7 Seollal foods you should try in Korea

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Seollal foods displayed

Even in modern Korean culture, Seollal (설날, Korean New Year) is one of the most important traditional festivals in Korea, commemorating the first day of the lunar calendar. The origin of Seollal has a long history, which also consists of a variety of traditional Seollal food. Let’s read on to find out what some Seollal foods are and where you can try them out in Seoul!

Food for the King

In historical Korean culture, the earliest Seollal celebrations were recorded during the old kingdom, Silla (신라) dynasty, and subsequently in the period of Goryeo (고려) and Joseon (조선) dynasty. Do you know that there are specific meals only catered to the Royal family and aristocrats? Hanjeongsik (한정식) is a traditional Korean-style full course meal consisting of up to 30 dishes each time. This royal cuisine is largely made up of rice, seafood and vegetables, though meat such as beef and chicken is prepared as well. 

The main dishes usually have raw fish, shelled crabs, Bulgogi (불고기, grilled meat), and Jeon (전, Korean pancake). The rice served is called the Patbab (팥밥, a mixture of rice, beans and nuts), which has many nutritional properties. Along with the main dishes, Guk (국, soup) will also be included, or sometimes Jjigae (찌개, stew). The broth of Jjigae is much thicker than that of a soup. On the side, Banchan (반찬, side dishes) come in a wide variety. 

Banchan, although placed on the side to complement the main dishes, they are prepared and presented in accordance with a strict rule referred to as the philosophy of the Yin, Yang and the primary 5 elements. The importance of the harmony between the 5 preparation methods (grilled, boiled, steamed, fried, or salted) as well as 5 presentation colors (red, blue, green, white, or black) is highly valued in Hanjeongsik. No doubt that the long history of Hanjeongsik played an influence over how Koreans prepare festive Seollal food in modern days.

Iconic Seollal food 

Let’s see some Seollal food that has been passed down from history!    

Tteokguk (떡국, Rice cake soup)

Tteokguk (떡국) is a traditional Korean soup that is made with a meat broth, usually beef or anchovy, that consists of tteok (떡, rice cakes). You can also add eggs, meat, or seaweed to elevate the taste. The whiteness of the soup symbolizes a clean, fresh start to the new year and the round, oval shape of the tteok resembles coins which bring good luck in the new year. In recent years, Manduguk (만두국, dumplings soup) also became another soup option when preparing Seollal food. Following a similar recipe, Mandu (만두, dumplings) are later added to the soup. Below are some restaurants we recommend!

  • Saebom Tteokguk Guksu (새봄떡국국수) 62-15 Chungjeongno 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울 중구 충정로1가 62-15)
  • Myeongdong Kalguksu (명동칼국수) 16 Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울 중구 남대문로 16)
Korean dumplings Mandu in a Ttkeok soup.

Mandu (만두, Dumplings)

Mandu (만두) are Korean dumplings made with flour-based dough and filled with a mixture of meat, tofu, and vegetables. Depending on one’s taste, the fillings can also include seafood or other ingredients. Mandu can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried. The shape of Mandu resembles a lucky pouch that symbolizes good fortune. By sharing Mandu as a Seollal food with the whole family, it is said you share this good fortune leading to good luck and prosperity. Try these delicious mandu at the restaurants below!

  • Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자) 29 Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울 중구 명동10길 29)  
  • Chang Hwa Dang (창화당) 23 Supyo-ro 28-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울 종로구 수표로28길 23)

Bulgogi (불고기, Grilled meat)

Bulgogi (불고기), when literally translated, means “fire meat” in which thin, marinated slices of meat are grilled. Often eaten together with Banchan. Bulgogi is usually beef but in most restaurants, pork is also available. Vegetables and meat are mixed with the special bulgogi sauce, and then grilled together on a hot sizzling pan. Ready to be overwhelmed with the aroma coming from grilling bulgogi? Check out the restaurants below!

  • Daewang Gochujang Bulgogi (대왕고추장불고기) 34-6 Jandari-ro 6-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울 마포구 잔다리로6길 34-6)
  • Kongbul Sinchon (콩불 신촌점) 35 Yonsei-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul (서울 서대문구 연세로 35)

Galbi-jjim (갈비찜, Braised short ribs)

Galbi-jjim (갈비찜) is braised beef short ribs where Galbi indicates the cut of meat and Jjim means a method of cooking – braising. The meat is braised till tender where it will fall off the bone easily! Historically, meat was often a symbol of social status, hence enjoying meat for the new year was a sign of abundance to come. However, in modern Korean society, meat, especially beef, is widely enjoyed as a Seollal food and is a symbol of health, as beef is a good source of protein and other nutrients. Visit the restaurants below to enjoy your “meat falling off its bones” meal experience!

  • Siksin Spicy Galbi-jjim (식신매운갈비찜) 105-ho, 68 World Cup Buk-ro 5-Gil, 104, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울 마포구 월드컵북로5길 68 광남벨라스2차아파트상가 104,105호
  • Sosinisso (소신이쏘) 19 Yonsei-ro 5-ga (gil) 1-cheung, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul (서울 서대문구 연세로5가길 19 1층) 
Traditional Seollal desserts

Traditional Seollal desserts

Enjoying dessert is the perfect way to end a meal. Let’s also take a look at some Seollal desserts!

Yaksik (약식, Sweet rice with nuts and fruits)

Originally from the Joseon era, Yaksik (약식), is a sweet dessert made from steaming glutinous rice. Afterwards, jujubes and assorted nuts are mixed with oil, soy sauce, and honey. Yak (약) actually means medicine and Yaksik earns its name because it is made with various healthy ingredients, making it worthy of being considered a medicinal food.

Sujeonggwa (수정과, Cinnamon ginger punch)

Sujeonggwa (수정과) is a dessert drink made by simmering cinnamon, ginger, sugar, and water. Sujeonggwa is a non-alcoholic drink that has a slightly spicy taste due to the ginger and a sweet taste from the cinnamon. This comforting cinnamon ginger punch is known to aid digestion, especially when enjoying delicious Seollal food. 

Sikhye (식혜, Rice punch)

Sikhye (식혜), is also another traditional drink that is made with malted barley and rice. It was said that Sikhye was regularly served to royalty to help digestion as it contains dietary fiber and antioxidants. Unlike Sujeonggwa, it does not have the spicy kick, making it a sweet and perfect dessert after enjoying all the hearty and yummy Seollal food.

You definitely need to try Seollal food when you visit Korea. Be sure to try them all! For more information, follow the Go! Go! Hanguk blog and be sure to contact us about living and studying in Korea!

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