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How to celebrate Cheusok??

Kater Aug 28, 2006 04:24 PM

Each year we wander through our best effort at a Cheusok celebration with friends who, like us, are raising children who were born in Korea. We've done our best to make this a special time for our families, and we include other friends outside of the adoption community. But each time we do it, we're in hysterics during the planning stages because we're certain that we're 'doing it wrong'! We always have the party at a beautiful park, play some Korean games, cook kalbi jim and lots of side dishes plus we have mooncakes.

I mean, imagine if a family in Ghana tried to host a July 4th barbeque based on scattered mentions from books and websites!

So it occurs to me that maybe I can get some help from a few hounds who know more about this holiday than I!

Oddly I've asked at Korean restaurants and markets that we frequent and they've always acted as if they don't know what I'm talking about. Is it possible that I'm asking a culturally insensitive question because these immigrants aren't able to see their relatives on Cheusok or is it just an obscure holiday??

  1. k
    koreankorean Aug 28, 2006 04:57 PM

    hi, i think it's great that you're doing this =) and i'd really like to applaud you for making the efforts.

    i don't know where you're located, but most korean-americans these days tend to just go to a korean supermarket or "janchi-jip" (a catering place for parties etc) and get a sort of "chuseok" special, all ready-made and ready-to-go (there's no prepackaged box labeled "chuseok special"; i'm just referring to anything and everything that particular market may be selling for chuseok). this would consist of some "dduk" (rice cakes), whatever meat dish you like, a selection of korean fruits (like korean pear, grapes etc etc), jap-chae (glass noodles), at least one soup dish (as no korean meal is considered complete without soup, hehe), and namool (korean veggies). and i know this sounds extremely lazy and not so fun, but that's what we do these days..

    if you live in a large metropolitan area, you should be able to find a 'janchi-jip'. they're specialized places that make "dduk" and other food items. and around chuseok time, almost everything they will be selling will be chuseok-related.

    i don't think you should worry about what's the "proper" way to celebrate chuseok, as my family and i are as korean as we can possibly be and we just go buy whatever is on sale at the local korean market and janchi-jip and don't really put that much emphasis on the specific items. what is important, however, is that it is time to get together with family and give thanks (a sort of korean thanksgiving) and to be honest, i've even seen other korean families serve turkey with cranberry sauce at a chuseok gathering!

    **** edit ****

    i just re-read your post and it seems that you do live near a korean market (very good) but that the people there seem unwilling to help. it's probably just because they're just busy and overworked and not because of any other reason. for some reason, whenever i ask questions, i too get really unhelpful responses. so it's more of a supermarket culture rather than "korean culture".. and it's definitely not an obscure holiday! (maybe you're pronouncing it slightly "off"? chooooooo suk (almost like "suck" but much softer).

    1 Reply
    1. re: koreankorean
      Kater Aug 28, 2006 07:42 PM

      Thank you so much for you help, in particular the pronunciation guidance. That may be part of the problem in addition to the supermarket culture you mention. I've been working to learn to cook Korean foods but some methods are very different for an American cook. So I'm happy to learn that it is not atypical to buy some of the food. Some of my dishes are pretty good, but my chap jae is lousy and many of the namul (beyond spinach and courgettes) really elude me. It seems like the dishes with the simplest recipes turn out the worst - I really wonder if the chap jae recipes that people publish are purposefully missing some key ingredients!

      I'm lucky to have a couple good markets near by, one small one that makes terrific prepared food and one Assi where you can get virtually anything at a lower price. I had felt that I needed to prepare all the dishes for Cheusok so You've made me feel a lot better about buying a some of them. Also I had not been serving fruit, so I'll add that in. Our friends love Korean pear so those will go over well!

    2. Monica Aug 28, 2006 05:51 PM

      I grew up in Korea but honestly, when i think about food for chu suck, 'song pyun', also known as mooncakes, is the only thing I can think of which you've already mentioned.
      Also, different region has different ways of celebrating chu suk and they prepare food according to their tradition.
      Sice Chu Suk is to thank out ancestors for all the food that was harvested that year, we eat a lot of fresh fruits(fuji apples and asian pears mostly) and na mool(sauteed both fresh and dried mountain vegetables and roots...though sauteed spinach is also considered na mool.
      We also eat new crop rice, grilled fish, meat such as bool go gi or kalbi, dried fish, 'jhun'(korean version of tempura, usually thinly sliced sweet potato, zucchini, whitening fish and squid and even meat) and gook(soup, usually na mool soup).
      Also dried dates, 'got gam'(dried persimon), sweet potato, red beans, walnuts, chestnut and pine nuts are used to make desserts and traditional sweet dessert drinks. and of course more rice cakes and rice wine called 'mak gul li'.

      1. k
        Kater Aug 28, 2006 07:49 PM

        That's funny - I had wondered if Cheusok or chu suck would vary as widely as American holidays. Even the most agreed upon holiday menu in the US, Thanksgiving, can very tremendously from one region or one family to another. My in-laws do not believe that they've eaten Thanksgiving dinner if they haven't had cole slaw!!! I had never heard of such a think and found it very strange particularly at a meal that was a fancy one in my childhood home. But I've since learned that is it no uncommon in certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

        You mentioned fruits as well so clearly I've got to get on top of that one. At my son's Tol ceremony held at a Korean restaurant, I was blown away by the fruit display so I should probably have realized that would be an important part of the celebration. The desserts are always tricky, or rather the traditional recipes I've read don't sound like they would appeal to the American palate. But this is supposed to be about trying new things for us, so I should probably make an effort. OTOH I will definitely continue to serve kalbi, pancheon (the only Korean dish that I'll openly claim to make well!) and chap jae because those go over really well with our friends!

        Can you tell me more about the rice wine. We live in Pennsylvania which has bizarre liquor laws that forbid privately owned liquor stores, but if I know what I'm looking for we can pick it up in Jersey.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Kater
          Monica Aug 28, 2006 08:33 PM

          I am so touched and proud of you. =)

          I think most Hmart has a liquor store attached to it. You can go there and ask for 'mak gul li'. I like the one in the square white box. it's like 5-6 dollars. You should also try something called 'bok boon ja' which is like red wine. My Korean friend brought to her office party(all non koreans) and they all loved it. Mak gul li is aquired taste so you may not like it. It can taste like sour milk to some but I personally love Mak gul li.

          makig koeran dessert is very complicated and hard. Not too many people make them anymore as everything is available in the store these days. 'Soo jung ga' which i love is made with dried persimon and cinnamon..You can definately buy this at Hmart(han ah reum)

          1. re: Monica
            PseudoNerd Aug 30, 2006 12:39 AM

            Wow, you like Makggulli? I haven't seen anyone who's not a halabuhji drink it-- I always associate it with old men playing cards or hanging out in front of their houses/businesses in the summer. In that case, have you tried sooldduk? It's dduk that has makggulli in it, and while the alcohol has been burned off, the flavor will stay. It's increasingly harder to find a good sooldduk, I've noticed, that has a clear makggulli flavor and isn't too sweet.

            BokBoonJa, by the way, is made with raspberries and is pretty alcoholic and really sweet, so you (as in "one") might have to be careful about drinking too much of it. Alcohol sugars + sugars = massive headache.

          2. re: Kater
            mrsry Aug 29, 2006 12:17 AM

            Sorry I can't help too much with advice specific to Chusok, as my family really didn't go out of our way to celebrate it. My mom bought dduk around that time of year, and I remember my grandmother sometimes making an effort to be in Korea for Chusok if she was already there. Otherwise, there was no special meal.

            I'd say that fruit is often used the way Americans eat cake/cookies/etc for dessert, and you might have had an especially attractive display because it's considered good service to provide impressive displays. I don't know if you've noticed, but persimmons tend to be eaten in Korean culture, so those might be nice to have if they're available.

            Do you live in Philly? I usually go to Han Ah Reum in Cherry Hill, and found the Korean Restaurant in the shopping center to be welcoming to English speakers, so they may be able to help you out.

            1. re: mrsry
              Kater Aug 29, 2006 02:17 PM

              I live near Philly in Montgomery County. I haven't been to Han Ah Reum but I will seek it out. We frequently go to Korea Garden in Blue Bell and we recently discovered August Moon in Norristown. For catered events I use Sae Han Market in Blue Bell. If you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them. We get into town with our son fairly often though usually we wind up feeding our Pho addiction.

              1. re: Kater
                mrsry Aug 29, 2006 10:10 PM

                I'm not too familiar with the Korean markets in the suburbs (I grew up in CA and moved here for school several years ago), but I know Han Ah Reum also has locations in Upper Darby and Elkins Park. I stopped going to the Elkins Park location partly because I didn't feel like they treated me the same way the Cherry Hill location did, due to the fact that I only speak Korean when I absolutely have to, and my fiance is not Asian.

                If you're ever looking for Korean food in Center City, I'd say don't go to Han Wool on Penn's campus; their food is mediocre and their service is lacking. Pastoral, around 13th and Walnut, has a decent ambience and their food is alright. There's a new takeout-oriented restaurant called Giwa opening soon on Sansom at 16th that I can't wait to try. But nothing comes close to the great food and service that you'll get at Beawon in Cherry Hill. Oh, and you may have heard already, but there's an infamous Korean BBQ in the Northeast called Seoul Garden. Every Korean-American student I knew went there at some point. It's much better than, say, Porky and Porkie's in South Philly, which 1)isn't even Korean and 2)tastes nasty.

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