Miss KOREA: Giving Thanks Korean Style

November 19, 2015 1:46 pm Last Updated: November 19, 2015 1:46 pm

Every year, people take to cars, trains, or airplanes to reunite with family over Thanksgiving. In Korea, the same phenomenon is called “Chuseok,” the Full Harvest Moon Festival—but involved are the same invisible ties that bind offspring to their parents in all corners of the nation.

Chuseok, which is determined by the lunar calendar, fell at the end of October this year.

Sophia Lee, who owns miss KOREA in Manhattan’s Koreatown, remembers the 26-hour car trips she would take with her son to visit her parents—a trip that would normally take an hour and a half. These days, she said, people often take advantage of the long weekend to leave the country for a holiday nearby, to Japan, for example. But back in the old days that would have been inconceivable. Family came first.

During Chuseok, thanks is given to ancestors, and as in any holiday where large numbers of people are gathered, revelers share a communal feast.

Lee now serves at her restaurant dishes that were traditionally served at her family’s Chuseok gatherings. One is Galbi Jjim, ribs that have been braised for five to six hours to fall-off-the-bone tenderness ($31.95). She remembers that in years past, a cut of beef was expensive, and only on special occasions would families enjoy a dish made with beef. 

Kalbi Jjim. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Galbi Jjim. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The principle of healthfulness, informed by the royal Joseon Dynasty cuisine, manifests in a balance of flavors, temperatures, and even colors. Five colors are often included in the presentation of dishes—white, red, yellow, green, and black—which is visually appealing and also ensures a variety of healthful ingredients in the dish.

Royal court cuisine is popular in Korea. “Now everyone tries to follow royal cuisine because it means good health first,” Lee said. “If we eat good food we don’t need medicine.”

A base of warming spices includes five ingredients meant to ward off colds—honey, black pepper, Korean cinnamon (stronger than conventional cinnamon, said Lee), garlic, and ginger.

Another dish Lee might serve at a gathering is a chicken stew, Andong Zzimdakchicken being a meat that used to be more available than beef. 

Here too, influenced by traditional cooking, it is cooked without hurry. At miss KOREA, she offers a delicious version—using only the dark meat of the drumstick, and bone-in for more flavor—served alongside potato glass noodles, Chinese dates, carrots, bok choy, and rice cakes.

Andong Zzimdak. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Andong Zzimdak. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

And for a departure from tradition, Lee recommends some festive barbecue—not any kind but dry-aged beef, grilled over charcoals.

Dry-aged beef, because of high costs, is not common in Manhattan’s Koreatown, but more of a staple at American-style steakhouses. But Lee opted to introduce it to her diners, despite profiting little from it. “It’s so beautiful,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes. “It is impossible not to smile after taking a bite of it.” (Dry-Aged Rib Eye, $39.95)

Grilled dry-aged beef. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Grilled dry-aged beef. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Unlike other meats destined for the grill, it is not marinated, and best enjoyed with a touch of salt. Although, if desired, it is also served with the house’s special anchovy sauce, adding another dimension of umami and equally as delicious.

Traveling within New York, it’s certainly not necessary to journey for 26 hours to experience dishes that transport you to Korea—just head to Midtown.

But Lee looks back on those long trips with fondness.

Cloistered in close proximity for hours, even before the gatherings begin, what else could result but an airing out of yet-unspoken thoughts?

Miss KOREA owner Sophia Lee. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch  Times)
Miss KOREA owner Sophia Lee. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

“We could talk about so many things,” Lee said. “My son would ask, ‘Mommy, do you remember that one time, why were you angry at me?'” Issues and conflicts would find their resolution. “Those 18, or 20, or 26 hours [traveling], we found it was not a waste of time.”

And inevitably, after the holiday, stories would be traded around the water cooler—about the feasting, and of course, those long 20-something hours traveling as a family.

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