As I ate my songpyeon rice cake over chuseok I began to think about the importance of rice cakes in Korean life. From street stalls to the ancestral alter, rice cakes are everywhere. And there seems to be a specific rice cake for every special occasion.
So needless to say, there are A LOT of idioms which involve rice cakes. When I asked Naver, one answer alone came up with 29 idioms. Here’s a review of the 7 common idioms which I learned recently.
My favourite one is, ‘another man’s rice cake always looks bigger‘. I think it’s cute and the meaning is pretty straight forward -‘the grass is always greener.‘
Rice cakes signify having PLENTY or enough (or not enough) MONEY. In the past, when the country was poor, people were lucky if they had rice, let alone rice cakes. To the unemployed young woman, that Louis Vuitton handbag in the shop is just ‘a picture of a rice cake‘ as she’s longing for something which she can never have because it’s too far out of her price range. It’s ‘pie in the sky‘.
The best quality rice cakes are made of rice but other ingredients are often added to make them cheaper. So if someone complains that what they bought is ‘cheap like beancurd rice cakes‘ it means the purchase is low quality and that ‘you get what you pay for‘.
The process of making rice cakes has created some interesting (and racy) idioms. A hammer was traditionally used to beat the rice into a chewy consistency. So if a team gets beaten badly in a sports game or if someone gets very drunk they are said to ‘become rice cake‘. The sound and the action of the pounding of the hammer against the rice has sexual connotations too as in ‘pound the rice cake‘ (cover your ears children…)
‘Lying down and eating rice cake‘ expresses something which is ‘as easy as pie‘ and ‘don’t drink the kimchi soup first‘ is a common idiom that warns us agains making assumptions and ‘counting chickens before they are hatched‘.
This is the best book I have found on Korean idioms…