|Picture from Korea Tourism Organization|
Koreans call beans, ‘Meat from the fields.’ A long time ago, meat was a luxury that commoners rarely had a chance to eat. So instead of meat, Koreans cultivated a wide variety of beans to supplement their diet. Beans such as black beans and peanuts were often used to make banchan or side-dishes, but others like wild kidney beans, white beans, and peas were added to rice. Red bean in a sweetened paste was used as a filling for rice cake desserts.
There is even a bit of notoriety about eating rice steamed with beans. If you suspect someone has spent some time in prison, you could subtly ask them, “how long did you eat beans and rice.” If they know what you are suggesting, they’ll tell you how long they were in prison. Also after being released from prison, the first meal would often be a block of white tofu in order to signify they will live a pure and innocent life from that moment after.
Now the most important bean in Korea is the soybean but in its regular form, it is nothing special and they are quite inedible. However, when the soybean is transformed using artisanal techniques and a special slab pottery pot called an Onngi. These clay, slab pottery pots can be made in various sizes that can hold from 500ml to 100 liters. The pots are the perfect vessels for fermenting food for it is waterproof yet porous for air due to the high proportion of sand in the clay. These pots are one of the most important elements in making soy sauce and bean paste that are two very important jangs, or fermented sauces, in Korea.