Happy 2014 Chuseok 추석
추석 잘 보내세요! Happy Chuseok! Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving, and was traditionally a celebration of a good harvest. Now, Koreans usually spend the holiday eating and celebrating with their families. Chuseok is always held on the fifteenth day of the eight month of the lunar calendar (the same as the Mid-Autumn Festival in China- also to celebrate the harvest, on the day of the fullest full moon of the year). Chuseok is one of the two major holidays in Korea (the other one being the lunar new year), and Koreans usually get three days of vacation (in addition to weekends). Traditionally, Koreans hold a ceremony to honor their ancestors on the morning of Chuseok. The women usually wake up very early and cook all day (it’s one of the biggest complaints from my female Korean friends, who say it’s the busiest day of the year for them!).
One of the foods that is traditionally eaten during Chuseok is song pyeon 송편, a type of rice cake usually filled with black sesame, bean paste, or chopped nuts. I recently tried some. To me, it tastes like a less sweet version of the Chinese tang yuan 汤圆 or yuan xiao 元宵, a glutinous rice ball that contains black sesame, lotus paste, etc., which is usually consumed during the Lantern Festival. Another common food during Chuseok is han gwa, the puffed rice treats that I tried making at the Happy Busday event last week.
All of the department stores and grocery stores in Korea have special Chuseok gift boxes for sale. These are BIG boxes filled with premium quality foods (and sometimes shampoos and lotions). I’ve seen fancy boxes of Asian pear and apples (the fancy ones go for $160 for eight pieces of fruit!), as well as canned tuna and olive oil. The most hilarious are the boxed sets of spam. Yes, spam! Koreans think that spam is a luxury item! Canned spam is really expensive (considering what it is… or isn’t)! Koreans are always surprised to hear that we don’t really eat spam in the U.S. and that it’s viewed as more of a joke than a food item. Koreans were introduced to spam during the Korean War, at a time when many people were starving, so maybe that’s why spam is such a beloved gift?
Here’s an interesting article from the BBC about spam in Korea: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24140705
Anyway, Happy Chuseok! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Enjoy your spam!