Korean Food SuperstitionsTuesday, August 20, 2013
Korean people have some very interesting food superstitions. On different occasions, they have a food to match that will enhance a person's luck or prepare them for an important life event. One very important life event are exams and tests and there are many food superstitions surrounding it.
The single most important event in a student's life is the soonyeon or the college entrance exams. It is a test that happens only one day a year and the entire city starts later just to make sure students makes it to the test on time. If students are running late, police officers will even drive tardy students to the school. It is a test that takes years to prepare for.
For this test, it is all about memorization or having the answers stick in the student's heads. Some students will go so far as to not wash their hair for many days because they don't want the answers to fall out of their heads. Students will also avoid slippery foods during this time. Noodles are avoided and so is Myeokguk which is a slick seaweed soup. Gifts of candy are often given before the test and parents will even stick these candies on the gates of the schools to show support. Ambitious parents will stick the candies as high as possible on the gate to signify their desire for the child to get the #1 score.
Other food superstitions surround important times of the year.
During the winter solstice, the darkest and coldest day of the year, Koreans will often eat hot bowls of red bean porridge called patjuk. The porridge is warming but also the color red is supposed to ward off evil spirits and bad health. Eating this on the solstice prepares people to have a prosperous new year. On this day Koreans will also crack nuts such as walnuts, peanuts and chestnuts -often in their teeth. The sound of cracking is also believed to get rid of the evil spirits. It is also supposed to strengthen teeth.
When setting the table, it is important that your chopsticks are to the right and not to the left. On the birthdays and on the ancestor memorial holiday of Seollal, families will usually make a food offering to the deceased. To place the chopsticks to the left would invite the dead to come eat the food. One should never stick spoons into the rice and leave them sticking out for it would be considered an offering, which would invite ghosts to dinner. You should not place your chopsticks over your soup. Finally, you should never face the spoon with the open part down. When the spoon is faced up, it will catch good luck.
When sitting at the table, it is important to consider the age and position of the people you are eating with. Unlike the western cultures, the most important person does not sit at the head of the table. Instead, they would sit in the center facing the doorway. One should never sit at the corners of a square table either for this would be considered unlucky. You should also not shake your leg at the table for it shakes away all the luck (and probably annoys everyone at the table.) Oh, and you can't start eating until the oldest person at the table starts to eat.
Finally, alcohol has many superstitions. You should never pour your own alcohol for it means that you are not connected to those you are dining with. When accepting alcohol, you should hold the cup with your right hand and the left should touch your right wrist. This is a sign of respect to the person pouring the alcohol. Also, a long time ago Koreans had long sleeves so it would have lifted the sleeve out of the food. In olden times, it was polite for younger diners to turn away and cover their cup with their hand from the oldest at the table to drink alcohol.