Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lifestyle: Lunar New Year 2014

This past long weekend, I bet most of the Asians you know went off and disappeared for a few days. That's because it was Lunar New Year! A time for family, comfort food, and loads of bowing for good health and prosperity. Perseus and I went to visit my maternal side of the family for some good ole Seollnal activities. 

Perseus was dressed in his Korean traditional garb best- he has a few of these in various colors because he is a diva.

There are slight differences to how each Asian culture celebrates Lunar New Year. Modern Koreans focus on four pillars of tradition: the ancestral home visit (제사), the bowing to the elders (세배), the traditional food of rice cake soup (떡국), and traditional games (윷놀이). 

The eldest son typically does the ancestral home visit- in my case, my uncle has to wake up at the crack of dawn to drive hours away to the ancestral land we own in the country, where my grandparents and great-grandparents and so on are buried. He usually takes his eldest son because it's a tradition that is adhered to fairly strictly. I believe most other Koreans still follow this tradition, which contributes to ridiculous traffic congestion in the day leading up to the actual New Year, especially outbound from Seoul metro area.

Bowing to the elders gets most young Korean children pretty excited because they when bow and say "Happy New Year", they get cash in return, usually ranging from 10,000 and upward. I've been told that this amount used to be 1,000, and with inflation, has risen to as high as 50,000 per elder/couple. I, as an unmarried woman, technically qualify to receive money, but generally people who earn their own living forgo the cash and just bow for respect. I still have to dole out the money to my cousins and nephews though! (imagine side eye emoji here)

The food that is traditionally served varies from household to household, but we tend to eat the same dishes every year, with a few variations. Like most Korean meals, there is the staple of a bowl of rice served with a large variety of side dishes, usually a meat dish, and the traditional rice cake soup. 

Crab wrapped with spinach or bok choi?? and steamed broccoli stems. 

Meatballs + corn cakes + vegetables dredged in a type of flour and egg batter and fried. 

I, being the terrible Korean that I am, abhor rice cakes, so I fill up my bowl with the dumplings instead. There are different fillings in the dumplings, like meat with vegetables, kimchi, etc. After you eat the traditional rice (and dumpling) cake soup, you are officially one year older. 

A variety of vegetable dishes, pickled or fresh, is always served. (From top, clockwise): A root vegetable marinated in sesame oil // Pumpkin slices in soy sauce and red pepper flakes // Mild kimchi.

(From top, clockwise): Spinach with carrot, sesame seeds, and sesame oil // Boiled bean sprouts with carrots and chives // Boiled fern stems (고사리), one of my favorite vegetables.

This milder form of kimchi is mixed with vinegar, radishes, and chives to give a tangy, slightly spicy kick to the tastebuds. 

Braised short ribs with potatoes and carrots. My aunt makes it with a blend of pears, apples, soy sauce, and some other secret ingredients that I must weasel out of her so I can make it myself. 

Korean traditional sweets: watermelon-shaped jellies, sweetened rice balls, dried persimmon, and dates. We washed these down with glasses of ice-cold Moscato and blueberry liquor.

Since Lunar New Year is an all-day eating/playing event, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there. Lunch and dinner require desserts (naturally!), so we usually bring two. This was the most scrumptious blueberry tart from Paris Baguette.

This one is a multi-flavored ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. Nothing says "celebration!" in Korea like a cake, tart, or ice-cream cake. Everything on this cake was edible- the little animal heads were made of marshmellow, and the 2014 sign was white chocolate. 

More than anything, this is a holiday for my dog. He is such a successful little beggar because all my aunts can't resist his cute little face, so he gets a nibble from EVERYONE, much to my chagrin. He nibbles and naps, set on repeat.

We played a few games as well, but I have no photos of that. Let's just say that my maternal family gets VERY competitive. 

Here's to a wonderful Year of the Horse and becoming another year older and wiser!

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