Last weekend I was invited by a local travel group (Let’s Play Planet) to take part in a cooking lesson with a local Korean mom, for the major Korean holiday, Chuseok. During the 3-4 day holiday of Chuseok (추석) or as we foreigners call it – Korean Thanksgiving – many Koreans visit their ancestral towns, to honor their ancestors, and feast on traditional foods with their loved ones.
Chuseok in Seoul
As you can imagine travel, before-during-after, Chuseok can be quite hectic. In fact, many of my expat friends warned me against traveling within Korea due to traffic, delayed or canceled flights, and so many people. Luckily, I only live an hour from Seoul, so venturing into the city during Chuseok wasn’t as hectic as I imagined. It wasn’t until I reached my destination that I saw a hint of the chaos of Chuseok. I barely avoided crashing into suitcases while I sidestepped roaming middle schoolers, and heartily ignored vendors hawking purses.
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We were met at the station by Sun (the founder of LetsPlayPlanet and our translator for the day) and took a taxi to the home of the local host – Seoyeon. Seoyeon was super nice and welcomed us with the most delicious fruits.
Although she didn’t speak English well, she was very engaged and took the time to explain the significance of the food and customs that occur during Chuseok.
Traditional Chuseok Food
Seoyeon, taught us to make songpyeon (송편) which is a small sweet rice cake, in the shape of a half moon. Songpyeon is filled with sesame seed, sugar, and beans — it is also traditionally green, but depending on the culture of the family, it can be any color. After, stuffing the rice cakes, you must steam them for 20 minutes, to achieve the deep emerald color.
Next, we learned how to make my personal favorite, jeon (전) which is similar to a pancake. Our local expert taught us to make a variety of jeon: stick jeon (which reminded me of making a kabob), some of the ingredients I used were kimchi, ham, green onion, and fish cake. We also made pumpkin jeon and pollack jeon. Making jeon was surprisingly easy: dredge in the ingredients in flour, coat them in egg, and fry (don’t forget to flip).
We enjoyed our meal with a glass of Bokbunja ju (복분자) which is a wine cultivated from black raspberries. The Bokbunja ju we consumed came from Seoyeon’s ancestral town and was over 41%! But you can buy a less potent version from your local Korean grocery store.
Before we departed for the evening, Sun split us into teams and taught us how to play Yut Nori (윷놀이) which is a traditional board game played throughout Korea. My team won. 🙂
My tour group was a mix of fun personalities and shockingly not one expat (besides myself). My group members hailed from Belgium, Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands. All were foreign exchange students working on their bachelors or masters degree.
As an introvert and someone who is reluctant to book group activities, I actually enjoyed myself. My group mates were friendly and had a genuine interest in Korean culture. I had a great time learning more about the customs and culture of their individual countries. They also didn’t mind my camera, so that’s always a plus.
All in all, I had a great time learning about Chuseok and making traditional Korean food. I enjoyed meeting new people and taking part in a cultural experience. Having a local expert is a definite perk to learning more about my host country. Definitely a great experience all around.
► WORDS TO KNOW & FOOD WE COOKED
▻ Chuseok – 추석
▻ Songpyeon – 송편
▻ Jeon – 전
▻ Bokbunja ju – 복분자
▻ Yut Nori – 윷놀이
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FTC: I partnered with Lets Play Planet as I love food and learning about new cultures. In exchange for a discounted tour, Lets Play Planet asked me to vlog my experience of the cooking class. As always, all opinions are my own and I would tell you if I hated it.