Songpyeon 송편 (Rice Cakes)
Songpyeon is a special rice treat made in the Korean home during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) to celebrate the year’s harvest and to wish every family member good health. Songpyeon is made from 100% short grain rice cake dough that’s filled with various fillings then hand shaped and steamed. When steaming, it is traditionally steamed on top of a layer of pine needles. Pine needles add a wonderful evergreen aroma and also act as a non-stick liner preventing Songpyeon from sticking to the steamer.
Additionally, Korean ancestors also believed that by steaming the rice cakes with the pine needles, the ‘chi’ of the pine tree gets absorbed into the rice cakes then that ‘chi’ transfers on to the person who eats them, helping them become healthy and strong like the pine trees. The rice cake dough is by default white but can be colored and flavored with various traditional ingredients.
Yaksik 약식 (Sweet Rice Dessert)
Here’s a Korean dessert made from sweet rice that contains health-promoting ingredients like jujube, chestnuts, and pine nuts. Yaksik is eaten at room temperature and will keep for a few days (during the cool season) since it is quite well seasoned. For longer storage, you can refrigerate or freeze it and thaw or heat quickly in the microwave. Yaksik not only tastes good but is also very healthy. The fabulous nutritional properties about sweet rice are that it’s very easy on the stomach (it’s great for people who have digestion problems) and also coats the stomach which means it’s great for people who have frequent heartburn.
Bukkumi 부꾸미 (Pan-fried Rice Cake Dumplings with Sweet Red Beans)
Pan-fried rice cake dumplings (or Bukkumi) originated from the Gangwondo province of Korea. They are Sweet Rice Cake dumplings stuffed with sweet fillings and then pan-fried in oil to create a crispy crust with a soft chewy inside. The dough is either made from sweet rice flour or glutinous sorghum flour. Common fillings are either sweet red beans, sweet mung beans or chestnuts. Bukkumi made with glutinous sorghum flour is called Susu Bukkumi, which was only seen in Gangwondo but it has become very popular in Seoul nowadays.
Dasik 다식 (Tea Cookies)
Korean tea cookies or Dasik are wonderfully light, mildly sweet and melt-in-your-mouth sweets that date all the way back to the 17th century. Korean ancestors prepared this very traditional, gluten-free and vegan Korean treats for Lunar New Years in Korea. During the Shilla and Goryeo Dynasty, these Korean cookies were served with traditional tea – something usually enjoyed by only by nobility and royalty.
These delicate and elegant tea cookies were made from sesame seeds, grains and pollen (especially pine pollen). Joseon Dynasty records show that when a royal banquet was held, Korean desserts such as this Dasik, Yakwa and Gangjeong were all “piled high” (고인다 Goinda) on tables to create an imposing table. Records show that these towers were piled high – as high as 55 centimeters (21+ inches)!
Yakgwa 약과 (Honey Pastry)
Yakgwa is a traditional Korean sweet, and it's usually shaped into some sort of flower design if you're buying it in a store. It's deep-fried and very sweet, so it's more of a dessert than an everyday cookie, and it was traditionally served at ceremonies, celebrations, and on special occasions. Yakgwa literally means medicinal confection, as 'yak' means medicine and 'Awa' means confection/sweet. The medicinal part refers to honey, an important part of traditional Korean medicine.
Sujeonggwa 수정과 (Cinnamon Ginger Punch)
Sujeonggwa is a Korean dessert drink that is really simple and easy to make with no special ingredients needed. Both the cinnamon and ginger in Sujeonggwa not only taste amazing but their anti-microbial properties make it a wonderfully smart and healthy winter drink because it can help to prevent colds. Of course, you are totally allowed to drink it any time of the year but just letting you know how it was traditionally. Ginger also aids with digestion which is why Sujeonggwa is served at the end of a Korean meal, especially at Korean BBQ restaurants where one is most likely to need a LOT of help with digestion.
Before greenhouses blurred the lines of the natural fruit seasons, Sujeonggwa was typically served from late fall when persimmons were in season until the end of winter (end of February in lunar calendar). The earliest origins of this Cinnamon Ginger Punch go back to Joseon Dynasty (1765) but the use of cinnamon and persimmons seem to have happened much later, around the 19th century.
Sikhye 식혜 (Sweet Rice Punch)
Sikhye (rice punch) is a traditional sweet Korean drink made of fermented malt and rice. As the rice ferments, the grains turn white and become spongy, releasing their starch into the liquid, which turns light amber. The punch is never fermented long enough to become alcoholic, and it’s often served as a dessert in Korean restaurants. It has a pleasantly malty aftertaste.
It’s also sold in cans at Korean grocery stores, but the homemade version has a more intense malt flavor than anything you can get in a can. Sikhye is usually served cold, but when you make it at home, you can enjoy it right after boiling it, or even freeze it into slush! Back then (late 60’s, early 70’s), in almost every home, Korean moms made at least one of two (if not both) drinks at home for the New Year holiday: Sikhye (or Shikhye 식혜) or Sujeongkwa (수정과). And along with these drinks, sweets like yakwa and hankwa was offered.