Korean traditional cakes have long been shared among neighbors and friends on many occasions of happiness and sorrow. The cake shape, content, and color vary from one region to another. When neighbors gather to share traditional cakes they extend their warmth and kindred spirit to others in the community. Korea people have always made rice cakes when they had tragic or happy moments in their lives. It was usually a considered good or delicious thing, and that is why rice cakes have been so closely related to all walks of life. So it is hard to understand Korean people’s lives without understanding the symbolic meaning of rice cakes.
gaksaek gyeongdan honin injulmi honin injulmi
The meaning of deok began from everyday lives of in the process of making boiled rice and porridge. Various grind stones and stone mortars used for refining grains have been found dating from the 7th and 8th centuries B.C., showing that people had already begun farming before then. Rice steamers began appearing during the Bronze Age. These steamers had several holes at the bottom on each side, from which it can be inferred that they were used for steaming grains.
The etymology of the word, deok (rice cake) can be traced in Chinese characterers. Prior to the Han Dynasty (China), it was written as the Chinese character bu. As wheat flour had not been introduced to China at the time, deok was made mainly from rice, millet, foxtail, and beans. Similar use of the word deok can be found in Zhu La (translated as Zhu’s Decorums, a pre-Han Dynasty story). It was written as jiu li fen xi (which literally means to make powder and steam). In Sung Ho Sa Seol (the book of Sung-Ho of Korea’s Chosun Dynasty’s literature), it was written that deok was pounded and kneaded together to be steamed. At this time, deok was made from rice or wheat flour. Different Chinese characters were used to differentiate the ingredients used. In common usage, however, deok came to stand alone, without the qualifying Chinese characters.
Deok and Related Customs
1) Expelling Evil Spirits Traditional Korean toilets had two large footstools with a big and deep hole in between. It was shaped such that children sometimes fell into the hole and injured themselves. People believed that the toilet ghost was hungry and wanted a child to eat. When such an incident happened, people brought in an exorcist who performed an exorcism. They also made a special rice cake called dung deok (excrement rice cake) that they shared with neighbours for the purpose of expelling bad luck for the child.
seokyi-byong got julp’yeon seoktan-byong
2) Fortune Telling In the past, villagers forecast the future by looking at the shapes of the boiled rice cakes. All the people in a village brought rice and shared it. They powdered it and put one sheet of paper written with each one’s name under their own share. Then it was boiled. Usually, all the rice cakes were boiled well, but sometimes the consistency varied. People with a well-boiled rice cake were believed to have good fortune, while those whose rice cakes did not cook well were believed to have bad fortune. When rice cakes were not boiled well, it was the custom to not to eat them. Instead, they dumped the rice cakes in the middle of 3-way street, believing they could avoid bad luck that way.
Deokjum (fortune rice cake) was used for fortune-telling. Fortunes were predicted through the shape of the deok after it was steamed. songp’yeon (rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles) also served for the same purpose. Villagers believed an unborn child’s appearance could be predicted from the shape of songp’yeon. If the fillings are cooked, the unborn child would be a boy, otherwise a girl.
Deok in Various Occasions
Since deok has become a favorite recipe for the Korea palate, it is included at many auspicious occasions. Recipes related to children include huin muri (white rice cake), susupot deok (red bean rice cake), and songp’yeon (rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles). Each variety of deok signifies different meanings: Huinmuri (purity), songp’yeon (coolness, believed to drive away evil spirits). When a child is at boarding school and finishes reading a text, aCh’aekryae (Text Completion Party) is held and the occasion is celebrated with deok. For wedding ceremonies and 60th and 61st birthday parties, hosts prepare injul mi (square rice cakes coated with bean flour), kaksackpyun (rice cake with different colors), and julpyun.
|Steamed||rice grains are first ground and steamed on a cauldron.
Gulpyun, ssukseolgi, baekseolgi, jongp’yeon, yakshik
|Pounded||glutinous rice is pounded finely and it becomes sticky after steaming. It is then stuffed with bean flour.
julp’yeon, gaepi-deok, chajo-surich’wei, injulmi
|Shaped||powered glutinous rice or millet is first kneaded and shaped, then it is steamed and stuffed with red beans, sesame seeds, or soybean flour (k’onggomul).
chapsal-kyungdan, kamdeok, saektanja, songp’yeon, jae-jongp’yeon
|Pan-fried||after kneading and shaping, it is pan-fried with oil.
kweikwang-kwa, jindalae gotjeon, bindae-deok, kukhwa gotjeon, toran-byong
|Others||Yakshik- made with steamed glutinous rice with a mixture of chestnut, jujube, and gingili. Flavors such as gingili, soy bean sauce, sugar, and cinnamon powder are added. Jongp’yeon- made with a mixture of rice powder and wine. The dough is fermented then put into foil to be steamed.|
Hamgyeong is mainly a mountainous region and only has poor farming of minor cereals. For example, in the southern region, the ratio of cultivation is barely above 10%. The region’sdeok is made mainly from Indian millet. Other common types include injulmi, dal-deok,ogorang-deok, chapsal gubi, gujul-deok, gomyeong-deok, gojang-deok, kamja-deok(made from potatoes), yunkamja-deok, karan-deok, k’ong-deok, maemiju-deok, chajo injulmi, and gulir julp’yeon (made from oats).
chajo injulmi memil juak gojang-deok
P’yeongan Province is mostly mountainous except for the western side. Rice fields account for only 20% of the land in the west, while the rest are dry fields. Considering the small proportion of rice fields, production is relatively good. The wide ranges across the West Sea and Chungchung river in North P’yeongyang Province are well known for their good irrigation facilities. The region’s deok tend to be very large and funny-looking, representing its people who are continental and full of enterprising spirits. Common types include songki julp’yeon, golmi-deok, gojang-deok, bong-deok, mujigae-deok (rainbow), kamja-deok,siru-deok (steamed), nidoraemi, chalbuchimi, notti, gangnaneui golmu-deok (made from corn), nokdu (made with mung beans), and jijim (pan fried).
notti mujigae-deok golmi-deok
songki julp’yeon chogae songp’yeon
Hwanghae Province was well known for granary with numerous fertile plains. Rice form Jaeryong and Yunbaek was famous for its quality and was even supplied as Royal rice. Other than rice, non-glutinous millet, Chinese millet, wheat, beans, and red beans were produced here. With the production of various crops, different kinds of deok were well developed. Reflecting the region’s hospitality, deok were served in large quantities and huge portions. Common type include ojangi-deok, chapsal-deok (from hulled millet), kun songp’yeon, yunhan (coast) injulmi, honin (wedding) julp’yeon, dakal (egg) bumbuk,janchi (party) mesiru-deok, museolki-deok, julp’yeon, wuki, japkok buchiki (pan fried cereals), chang-deok, gulmul (honey water) kyeongdan, dakal-deok, and sujebi-deok.
ojangi-deok honin injulmi ojangi-deok
kun songp’yeon chang-deok susupot deok
Although Cheju Island has a fair amount of rainfall, irrigation water is scarce. Because of its poor soil quality, the island has few fertile rice fields. This caused the widespread planting of dry-field rice called samdo (Mountain Rice) or yukdo (land rice). Also, from the dry fields, foxtail, barley, buck wheat, beans, red beans, mung beans, sesame, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are produced. As minor cereals are more abundant than rice, deok are usually made from minor cereals and such dry field crops as sweet potato, potato, foxtail, and buckwheat. However, for ancestor-memorial rites, the main ingredients for deok is rice. Deok made from potato starch has particular taste and bing-deok (stuffed with radishes, rolled and pan-fried) is also tasty. Common types include julp’yeon, dodom-deok, chim-deok, chajobssal-deok (made from hulled millet), jobssalsyru-deok (steamed), ohmaeki-deok, dolrae-deok, sok-deok, kamjae-deok, sangae-deok, chochim-deok, kamjaechim-deok, panchakggeon-deok, chunggwae, uggik, baeksuru, chossalsuru, and eunchulmi.
ohmaeki-deok injulmi (eunchulmi)
Cholla province embraces Honam Plain, the biggest granary in Korea and has plenty of herbs such as San Su Yu, Tangui, Omija and a motherwort. The region also produces wild edible greens such as day lily and bracket and mushrooms. Affluent region traditionally houses the rich and their tasty, abundant and Deok are well passed down to the present. Common types include kamgoji-deok, kamdanja, cheon-hu kyungdan, haenam kyungdan, got (Flower) songpyun, bibi-deok, mosi-deok, mosa-songpyeon, hobak(pumpkin) mesiri, puthobak-deok, bokryong-deok, suri-chui, songpi-deok, bori-deok,gochi-deok, chaljoki-deok, and juak.
bokryong-deok gochi-deok got (flower) songp’yeon
bongchi-deok got (Flower) songp’yeon chaljoki-deok
Kangwon provinces to the contrary consists main ?. Dry field crops such as potato, corn, bean, and wild as a result, Deok made of various dry-field crops potato and wild edible are well in this region. As such minor cereals and wild arrowroot, corn, and buck, whear are the main ingredients, tastes are native and service. Common types include kamja-songp’yeon,chaloksusu (Cron) siru-Deok, memil (buckwheat), chong-deok, kamja buchim, kurum-deok, dotori-songp’yeon, hobak siru-deok.
gurum-deok chal bukumi got julp’yeon
mulhobak-deok kaksaek kyongdan
Ch’ungch’ong Provinces are abundant in such crops as rice and barley. That makes the region the home of various deok with many ingreslients. shoimeri-deok (cow head) is especially well known. Pumpkin are used not only for the pumpkin porridge and hobak-gulhanji (pumpkin honey pot), but also the deok makings. Common types includeshoimeri-deok, gotsan-deok, gon-deok, yak-p’yeon, mak-p’yeon, hobak-deok, chang-deok, kamja-deok, kamja-songp’yeon.
got injulmi hobak-deok kongseolgi
potso injulmi Yakshik
Mairi agricultural produces of Kyung Sang Province are rice, barky, bean, sweet potato corn, and potato, not to mention fruits such as chestnut jujube, apple, persimmon, and pear, consequently the region’s Deok uses these ingredients in addition to arrowroot, China grass, Chungmirae and vine leaf from the mountain regions. “Deok” using these local specialties are well known as the region’s delicacies. Common types include bup’yeon, kamtanza, songju seokki, songpyun gulp’yeon, misi yip (China grass leaf) songp’yeon, kamsa-songp’yeon(potato), keo-chang songp’yeon, ssuk kul rae,manggae-deok, milyang kyeongdan,kongkomul-deok, chanochi, hobak beom-beok.
kamtanza kongkomul-deok bupyun
ssuk kul rae eunhaeng juak jugeok-deok
ssuk beomuri got julp’yeon jat guri
Southern Han River flower into the West sea through Kyunggi Province. On the way it creates fertile plaints such as Kyunggi Kimpo and Pyung Taek plains where top quality crops are produced. Rice and Indian millets are especially famous and naturally, in this region Deok using those ingredients are popular in addition, Deok using mugwort from the field and oyster from the West Sea are also made ? Deok has a delicate flavor served in fait amount with one exception which is rather luxurious. Common types include baep’y-deok,kae-song kyeongdan, kae-song ja hak, susubyungkoji, ssukkaen-deok, ssaek-deok,yoju shin byung, kaksaek kyeongdan, kaesong cho raeng yi, ssuk-bomury, andmilbeombeok-deok.
kaesong juak kaksaek kyeongdan
kaesong juak kaesong cho raeng yi
All Koreas go through several rituals in their lives. These rituals have standardized ceremonies, and each ceremony is always accompanied with special types of food. Rice cakes have been representative foods to be dedicated to ancestors and god.
This is the day to celebrate the 21st (3 times 7) day of new baby’s birth. Relatives and family members get together, celebrating the birth of a baby and praising the mother’s labor. The foods used for this celebration include miyeok guk (sea-weed soup) and baekseolgi(steamed rice cake). The baekseolgi has the symbolic meaning of holiness, separating a mother and a baby from the mundane world. So people share rice cakes only with their own family members, not with neighbors and friends.
Baek-il (100th day of baby’s birth)
This is the day to give congratulations for 100 days after a baby’s birth. The number 100 has an inherent meaning of maturity and perfection, signifying a baby passes through perfection period safely as a human being. People bring presents and congratulatory statements and wish for the baby’s health and blessing.
The several different types of rice cakes are prepared, including baekseolgi (steamed rice cake), bulkunp’at gomul (red bean rice cake), ch’alsusu gyongdan, and osaek songp’yeon(5-color moon rice cake). Baekseolgi has the symbolic meaning of holiness, bulkunp’at gomul for expelling evil spirits, and ch’alsusu gyongdan for returning a baby which is secured in a holy world to the worldly place on that day. The 5-color moon rice cake is made with 5 pretty colors, signifying the harmony of nature. Unlike the rice cakes of Samchil-Il, the rice cakes for Baek-il are shared with neighbors from the belief of a baby’s longevity and blessings.
Tol (One Year Birthday)
The rice cakes for this day are the same as for Baek-il. With these rice cakes and other foods, the parents put rice, thread, book, paper, pencil, and a bow and arrow (or in the case of girl, they put scissors, needle, and ruler) on a table then let the baby pick up one of the items, predicting the child’s future. The parents then feed the baby ch’alsusu gyongdan in the belief that it prevents the baby from falling down.
Ch’aekryae (Text Completion Party)
This ritual has disappeared these days. In the past, when a child went to a Korean traditional type of school (seodang) and finished studying a book, the mother usually brought rice cakes and other foods that she prepared to celebrate. The teacher and other students shared the foods together. The rice cake used on this occasion was a small sized osaek songp’yeon.
Honryae (Wedding Ceremony)
The wedding ceremony is a very important ceremony to tie a new husband and wife as a married couple. The rice cake used for the wedding ceremony is bongchae deok, prepared by the bride’s family. Its major ingredients are 7 jujubes, red beans, and sticky rice. Each material has a symbolic meaning: sticky rice signifies the couple’s inseparable love, 7 jujubes represents a hope for 7 sons, and red beans are for dispelling evil spirits. Other rice cakes used at wedding ceremonies include moon rice cake and 2-color rice cakes. Moon rice cakes symbolize the moon shining over each one’s life. The 2-color rice cake represents 2 chickens, meaning a couple.
Hwaegap (60th Birthday)
The 6oth birthday has a very special meaning. In the 12-year, 5-cycle lunar calendar,the 60th year indicates a full completion of the 60 combinations, meaning that the person has returned to the original year of birth. Relatives (usually led by the wife of the eldest son) prepare a big birthday table. Rice cakes are is indispensable item of the birthday table.
Jaeryae (Ancestor Offering)
Every year, family members worship their ancestors on the days of their death. Rice cakes must be prepared for this ceremony. Musokhaenguiwha deokui p’ungsok (Exorcisms) Musokhaengui is an exorcism executed by a shaman to expel ghosts and evils, wish for fortunes, and give blessings. Rice cake plays an important role to appease ghosts.Chungp’yeon, kyemyeondeok, geomyeondeok, and geop’ip’at p’yeon are used in this ceremony.
Cheolshikkwadeok (Special Holidays)
These days were created by cycles of nature and traditional life styles. They include agricultural ceremonies, shamanist rituals, and historical events. On these holidays, people celebrate with special foods, especially rice cakes.
Seolnal (Lunar New Year)
Among the many popular New Years dishes, Korean’s favorite is deok-guk (white rice cake soup). The reason to eat this relates to New Year’s Day. The first day of a year is supposed to be holy and clean like the white color of rice cakes. According to tradition, you can only get one year older by eating deok-guk. This is why people sometimes ask how many dishes of deok-guk you have ever had in your life (a way of asking a person’s age).
Chunghwa-cheol (1st Day of 2nd Lunar Month)
People made moon rice cakes and ate one for each year of their age, especially for slaves. This ritual originated to motivate slaves at the time of starting farming.
Samchit-nal (3rd Day of 3rd Lunar Month)
This day originated from seasonal enjoyment. People ate chindallae hwacheol (azalea pan rice cake) made from azaleas. It was a type of seasonal food to eat outside and enjoy nature in the Spring.
Ch’op’a-il (8th Day of 4th Lunar Month)
Tano (5th Day of 5th Lunar Month)
Dates with the same number for the month and day (especially odd numbers) were believed to be good days to celebrate life and cheerfulness based on Yin-Yang philosophy. On this day, women washed their hair with changpo water and colored their hair pin red to expel evil spirits. People ate surich’wei cheolp’yeon on this day, made of regular rice power mixed with surich’wei.
Yudo (15th Day of 6th Lunar Month)
Early in the morning on this day, people prepared noodles, rice cakes, and fruits to worship their ancestors. In farming communities, people also had a ceremony to wish for a good harvest. The rice cakes prepared for the ceremony included sanghwabyeong (made with flour mixed with alcohol) and milcheonbyeong (made with flour and wrapped with fried vegetables).
Ch’useok (15th Day of 8th Lunar Month – Harvest Moon Festival)
Also called Hangawei Chungch’ujeol, Korea’s version of Thanksgiving in the country’s 2nd biggest holiday, lasting 3 days. This time of the year is near harvest time, and this day was used for giving thanks by providing alcohol and diverse foods. The representative food was songp’yeon (moon rice cake). Pines needles are used to preserve it and give it a very special flavor.
Dongji (Winter Solstace)
This night is the longest night of the year. People celebrated this date because the days became shorter in Fall, but began getting longer again from today. People believed that Sun got its life back on this date. People mostly ate rice and p’atjuk (adzuki-bean porridge). People sprinkled it on their front doors, hoping to expel ominous spirits and ghosts. Although there is no special rice cake associated with this date, many people made saealshim (small dumplings in red-bean gruel) which was made with powdered sticky rice and boiled to make it round. Then it was put in rice and adzuki-bean porridge.