[Hallyupedia] Songpyeon (송편)

나확진 / 인턴 차민경 / 2021-09-18 07:00:02
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Cha Min Kyung

[ENG] A traditional Korean half-moon shaped rice cake eaten during the Chuseok holiday


▲ This photo, taken on Sept. 17, 2021, shows people grabbing Songpyeon for the upcoming Chuseok holiday. (Yonhap)


Songpyeon is a rice cake made by kneading rice powder with hot water, adding red bean paste or other fillings, and steaming it on top of pine needles. The name "Songpyeon" is a combination of the Chinese character '松·[song]' and Korean word '편·[pyeon],' which means rice cake.

While Songpyeons are usually white in color due to rice being the main ingredient, sometimes people add mugwort or grinded inner layer of pine trees, which give the rice cake a green and red color respectively. In addition, there are various fillings that go inside the Songpyeon, including, red beans, sesame, jujube, pine nuts, or sugar. Songpyeon is normally shaped as a half-moon, but in Jeju Island, it is round like the shape of a full moon .


▲ This photo, provided by the Cultural Heritage Administration, shows Songpyeon made of mugwort with pine needles. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Today, Songpyeon has become the representative food eaten on Chuseok, one of South Korea's important holidays held on Aug. 15 of the lunar calendar.

Like the traditional rice cake soup, Tteokguk, enjoyed on Korean New Year's Day (Jan. 1 of the lunar calendar), Songpyeon is offered to ancestors during Chuseok and shared with family members, relatives, and neighbors. In particular, Songpyeon prepared in time for Chuseok is made with rice harvested that year ahead of the holiday.

One of Chuseok's important traditions include family members gathering together at home to make Songpyeon. As the famous Korean saying goes, "Those who create beautiful Songpyeon will later have a pretty daughter." This line is one of Chuseok's blessings and commonly referred to in dramas.

This June, the Cultural Heritage Administration announced to designate the making of Tteok (Korean rice cake) as the National Intangible Cultural Heritage. The designation recognizes Korea's traditional culture and way of life through the making and sharing of Korean rice cakes.

However, these days, due to urbanization and increase in nuclear families, it is more common to buy and eat Songpyeon from rice cake shops rather than making them at home.

▲ This photo, taken on Sept. 15, 2021, shows people making Songpyeon for people in need. (Yonhap)

It is still not clear when people in Korea have started to eat Songpyeon. According to the Academy of Korean Studies' Encyclopedia of Korean Culture, the rice cake is presumed to have been enjoyed since the Goryeo Dynasty. Within "The Collected Works of Mogeun," written by writer and scholar Yi Saek who played an important role in Goryeo Dynasty, mentions that red beans were filled in rice cakes made with millets during the Goryeo Dynasty.

"Dongguksesigi," a book on the late Joseon Dynasty period, states that there was a custom of making Songpyeon on Feb. 1 of the lunar calendar ahead of farming and distributing it to the servants as well.

The book also states that people made Songpyeon with newly harvested rice on Chuseok to hold ancestral rites and visit their ancestors' graves.

However, some say that Songpyeon became popular in Korea after industrialization took place in the 1970s. Since rice was considered scarce, people could not afford to use it to make snacks like Songpyeon.


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