Friday, January 13, 2017

Making Ddeok

Ddeok, Koreans’ favorite traditional food for special occasions

The Ddeok Museum:

Located in the district of Jongno in Seoul, the Ddeok Museum exhibits unique items that show customs of Korea, such as ddeok (Korean rice cake), utensils for making ddeok, and traditional kitchen utensils that are now hardly found even in the countryside of Korea. The museum runs several programs of making traditional Korean food, including ddeok, to enhance the understand of Korean culture.

Ddeok (rice cake) means more than just a cake of rice to Koreans. It is a symbol to remember and celebrate special days of one’s life. 
  • On New Year’s Day, Koreans make ddeokguk (soup with thin slices of rice cake) as they believe they become a year older by eating the dish. 
ddeokguk - "birthday soup"
Also "New Year soup", as the ddeok is sticky
and therefore symbolizes luck "sticking" with you in the New Year.
  • To celebrate the 100th day after birth of a baby, baekseolgi (snow white rice cake), which symbolizes holiness, is placed on the table setting for the ceremony. 
  • On a baby’s 1st birthday, parents usually put susugyeongdan (millet balls rolled in red beans) on the table on the day of celebration. This is based on the traditional belief that the red color of red beans prevents misfortune, and these rice cakes are shared with one’s relatives or neighbors.
Beginning from the 100th day after the birth of a baby, ddeok is used to celebrate important milestones of one’s life: 
  • birthdays including hwangap (the 60th birthday)
  • weddings
  • coming-of-age
  • commemorative rites for the deceased
Ddeok is both a good meal replacement and a snack as it is made with rice, and each pieces is beautifully shaped. The history of ddeok in Korea is long and diverse: Koreans first began making ddeok back in the era of the Three Kingdoms (the 4th - 7th century) of Korea, and there are more than 200 kinds of ddeok.

However, with the introduction of the Western culture in the modern era, ddeok lost its popularity to bread and confectionery of the West. Many Koreans are now more familiar with bread than with ddeok, and they eat ddeok only for the holidays. Instead of making ddeok at home, they usually purchase it for ancestral rites. The Ddeok Museum, located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Institute of Traditional Korean Food building, is a private museum dedicated to preserving the tradition of ddeok. Various antiques, such as cooking utensils used to make ddeok and traditional kitchen utensils that used to be owned by the director of the museum are currently exhibited in the museum. The elderly Koreans are often filled with nostalgia when they see the relics displayed in the museum.

On the 2nd floor of the museum, mockups of beautifully shaped ddeok are exhibited by type, season and ingredient. The exhibition hall shows traditional tools used for making ddeok at home, such as the pouring board, the rice-cake mallet, and the large mortar, as well as antique households and mockups related to kimchi. On the 3rd floor, table-settings for various rites of passage from birth to the death of a person and 40 kinds of ingredients of ddeok are exhibited.

In addition to seeing the exhibitions, visitors can wear hanbok (traditional Korean costumes) and make Korean traditional food like osaek-songpyeon (five-colored half-moon rice cake), dasik (Korean tea confectionary), bulgogi (Korean barbecue), and kimchi.

Food explains its country best. Food experience in the Ddeok Museum will give visitors a special opportunity to understand Korea better.

Information found in the e-book “A guide to Touring Industrial Destinations of Korea”


Back in late December 2011 in Hoegi-dong, near Cheongryangni, I passed a "modern" method of making rice. Well, compared to the present-day's modern method of using rice powder and large machinery to hydrate and make the powder into soft and chewy "cake" in a self-contained production room, this was pretty old-style. In the kiosk beans were actually being ground to make the bean-cake, much like rice could be ground. The tiny shop had two machines working and baskets and baskets of ground beans ready for grinding further into cakes. Was really fascinating to see! And because the food was freshly ground, the taste was very alive. Unfortunately, shortly after I took these pictures, the shop was replaced by another. Too bad. It's a great loss to older culture to see those more traditional styles of food production disappear.

The shop had so many choices of rice (and bean) cake. I think the beans being ground
were actually the stuffing for some of the rice cake.

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