freshly picked fruits, these foods are presented on the altar for the ancestral memorial service.
Dongji (winter solstice)
Dongji is the shortest day of the year. At Dongji, Koreans eat patjuk (red bean porridge with rice balls). In ancient times, red beans were believed to ward off evil spirits and prevent bad luck.