What do people eat at Lunar New Year?

lunar new year

Happy Lunar New Year – it’s the Year of the Monkey! We just got back from spending the holiday with my parents-in-law and here’s what we had on our lunar new year alter this year… From the front left: jujube, raw chestnuts, apples, Asian pears, semi-dried persimmon, rice cakes. Next row: spinach, bellfower, and bracken namul; soy sauce, fried tofu, seaweed, and sikhye – a sweet drink with rice and pine nuts. 3rd row: dried pollock fish; various jeon: fish, courgette, and sweet potato; marinated beef, fried croaker fish. Back row: 3 place settings with ddeokguk rice cake soup, rice, and rice wine.

In the lead up to New Year when the companies close for the holidays, the subways are full of office workers carrying gifts of family pack boxes of spam or shampoo home to their families. Wives get ready to spend time cooking with their in-laws, and children look forward to receiving some sebae-ton (a money gift in an envelope).

It’s the time when families get together, but with lots of cooking and washing up to be done, relationships can become strained. Traditionally it’s been the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationship that is notoriously difficult, but these days sons-in-law are spending more time with their in-laws too. Last year I wrote about the different kinds of mother-in-law / son-in-law relationships in Korea.

lunar new year

At Lunar New Year the main dish is ddeokguk, rice cake soup. My mother-in-law puts tofu and chive mandu dumplings in the soup too. And then the soup is topped with flakes of seaweed and slices of egg omelet. The saying goes that you get one year older when you eat a bowl of rice cake soup. (Great that’s just what I need – to be one year older :/

And any table is not complete without namul (above): spinach, bellflower, and bracken seasoned with sesame oil, salt, and garlic.

lunar new year

Above: jujube berries and raw chestnuts (very difficult to peel, so I don’t do that!) For larger foods there should always be an odd number on the plate so there are 5 slices of fried tofu, 5 fried fish, 3 apples, and 3 Asian pears with the tops sliced off.

The dishes we have on the alter table are similar to Chuseok (harvest festival / thanksgiving), with some seasonal differences – fresh persimmon and jujube are used at chuseok but semi-dried ones at new year. Read more about the foods we had at Chuseok here.lunar new year

fish, courgette, and sweet potato (cheon), marinated meet, semi-dried persimmon, and sweet rice cakes.

It’s an early start on Lunar New Year morning (this year it was Monday Feb 8) as the ancestral table has to be laid before breakfast. So a lot of the preparation is done the evening before. In the morning all the dishes have to be plated up and put on the table in the correct order with fruit at the front, fried dishes behind with meat and fish and then rice cake soup and rice at the back – Mr Kim is in charge of laying the table.

Once all the food was put out on the table we carried out the ancestral rites (charye) and bowed to the ancestors before clearing away the table and sitting down to eat breakfast ourselves with a couple of glasses of rice wine! After breakfast and cleaning up it was time for a game of Yunnori before a little nap before lunch!


One thought on “What do people eat at Lunar New Year?

  • March 2, 2017 at 8:09 am

    I just watched Chefs Table, season 3 ep1 which is about a Buddhist nun named Jeong Kwan, from South Korea…she approaches cooking as a spiritual practice, it was a great episode and you get to learn a lot about Korean food from a different perspective 😉

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