JEONBUK Food Culture Plaza
 
   
 The Characteristics
of Korean Foods
 Overview on Food
History
 Table-setting in
Korean foods
 Understanding Traditional Foods
 
Understanding Traditional Foods
                jeonbuk Ethnic Foods
 
Seasonal events and foods
Our culture germinated as an agricultural society closely related to the distinct four seasons throughout the year. These characteristics brought about the rites for gratitude and for prayer for a good harvest. Such periodic and customary rites led to peculiar seasonal customs and accompanying food cultures. The foods developed from these seasonal events intimately related to agriculture are termed "Sesi foods", Sesi foods are to celebrate either festive days or seasons coming. Festive foods were prepared in accordance with their particular purposes, and the seasonal foods with foodstuffs produced in each season. Dong-kuk-se-si-gi, a book compiling information on festivals and holidays, lists all traditional events and related foods: specific foods were served on days such as the New Year's Day, Spring Onset Day, 15th of January, 1st of February, 3rd of March, 5th of May, 15th of June, Midsummer Day, 7th of July, 15th of August, 9th of September, Horse Day of October, Winter Solstice, and the 3rd Ram Day from winter solstice, all according to the lunar calendar.

The variety in our food culture can be inferred from the Sesi foods which have naturally been developed along with the seasonal changes and historical variations. The philosophy of Sesi foods may be expressed in several ways: (1) the hope to be assimilated to nature by intaking the spirit of a season, (2) the hope to maintain good health, and (3) worship of ancestors.

 
Ceremonial foods
A person will experience throughout his/her life not only changes in social role and position, but also physiological up-and-downs. Our ancestors accepted these changes not simply as a personal matter, but as one to be shared by family, relatives and society. Traditional ceremonies and rituals have been invented for each recognizable event occurring from the time of birth to death. Ceremonies for special personal events are called "Tong-gwa-eu-rye" meaning "Rites of Passage." Passage rites include birthday, 3-week day, 100th day, 1st birthday, wedding, 60th birthday, diamond wedding, funeral, sacrificial rite: the former seven events to celebrate and the last two to express sadness. Four events out of these, coming-of-age, wedding, funeral and sacrifice were considered important in particular. The ceremonial procedures were well observed and specific foods were always prepared. Table-settings for these cases express the attitude for supplication, reverence and respect.
 
Local foods
Local foods have evolved from natural environment and historical background specific to a certain locality. They are often cooked in specific ways using foodstuffs produced in their localities. Differences in the local foods primarily stem from the diversity of climate and topography. Variegated climate divisions are made due to the long-stretching north-to-south peninsula topography, surrounded by oceans except to the north. This geo-climatological diversity renders diverse production of foodstuffs. The northern and eastern parts of the country are mostly involved in dry field farming while the western and southern ones in rice cultivation. The taste of our foods also show distinct regional characteristics. Foods in the northern peninsula are generally mild as the hot season is relatively short, whereas they tend to be salty and spicy in the south for better preservation in hot weather. For this purpose in the southern area, seasonings and pickled seafoods have been utilized more frequently when preparing foods.

The evolution of local food culture was facilitated by several factors such as: the territorial boundary settled during the Three Kingdoms Era; kings constantly being replaced by a new successor during the Koryo and Chosun Dynasties; Confucianism culture blossoming in some localities in the Chosun Dynasty. As the Korean maxim "body and soil are inseparable" suggests, the prevailing philosophy was that compliance with nature leads to the best of health. This philosophy clearly assisted the growth of local cuisines which reflect the climate, foodstuff products, adaptation pattern, and historical characteristics of a locality. Both the foodstuffs and cooking methods of each locality are now spread throughout the country due to advances in transportation and trade so that most local cuisines are now shared by others. Nevertheless, some of the local foods are still limited to certain regions. Although improvement in the standard of living and the influx of foreign food culture have widened the caliber of Korean food culture, the uniqueness of our traditional food culture has constantly been sought for. In view of the increase in the number of local food restaurants in local areas, it seems clear that the traditional food culture is emerging as a potential tourism resource.

 
Temple foods
Temple foods have been transmitted among the monks living in temples. Specific temple food cultures are present in the Mahayana Buddhism, but not in Theravada Buddhism where they need not cook for themselves because they are dependent on donated food from believers. The history of temple foods dates back more than 1,600 years, which is equivalent to the history of the religion in Korea. Temples foods and royal court foods form special classifications of Korean foods. Monks are deeply concerned about the attitude toward food. The concern derives from the Buddha's discipline that foods are not simply objects of enjoyment and satisfaction, but are medicines and nutrients needed to sustain the human body. Thus the process of cooking and eating should be observed as gravely as for medicines. Foodstuffs originating from nature must be processed to remove toxic constituents and to augment beneficial principles. The time of eating must be appropriate as well. It is therefore essential to treat temple foods as the vehicle for wisdom, and a disciplinary attitude is required from cooking to eating.

The most conspicuous trait in temple foods is that a variety of vegetable foods and flavorings are included to supply all nutrient requirements. For compensatory purposes for lacking nutrients, soybean and soy products are widely used. Frying is common as in grilled foods and fries. Identically named foods may have somewhat different cooking recipes depending on temples, and some have developed unique and famous temple foods of their own. Temple foods have been started with the simplicity principle of Buddhism, but later developed to a unique food culture of specific taste and cooking procedure. Due to the strong interest in health and in vegetarian foods, we now have good chance to enjoy temple foods regardless of religion.

 
Royal court foods
The royal court foods of the Chosun Dynasty may be grouped into daily foods, reception foods, ritual foods, wedding foods, and ceremony foods. All these have blended certain rules and formats that have 500-year old cultural history. There have been numerous cultural changes throughout the 500 years of turbulence from both inside and outside. Food cultures also reflect such changes. For example, a traditional soup "Yol-gu-ja-tang" was different in 1902 from that in 1975 in both ingredients and cooking method, but the same soup was not even present in the 17th century.

The best understanding on the old royal court foods may be accomplished by looking at the foodstuff components and cooking methods of a particular year. The royal court foods in the Chosun Dynasty succeeded those of Koryo in some aspects. The frequent use of cow intestines for soups dates back to the Won Occupation Era of the Koryo Dynasty. The word "Sura" was first coined when a Won woman married a Koryo king, and was still in use in the Chosun era. Since the publication of Hyang-yak-gu-geup-bang, an emergency treatment manual published by the governmental organization Dae-jang-do-gam in 1236 on the order of King Ko-jong, the Koryo Kingdom stressed the concept of medicinal foods. This attitude prevailed through the Won Conquer era, and the Won's official cook book "Eum-sun-jung-yo" was also used for the Koryo royal court cooking. We may infer that above-mentioned two books deeply influenced the food culture of Koryo Dynasty. The turning point in Koryo's royal court food culture occurred at the end of Koryo Dynasty when the Won woman became the queen of Koryo Kingdom.

The concept of medicinal food in the Chosun era led to the publication of "Dong-eu-bo-gam" in 1613. The view on herbal medicines both in this book and another one, "Eum-sun-jong-yo" is very close. This view which was first established at the end of the Koryo Dynasty continued to further develop in the Chosun era. A better understanding of the components of foodstuffs in the royal court foods will be achieved by understanding the idea of medicinal foods.

A food culture is too conservative to change without very strong impact from inside or outside. No one will argue against the assertion that the strongest impacts ever in the Chosun Dynasty were the Japanese Invasion, Byong-ja-ho-ran, and the turbulences which occurred at the end of the Dynasty. The royal court foods known to us these days may in fact indicate foods that were transmitted partly orally or partly by performance by the retainers of former higher or lower court officials after or just before the end of the dynasty.

 
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