Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day, is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea. Family members from near and far come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors. In 2022, the day of Chuseok falls on September 10. As the day before and the day after are also part of the holiday, this year’s holiday period is from September 9 to September 12, including the weekend.
Chuseok is one of Korea’s three major holidays, along with Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day – 1 Feb 2022) and Dano (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month – 3 June 2022). Chuseok is also referred to as hangawi. Han means “big” and gawi means “the ides of the 8th lunar month or autumn.” According to the lunar calendar, the harvest moon, the largest full moon of the year, appears on the 15th day of the eighth month. Source: https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/
To celebrate this special occasion, a variety of foods are prepared during Chuseok to celebrate the bountiful harvest of the year, and one of the most significant foods that represents Chuseok is songpyeon.
Here are some of the popular Korean Rice Cake variations:
1. Songpyeon (송편)
Songpyeon is a colorful, moon-shaped rice cake most commonly seen in the autumn. Autumn brings Chuseok (추석) or Hangawi (한가의), known as the Mid-Autumn Festival or Korean Thanksgiving in English. It’s arguably the biggest holiday of the year alongside Seollal, Lunar New Year (설날). Chuseok was traditionally held to thank ancestors for a bountiful harvest. The meaning has somewhat diluted over time to a festive gathering with friends and families, but it continues to honor the traditional snacks that are associated with its name. Perhaps the most famous of these is Songpyeon.
Songpyeon is formed in a half-moon shape and are filled with various flavors of honey, sesame seeds, red bean, mung bean, chestnut or jujubes. There are various stories as to why the rice cake is formed into a half-moon shape. The most widely accepted story is that Korean ancestors believed the round-shaped full moon could only wane, while a half-moon had the chance to grow larger. This was more in line with the abundance and prosperity of the harvest. Source: https://www.pinpointkorea.com/
2. Garaetteok (가래떡)
When you think of tteok, this is the variation that comes to mind. It’s so quintessential that I didn’t even know it had a proper name; it often gets called soup tteok or tteokbokki tteok. There are a lot of dishes made with garaetteok such as tteokbokki (red pepper paste rice cake, 떡볶이), tteokguk (rice cake soup, 떡국), and tteokggochi (rice cake skewers, 떡꼬치). Source: https://www.pinpointkorea.com/
3. Jolpyeon (절편)
Jeolpyeon are Korean flat rice cakes which are steamed and embellished with decorative patterns. They are prepared with glutinous rice, and apart from the plain version, they can be infused and colored with different ingredients. Before they are served, each cake is brushed with sesame oil, which prevents them from sticking and adds a subtle sesame flavor.
Jeolpyeon are usually enjoyed as a sweet everyday treat, but they are also traditionally served at weddings and tea ceremonies. Source: https://recipesxp.com/
4. Baekseolgi (백설기떡)
This traditional Korean rice cake is usually enjoyed on various special occasions. It is made with rice flour, sugar, water, and salt which are carefully combined and then steamed until the cake is light and chewy. Baekseolgi is always white, symbolizing purity and innocence, and because of that, it is usually made to celebrate one hundred days after a baby was born.
Although it is traditionally served without garnishes, it is sometimes decorated with dry fruit or nuts. Source: https://www.tasteatlas.com/
5. Sirutteok (시루떡)
Sirutteok is one of the oldest rice cakes in Korean history. In its original form, the cake is prepared by steaming rice and crushing red beans in a traditional steamer known as ‘siru’ (hence the name). Apart from its basic form, various recipes might add in other beans, as well as other flavorings, fruits, and nuts.
Sirutteok is not only a staple in rice cake cuisine, but in Korean culture at large. Red bean is believed to ward off evil spirits, making this rice cake a popular choice on special occasions such as the Lunar New Year. Source: https://www.pinpointkorea.com/
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