Chuseok, which translates to "Autumn Eve," is the Mid-Autumn Festival in Korean culture. It's celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is said to be the biggest and brightest, and lasts for three days. (This year, it starts Sept. 20 and ends Sept. 22.) This harvest festival is also known as "Korean Thanksgiving," so food — and lots of it — is a crucial component.
Though it is hugely celebrated in Korea, I only know Chuseok from my own Korean American experience growing up, celebrating with my family and fellow church members. As kids, we would play games and snack on trays of songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cakes) and other beautiful blurs of tteok (rice cakes) being passed around.
As I got older, there were the big nearby Chuseok festivals to check out in New York and New Jersey. During the day, it was all light fun and business: showcasing the community with food booths, local entertainment, vendors and seeing folks you hadn’t caught up with for a while. Then, at night, it was all about bringing out whichever hot K-pop group was on the scene. I still remember the one year I lived in Leonia, New Jersey, when I could hear the crowd screams from the Epik High concert going on only a few miles away.
Chuseok also marks a time of ancestral remembrance — and the food serves as that connector. When I was a kid, we would have a beautiful table set up with food for charye (ancestral memorial) offerings, and some items would eventually make their way over to our family table for sharing. Even as I got older, in smaller Chuseok family gatherings, there was still plenty of food on the table: japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles), bibimbap (mixed rice with meat and vegetables), galbi jiim (braised short ribs), grilled fish, mandu (dumplings) and, of course, mountains of different kinds of jeon (savory pancakes).
The adults would sip cupfuls of the sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch) my mom would prepare days before, and every now and then there would be makgeolli (rice wine) circulating around. Persimmons and big Asian pears were cut up for dessert, and there was so much songpyeon and tteok leftover, my mom would gladly volunteer to take heaps of them home.
I suppose this is why, to this day, autumn remains my favorite season — not just because it’s always been beautiful here in New York, but because it's the season that starts bringing us all back together. At a time where we’ve needed to be apart for so long, the food of Chuseok beckons us back to the family table.
Pajeon (Scallion Pancake)
There are a few scents in the household that signal there’s about to be something amazing on the table — and this is one of them for me. The sounds, scents and sizzle of any kind of jeon is always comforting. In my house, it’s definitely a go-to not only for parties, but any time my family needs a delicious quick-fix meal. It's a staple for Chuseok but it's fit for any occasion.
Combine the water, flour, cornstarch, soybean paste, sesame oil, scallions and kosher salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together well, just until the batter runs smooth with no lumps.
Set a nonstick frying pan over medium heat, coating the bottom of the pan with about 1/4 cup of cooking oil. Let the oil heat for about 1 minute or wait until the oil is shimmering to begin frying.
Once the oil is heated, carefully ladle in the scallion batter (being wary of possible backsplash). Allow the pancake to cook on both sides for about 3 to 4 minutes each, or until both sides are crispy and golden-brown.
Turn off the heat, and transfer the pancake to a plate. Cut into sections, and season the top with salt and pepper. Serve hot!
To make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, garlic, chopped scallions, a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk together with a fork. If you like, you can also add in some toasted sesame seeds and a bit of gochugaru for a kick.
Get the full recipe here.