A Chuseok Meal!

Well folks, it’s that time of year again, the time for day-long feasting and relaxation. Now, many of you might not be familiar with Chuseok, much less the accompanying meal.

A wonderfully over-simplified definition would be a Korean Thanksgiving. But I don’t want to talk about what Chuseok is. I’m here to tell you about the food!

A typical Chuseok meal is a spread of many smaller dishes. Very seldom will you ever have a truly main dish, and, thanks in part to the current idiosyncrasies of modern Korean gender roles, the food does not stop coming. While each house will have variations and different dishes, many of the dishes here are common throughout most Korean households. I won’t worry about variations or norms, just what was on the table at the Lee household, Chuseok day, 2012.

I’ll give a brief description of each dish along with a 5 point scale to my liking, from 1 (I’ll eat it to be respectful, but otherwise wouldn’t touch it again) to 5 (it’s hard to put my chopsticks down). So, in no particular order….

파김치 (Pa-Kimchi)

Kimchi made from scallions.

Rating: 3 of 5

Pa-Kimchi is a common side dish. Not bad if you’re into kimchi, though for me it really depends upon what other things are being served.

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밥 (Rice)

Typical Korean Rice –  In a cute little bowl!

Rating: 5 of 5

While not particularly the powerhouse of flavour in itself, rice makes any Korean food a meal. Even the name for cooked rice is used as a synonym for food. It’s not a real meal without it!

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조개젓 (Jo-gae-jut)

Oysters slathered in spicy sauces!

Rating: 1 of 5

I like seafood, but I really can’t stomach oysters. Just something about the texture doesn’t do it for me, and no amount of dressing it up with spices will change that. Oyster fans will probably enjoy this though. You can have my share.

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마른 새우 볶음 (Mareun Sae-oo Boggeum)

Dried Shrimp mixed with Scallions

Rating: 4 of 5

These are one of my favorite little side dishes. I never seek them out, but when I do find them across the table, I make a point of munching on a dried shrimp carcass or two!

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김치 (Kimchi)

Or more accurately, cabbage kimchi.

Rating: 1-5 of 5

First off, if people just say kimchi, they usually mean cabbage kimchi. It’s like saying pickle. Of course we mean pickled cucumbers, even though cucumbers aren’t the only thing you can pickle. Little sisters come to mind, but they don’t stand still long enough. That said, kimchi is another staple of Korean meals. Good kimchi is delightful, bad kimchi, well, let’s say it’s good there are many other dishes on hand for most meals. The kimchi at this Chuseok feast was fresh kimchi, so it’ll get a lower 3 of 5, and only because this wasn’t a grill-based meal where we could grill them with some onions. Mouth salivating just thinking of it.

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낙지전골 (Nakji Jeongol)

Octopus Soup. With Crabs.

Rating: 3 of 5
(5 of 5 for the octopus
3 of 5 for the crab
2 of 5 for the broth)

I enjoy most Korean soups, though not as much for the sea-food based soups. They’re still good mind you, just not quite as crazy about them. I am, however, quite crazy for the octopus legs floating around in there. Why the octopus was made so delicious, I will never know. Also in this soup are some crabs. In their carapace. Just crunch on them for their juicy flesh meats. Nummy! The crab is delicious, but I’m not a fan of crushing my way to the meat. Must be the lazy American in me.

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갈비 (Galbi)

Galbi – Korean style ribs with ginko seeds.

Rating: 5 of 5

Ribs are one of the main-stays of Korean barbecue. Here they are presented with ginko seeds. While I love galbi, it’s also a typical dish that I don’t really go out of my way because I figure eventually someone else will suggest it for dinner at some point. If you can’t really suffer other Korean offerings, galbi is your safe-food. Unless you’re vegetarian. In which case there is the afore mentioned rice.

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꼬막 (Ggomak)

Cockles… or just clams if you’re from the midwest?

Rating: 4 of 5

Ah, a good cockle warms the cold cockles of my heart! These bivalves are lightly spiced and it’s really hard to think of an excuse to not slurp them down one by one until they’re gone. Well, other than the  tons of other dishes to occupy your attention that is!

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잡채 (Japchae)

Glass Noodles – mixed with delicious goodness!

Rating: 5 of 5

Oh dear. Japchae is another ‘safe’ dish for the uninitiated into Korean cuisine, and for good reason! It’s tasty and addictive, and, for the vegetarians out there, can be made without meat. Though not usually. Ask before hand, they’ll prepare it sans meat and the dish is just as delicious without animal flesh.

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양념게장 (Yang-nyeom Ge-jang)

Little Crabs – covered in hot pepper paste

Rating: 2 of 5

Let me get this straight. I love crab meat. I’m not a fan of crunching crab exoskeletons. I’ll eat a piece or two to be polite, and they’re not bad in all honesty. But I’m still not a fan of crunching carapaces.

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전 (Jeon)

Fried Food. From left:
호박전 (Hobak Jeon) – Fried Zucchini
동태전 (Dongtae Jeon) – Fried Pollack
산적전 (Sanjeok Jeon) – Fried Random Stuff on a Stick (not the technical term)

Ratings:
Fried Zucchini: 5 of 5
Fried Pollack: 4 of 5
Fried Random Stuff on a Stick: 3 of 5

Okay, in general jeon just means fried. So you can have jeon of just about anything, but as you might have guessed from the rating, zucchini jeon is by far my favorite. It’s seriously hard not to eat all of the zucchini jeon within reach. The others are good too… just… not amazing. And zucchini jeon is FAN-friggin’-TASTICK.

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삼색 나물 (Sam-saek Namool)

Three Coloured Veggies. AKA Gosari and friends!
(from upper left, going clockwise)
고사리 (Gosari) – Bracken
시금치 (Shigeumchi) – Spinach
도라지 (Doraji) – Bellflower Roots

Ratings:
Gosari: 5 of 5
Shigeumchi: 3 of 5
Doraji: 4 of 5

Gosari is another one of my favorites. Like the zucchini jeon, it quickly disappears when it’s within arm’s reach. It’s just the perfect mixture of texture, taste and… some other t word. Doraji and Jigemji are alright, and I’ll have my fair share of them as well. These greens are often found in Korean soups and they do a really good job there too!

o~~~~~o~~~~~o

도토리묵 (Dotori Mook)

Acorn ‘Jelly’ – garnished with greens

Ratings: 2 of 5

Mook is a kind of a jelly/jello that is not sweet. It’s not terrible by any means, but personally I find it rather bland. Buckwheat mook is a favorite of dokkaebi, but acorn mook has a fun, possibly true story connected to it. A long time ago, Korea was invaded and the king of Korea had to flee the capital on rather short notice. While on the road, his regular, sumptuous diet was, of course, curtailed. After a many days of bland rice, the royal chef was able to make some acorn mook. When the king tasted the mook, he thought it was the greatest dish he had ever had and ordered it made for him every day. Eventually the invasion was beat back and the king returned to his regular dietary routine, forgetting his new favorite. One day he recalled greatly enjoying mook, so he ordered it for dinner. But when he tried it, the mook was tasteless and unappealing.

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소고기무국 (Sogogi Mooguk)

Beef White Radish Soup

Rating: 5 of 5

So much good food! This soup is savoury and all the ingredients work well together. The broth is just salty enough is inundated with wonderful beef juices! The white radishes (also known as mu in Korean, daikon in Japanese) is thinly sliced and has an almost potato-esque texture and flavour in this soup. Any bowl placed in front of me quickly disappears. Sometimes I refuse seconds, but mostly because there is so much more food to eat!

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소주 (Soju)

Soju (Rice Liquor)

Rating: 3 of 5

Soju is the national drink of Korea. Here it is cheap and plentiful. I’m not a huge fan of liquor in general, though I’ll be happy to partake in a few shots in a social setting. Soju is usually consumed in small shot glasses like the one pictured above. You can sip it or down it in one shot. Though if you don’t want any more, make sure you leave some soju in the glass, otherwise someone will try to fill it up! But I’ll save deeper soju commentary for later. For now, on with the dishes!

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김치국 (Kimchiguk)

Cold Kimchi Soup

Rating: 3 of 5

This dish feels odd to me, because it’s kimchi soup, but it’s served chilled and is filled with pears. It doesn’t really feel like a soup, so much as an odd sweet and spicy drink filled with fruit and other munchies. I would definitely recommend trying it, if only for the novelty.

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귤 (Gyool)

Tangerines

Rating: 5 of 5

Little mini citrus from Jeju? Why, yes please! These are served after the meal as desert. Tangerines are not the only fruit served. Not shown are also apples, pears and persimmons. Those three are often cut into slices and served together on a platter, often as a snack betwixt meals. It’s hard to imagine a Chuseok without these four fruit being consumed at some point in the day.

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Instant Coffee

Or, if it’s infront of me – Sokeo! (Soju + Coffee)
AKA – Korean Irish Coffee

Rating:
Boring ol’ Instant Coffee: 3 of 5
Korean Irish Coffee: 5 of 5

Instant coffee is a common desert in Korea. Korean instant coffee tastes much better than American instant coffee, though I think that’s mostly due to all the cream and sugar added. It’s fine, and if you need a quick coffee boost, it serves a purpose. It’s actually easy to get addicted to instant coffee, but all that sugar *will* add to your weight. But, soju at hand, Korean Irish Coffee is a nice desert alternative. It’s actually the first time I tried it, but I thought the experiment went well. Due to the potential addictive qualities of both alcohol and coffee, I’ll only try Sokeo at gatherings.

o~~~~~o~~~~~o

보적 (Bojeok)

Chicken – with dipping salt and soju

Rating: 5 of 5

Not served as part of the meal, this dish was served as a snack between meals. The name of the dish is not actually used that often, so it’s really okay just to call it chicken, (dakgogi). The chicken is served with a dipping salt that has some pepper mixed in, and soju shots are downed while eating and talking.

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Wow, so much good food! While I miss a good American Thanksgiving meal, the Chuseok meal has so much to offer for the discerning food lover. If you’ve had a good Chuseok meal with some other dishes, feel free to add your own thoughts and ratings in the comments! Until next time, happy eating!

One thought on “A Chuseok Meal!

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