[Interview]Food Columnist Hwang Kwang-hae: Champion of Hansik Promotion
1. Please briefly introduce yourself.
I began my career as a food critic and reporter at the Kyunghyang
Shinmun. I have explored food and select restaurants for the past 35
years and am still studying food, now by going through old materials
2. What made you change your profession from newspaper reporter to
food columnist? Was there a particular moment that led to this
Like I said earlier, I was always interested in food, even when I was
active as a reporter. While working as a reporter, I paid visits to
highly recognized restaurants across the country and introduced some
of them. Many of the places I covered in the 1980s and 1990s are now
3. Seollal will be upon us shortly. Among the various dishes we
enjoy on the holiday, tteokguk seems to be at the top of the list.
Please tell us about it.
Seollal is Lunar New Year’s Day. Being the first day of the year, it
is a significant occasion. In Korea, the preparation of food is based
on the Confucian spirit of bongjesa jeopbingaek, meaning “ancestral
worship and welcoming guests.” Food is essential in paying tribute to
ancestors and receiving guests, and on Seollal, or Seol, it is common
to observe ancestral rituals or similar events. Since long ago, we
have held such rituals for our ancestors on Seollal, Chuseok (the
autumnal harvest moon), and their death anniversaries, and we still
prepare food for these occasions.
Tteokguk is a soup that contains round, sliced tteok (rice cakes) or
cakes of other grains. For ancestral rituals, prepared food as well as
fresh ingredients are placed on a table. In the old days, as fresh
produce was scarce in the winter, the precious tteok were made of rice
harvested in the preceding autumn to be used in making soup that
reflected the devoted efforts of the family’s descendants. Some people
say that the soup contained tteok in the southern part of the Korean
peninsula but dumplings in the north, but this is not true. As the
production of wheat was rather limited in the peninsula, it was mostly
used in making malt and not in cooking. Flour gradually became more
common from the late Joseon Dynasty to Japan’s occupation of Korea,
and dumplings came to be eaten in the northern part of the peninsula
under the influence of China. Tteokguk is a dish made of guk (soup)
and tteok, which were so precious that they were used only for
ancestral worship and similar rituals. In the form of a soup loved by
the people, tteokguk was served with garnishes like julienned beef,
chicken, or pheasant meat.
4. Can you tell us about some other seasonal dishes?
Dongji, the winter solstice, was also called Ase and regarded as a
“little Seol.” From this day on, the daytime grows longer and
nighttime becomes shorter. As day corresponds to the concept of yang
and night corresponds to yin, the winter solstice marks the increase
of yang and decline of yin. Thus, Dongji signified a new beginning and
was called a “little Seol.” On Dongji, we eat patjuk, a red bean
porridge. Its red color symbolizes the sun and fire and corresponds to
yang; thus, the porridge itself represents yang as well. Rice balls
called saealsim are often added to tteokguk and patjuk. Some say that
the number of saealsim in one’s dish equals the eater’s age, but this
is only a saying without any historical backing. During the Joseon
Dynasty, some people painted their walls or doors with patjuk,
believing that the red porridge would dispel evil, but King Yeongjo
prohibited such acts, branding them as a “superstition that originated
5. What are your New Year’s plans and wishes?
I am ceaselessly studying food by going through many materials. My
future plans and wishes are to spread accurate information about
hansik (Korean food).