It’s THE time of the year again!
What time? Christmas time?🎄
Right, Christmas is coming up. ✝️
And so is Hanukkah. 🕎
But before that, we have another important event:
Now, what is that?
Winter solstice is the day that has the longest night of the year. ☃️🌠❄️
And what makes it so exciting?
In Korea🇰🇷, winter solstice is celebrated by eating Patjuk (팥죽): a type of congee or rice porridge made from small, red beans. 🥣
So what’s special about that?
Patjuk is a traditional Korean dish that is vegan🌱 by default + gluten free🚫🌾!!!
Interested to hear more now?🤗
Let me give you some details!👇
What is this holiday and why do you eat Patjuk?
As you know, our earth rotates and so the position of sun and moon in relation to the earth changes constantly. 🌎🌍🌏 Thus, the length of daylight and length of darkness increase and decrease over the course of the year. Beside the change of the seasons, it’s also noticeable in longer nights on winter days and the large amount of sun in the summer. Periods of daylight versus darkness vary by location and its distance to the earth’s equator.
There is one time in the year, when the length of daylight reaches its minimum and afterwards begins to increase again. As a consequence, the daytime appears shortest and the night appears the longest. 🌙 The day on which this happens is called winter solstice. (When the night is shortest and the daytime is longest ☀️, in turn, it is the summer solstice.) In the Northern hemisphere, i.e. Asia, Europe, North America, the winter solstice is observed on either December 21 or December 22.
In 2019, the day of winter solstice was Sunday, 22 December.
This year, winter solstice is on Monday, 21 December 2020.
In Korea🇰🇷, winter solstice is called dongji (동지 冬至), which can be translated as “extreme of winter” or “attainment of winter”. ❄️ It used to be an important holiday with various associated customs, but those have largely disappeared in contemporary Korea. In general, most Koreans now commemorate the winter solstice simply by eating warm Patjuk. 🥣♨️
The main ingredient of the dish is a type of bean, which is reddish in color: Pat (팥).
The color🔴 is actually of great significance because red is traditionally believed to have the power to ward off evil. 😈 There are various legends as to why the color red and especially those small, red beans possess the power to protect one from maleficent spirits, devastating epidemics or even nasty Korean trolls (dokkaebi 도깨비). 👹 ☠ 👺 ️Anyways, eating red-colored porridge on the day with the longest and darkest night, actually had a symbolical reason: It was a talisman, besides being warm and nourishing!🍀
What is Patjuk and how do you eat it?
In essence, Patjuk consists of only a few ingredients:
Red beans, water, rice and salt.
Very simple, economical, yet nourishing.
Vegan, gluten free and easily consumed by old👨🦳 and young👶, strong🏋️♀️ or weak. 🤒
But the way in which those few ingredients are combined, results in some variations of Patjuk. Depending on the recipe and the location, Patjuk has one of the following traits:
- It may contain entire beans or pieces of beans, which give the liquid a thick and chunky texture.
- In rare cases, the base may be completely smooth and silky when all remnants of bean skins have been removed.
- There may be grains of rice🍚 floating inside the porridge, resulting in a thicker consistency and specks of white visible among the chocolate-colored beans.
- Additionally, there can be a couple of rice cakes inside the porridge. 🍡 They are normally white, ball-shaped and do not contain any filling. These plain rice cakes are made from glutinous rice flour and are thus very soft and slightly chewy.
Overall, Patjuk is a Korean porridge, which is thick and gooey, rather than a soup. Regardless of whether there are pieces of beans, cooked rice or extra rice cakes, it always has a soft mouthfeel as the occasional chunks are easy to chew. Since it is served only lightly salted, it is very mild and may call for extra salt according to taste. This porridge bears the earthy aroma of red beans. Besides that, it is quite subtle in flavor.
The gruel made from red beans and rice is served as a main dish and, in Korean food culture, a meal is not complete without complimentary side dishes – above all, kimchi! And for some reason, most types of Korean congee are typically paired with watery kimchi (mul kimchi 물김치). Chances are high that your bowl of Patjuk is accompanied with dongchimi (동치미) – a refreshing, sweet and sour kimchi that is also vegan by default!🌱
In addition to that, there are a couple of more specific names for this dish:
When rice cakes have been added, it may be referred to as Sae-al[sim] Patjuk (새알[심]팥죽) or Ongsimi Patjuk (옹심이 팥죽). Both of those names relate to the rice cakes and “sae-al” (새알), in particular, means “bird eggs” because the white balls of rice dough resemble small eggs! 🥚 Alternatively, the dish is called Dongji Patjuk (동지팥죽), since it is customarily eaten around the day of the winter solstice (donjitnal 동짓날).
But the plain Patjuk is not to be confused with another type of red bean porridge:
Dan Patjuk (단팥죽).
The term “dan” (단) here means “sweet”, which is its key characteristic. It is enjoyed for dessert or as a sweet snack, and it is an entirely different kind of dish with more ingredients. 🍯🌰🍠
[There will be a separate post on Dan Patjuk sometime in the future, so stay tuned! 😉]
By the way, another related dish is Pat-kalguksu (팥칼국수). Instead of rice, you’ll find hand-made noodles in red bean soup! 🍜
Where can you find Patjuk?
Although, December and especially the day of the winter solstice is the ideal time for Patjuk, you can find and enjoy this dish all throughout the year!
There are restaurants specializing in Korean congee (juk 죽), which offer Patjuk as one of the standard items on their menu. But it is also served in a couple of other Korean restaurants, mostly bunsikjeom (분식점) or some locations serving noodle soup dishes. Around this time of the year, you should be able to identify those restaurants easily, because they largely advertise for Dongji Patjuk when it’s available.
Traditional markets are also locations where you can find Patjuk. There is normally a food stall that sells at least vegan pumpkin porridge as well as this red bean porridge. Prices for Patjuk vary largely by location and serving size, but they range between 5000 to 10.000 KRW per bowl. 💲
So after all, what are you going to eat on those long, cold and dark nights of December?
Are you going to indulge in (Christmas) chocolate and ginger bread?
Or are you going to eat warm, nourishing and soothing Patjuk which can supposedly protect you from malevolent beings?
Wherever on the earth you are and which faith you may follow, I am wishing everyone happy holidays with good food, warmth and Love!
Notes by the author:
- alternative names / spellings: red bean porridge | red bean congee | azuki bean gruel | adzuki bean porridge | adzuki porridge | pat-juk | pat juk | dongji-patjuk | 동지팥죽 | 새알팥죽 | chapssal-patjuk | 찹쌀팥죽 | 紅豆粥 | 小豆粥 | azukigayu | hóngdòu zhōu
- compare with: sweet red bean porridge | danpatjuk | dan-pat-juk | 단팥죽 | sweet red bean soup | 紅豆湯 | red bean paste | 紅豆沙 | Korean red bean | oatmeal