Korean Ceremonial Food

Traditions of Korean family ceremonies were mainly established during the Choseon dynasty (1392–1910) which adopted Confucianism as its ruling philosophy. And in the prensent days, these ceremonies continue to influence Korean life. Ceremonial food was an important part of each cultural tradition and developed with variations across different regions and cultures.

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When a child is born, the family offers a samshin sang, a table consisting three bowls of rice and three bowls of Miyeok guk, Korean sea mustard soup, to the gods of childbirth, as three has been traditionally believed to be a fortunate number in Korea. The same food is also offered to the mother. Sea mustard, rich in iron and calcium, is considered beneficial for new mother’s health.

Baby’s 100th day (Baekil)

Baekil via Gifts

Baekil, a baby’s 100th day is celebrated with a feast including rice, sea mustard soup, steamed white rice cakes, and five-colored songpyeon (small rice cake) with family’s friends and relatives. The rice cakes are distributed to neighbors. The white rice cake represents innocence, and the five-colored songpyeon harmony.

First birthday (Dol)

During dol, the first birthday of a baby, the baby is elaborately dressed with a colorful outfit, and food including rice, sea mustard soup, steamed white rice cakes, five-colored songpyeon, steamed noodle, and jujube are prepared. Various objects such as a book, coins, raw rice, a bow and an arrow (for a boy), and a ruler (for a girl) are put on the celebration table. This is for a tradition of foretelling the baby’s future by observing which object the baby touches first (a book for a scholar, coins for a rich person, etc.). The occasion is celebrated by family’s friends and relatives, and rice cakes are distributed to neighbors.

Coming-of-age ceremony (Gwallye)

Gwallye, the coming-of-age ceremony, is performed between the ages of 15 and 20. After the ceremony, a man begins to wear sangtu, Korean topknot, and gat, a Korean traditional hat and a woman jjok, a traditional bun hairstyle of Korean women and binyeo, a Korean traditional hairpin. The ceremonial food includes rice wine, rice cake, noodle soup, sikhye, and sujunggwa. Unlike other traditional ceremonies, gwallye is rarely performed in Korea these days as it has been incorporated into the wedding ceremony and the traditional hairstyle is no longer worn by most Koreans.

Wedding ceremony (Hollye)

Wedding Ceremony Food via Wedding Woof

In hollye, traditional Korean wedding ceremony, a table called daeryesang is placed between the groom and the bride. The table setting varies according to regions, but usually consists of rice wine, rice cakes, chestnuts, jujubes, and other foods as well as a vase with a pine branch and a bamboo branch, a red candle, a blue candle, a live rooster and a hen wrapped in red and blue clothes. The color of red represents groom, and blue the bride; chestnuts and jujubes mean longevity and fertility, and pine and bamboo fidelity. The groom and the bride bows to each other and shares rice wine in a decorated gourd cup.

Foods prepared by the bride’s family for the groom’s parents are called pyebaek. Chestnuts and jujubes are offered to the groom’s father, and pyeonpo, Korean steamed beef patty, yukpo, Korean beef jerky, and braised chicken to the mother. The groom’s father also gives jujubes to his new daughter-in-law, which represents fertility. With other foods, noodle soup is usually served to wedding guests, which represents longevity.

Funeral (Sang Rye)

In Sang Rye, traditional Korean funeral, mourners stay up all night in the funeral hall. Alcoholic drinks, pork or beef head meat, and Yukgaejang is frequently served to them. The red chili pepper powder in Yukgaejang is believed to protect guests from ghosts and spirits.

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