A variety of seasonal snacks and foods are available in Korea during the biting cold winter season. They include the savory and sweet winter street snacks like bungeoppang, hotteok, baked sweet potatoes, and hoppang, along with the traditional winter dishes such as gimjang kimchi, tteokguk, and manduguk.
Kimchi is the quintessential Korean food and comes in numerous varieties. Wintertime kimchi-making is known as “gimjang,” a time when households in Korea prepare and store kimchi in massive quantities for the winter months. Traditionally, gimjang kimchi making had been one of the most important winter preparation tasks for housewives.
An important part of gimjang is the storing of the final product. To allow for proper fermentation, gimjang kimchi is best kept near 0℃ with minimal temperature fluctuation. In the past, special holes were dug in which kimchi jars were buried and covered with straw mats to ferment during the winter. Today, most Korean households have two refrigerators. One is just your average refrigerator while the other is a uniquely Korean appliance used exclusively for kimchi storage.
Meanwhile, the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and has the most hours of darkness. It usually falls around December 22 on the solar calendar. A traditional Korean winter solstice event is making and eating red bean paste porridge called “patjuk”.
Red beans are boiled and small balls of glutinous rice are added, making a thick and sweet porridge. Red beans symbolize the chasing away of evil spirits, and the rice balls symbolize new life. Therefore, eating a delicious bowl of patjuk on winter solstice was believed to chase away all illnesses. Also, eating the same number of rice balls as one’s age symbolizes the successful passing of the year.
In the past, Koreans would sprinkle red bean paste porridge around the yard and share the dish with neighbors to chase away evil spirits. At the time, many also believed that a warm winter solstice meant the coming of disease and death, while a cold, snowy winter solstice meant a prosperous New Year.
Although the winter solstice is not a major Korean holiday like Chuseok or Lunar New Year’s Day, Korean families do get together to enjoy a sweet bowl of red bean paste porridge and wish each other a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Manduguk (dumpling soup) is a dish that is regularly eaten by Koreans in the winter. Dumplings are filled with minced beef and vegetables, put in a broth along with sliced rice cakes, and boiled to perfection. You may even find restaurants that serve pink and yellow dumplings colored with natural dyes. Although eaten throughout the year, manduguk is especially favored in the winter and is traditionally served on New Year’s Day. It is best enjoyed with gimjang kimchi (kimchi prepared during the winter) or mul-kimchi (watery kimchi served cold).
It doesn’t feel like a real Lunar New Year's Day without a bowl of tteokguk. On the morning of the Lunar New Year, the whole family gathers around to have tteokguk, make New Year's resolutions and wish each other a healthy and prosperous New Year. In recent years, tteokguk has also become a popular food for Solar New Year's Day as well.
To make tteokguk, garaetteok (long, cylinder-shaped tteok) is sliced into thin pieces and placed into a soup stock seasoned with a pinch of salt or a drop of soy sauce. One interesting thing about this dish is that different regions of Korea slice Garaetteok into different shapes, meaning that you can guess the hometown of your cook if you have a keen eye. These days, sliced Garaetteok is enjoyed in a range of soups including manduguk (dumpling soup) and ramen.
Ogokbap Rice, a special food originating from the Jeongwol Daeboreum (first full moon) festival, is a type of cooked white rice mixed with five grains: glutinous rice, glutinous millet, red beans, glutinous kaoliang, and black beans. Depending on the region, some grains are replaced with local substitutes. This healthy tradition may have even led to more households adding grains to their white rice. Another tradition of Jeongwol Daeboreum is to enjoy dried wild vegetables from the previous year. Bureom, a selection of nuts including pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, and peanuts, is also enjoyed to wish for good luck in the coming year.