Winter Solstice Ritual

by K4E Admin, 16/12/2014

Koreans have traditionally marked the winter solstice (Dongji) which falls on Monday 22 December this year. Red bean porridge (patjuk) is the dish associated with the longest night of the year. Because red is a positive energy colour, eating patjuk was thought to ward off disease and other consequences of negative energy. (See more detailed information on dongji history and rituals here.)

The winter solstice used to be considered the beginning of a new year with it being the longest night and shortest day of the year. During much of the Joseon Dynasty, it was referred to as the small New Year’s Day with the king providing a banquet for his subjects. 

In the wintertime when there was a shortage of grains, patjuk became a complete meal itself. It could be made of simple ingredients and could be served without extra side dishes. As such, eating patjuk was also one of the rituals Koreans used to wish for an abundant harvest.

The custom of eating patjuk on this day still happens in Korea. You can find it in a number of traditional restaurants or you can make your own. Following is a recipe from Dok Suni (Recipes from my Mother's Korean Kitchen) by Jenny Kwak with Liz Fried (St Martin's Press 1998)"

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Red Bean Porridge
3 cups small red beans
1/2 cup rice, washed and soaked in water for at least 20 minutes
4 ounces rice cake, thinly sliced
1. In a heavy pot, cook the red beans with 12 cups of water for 30 minutes over a medium flame. Stir frequently. Then cook for 40 more minutes over a low flame. Let the soup cool. The beans should look smothered and the consistency should be dense.
2. Remove the outer shells of the red beans. Use a mesh strainer and pour the bean soup through it. If the consistency is too thick, add some more water to help separate the peel further and press the beans through the strainer.
3. Pour the strained soup back into the pot. Add the rice and 2 cups of water and cook for 15 minutes over a medium flame. Stir constantly. Over a low flame, cook for 15 minutes more, stirring. Add the rice cake and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. If the soup feels too thick, add a ittle water until it is the desired consistency


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