The Korea Herald


From octopus to shark meat, Seollal foods by region

By Park Soong-joo

Published : Jan. 22, 2023 - 14:01

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(The Korea Herald) (The Korea Herald)

Traditionally, Seollal mornings begin with paying reverence to ancestors through charye, a traditional rite. A variety of home-cooked dishes prepared days ahead are set out, incense burning, and each family member takes time to pay their respects.

Although charye is very structured with a particular way of placing the plates, the food served on the table differs by region. The geographical and cultural characteristics of each region are mirrored on the charye table.

Gyeonggi Province

Distant from the ocean, seafood used to be hard to come by in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, so dried fish delicacies have been served. Dried pollack, which symbolizes abundance, and Mung Bean Pancake are one of the favorites.

Gangwon Province

Most of Gangwon Province is made up of mountains, so a small amount of seafood is served, with the exception of Gangneung, which is located near the East Sea.

Famous for its potatoes, many of the charye dishes in Gangwon Province include locally grown buckwheat and potatoes.

Chungcheong Province

Sitting at the center of South Korea, delicacies from Gyeonggi, Gangwon, and Jeolla Provinces have mixed into the charye dishes prepared in Chungcheong Province. Depending on which province is closer, food is prepared differently. Households closer to Gyeongsang Province serve stockfish like dried codfish, dried shark, and devilfish, and those closer to Jeolla Province have butterfish and octopus. Inland areas, however, have vegetable pancakes with cabbage and mushrooms instead of fish.

Jeolla Province

Blessed with both ocean and the plains, the charye table in Jeolla Province is especially festive with ample food. A variety of seafood delicacies are served, including braised skate, butterfish, octopus, and cockle. Nowadays, butterfish is favored over braised skates because of its pungent smell.

Gyeongsang Province

Close to the ocean, seafood delicacies are not to be missed on the charye table in Gyeongsang Province.

Dombaegi, a salted shark meat delicacy specific to Gyeongsang Province, and a boiled, full-size octopus are two of Gyeongsang's specialties. Dombaegi is an onomatopoeia named after the chopping sound of the fish -- "dombak, dombak." Topping off with a full-sized octopus is a tradition started by the seonbi, Confucian scholars, of Andong, and still deemed essential to show full respect. Soju and sikhye, a sweet rice drink, brewed in Andong is also served on the side.

Jeju Island

Surrounded by water, this southernmost island offers more special dishes on the charye table. As an island, Jeju is geographically unfit for rice cultivation but bountiful with other locally grown foods. So instead of rice cake, households of Jeju customarily make bread with barley. Jeju specialties, like abalone, tangerine and tilefish are also particular to Jeju households.