Korean chest­nuts

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Bernard Rowan Bernard Rowan ([email protected]­hoo.com) is as­so­ciate provost for con­tract ad­min­is­tra­tion and pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Chicago State Univer­sity. He is a past fel­low of the Korea Foun­da­tion and for­mer visit­ing pro­fes­sor at Hanyang Universi

I don’t know about you, but I find my­self missing Korea in au­tumn. When I lived there, my fa­vorite sea­son was this time of year. The en­vi­ron­ment cools, the trees show such ra­di­ant col­ors, and all the har­vest fes­ti­vals, grand and pas­toral, cap­ti­vate res­i­dents and vis­i­tors alike.

Among my cher­ished mem­o­ries is when I stood hud­dled on a cold night in Seoul near a street ven­dor sell­ing chest­nuts. I bought some chest­nuts in a pa­per con­tainer and ate them on the spot.

The smell and taste re­main to carry me for­ward to another taste in the fu­ture!

Korean chest­nuts (bam­namu) are big­ger than Amer­i­can and other ver­sions and less sweet. How­ever, their nutty, smoked fla­vor is ap­peal­ing. They ap­pear in stores, fresh and canned, some­times sold as a snack and pre-roasted at mar­kets for sale in bags.

My fa­vorite is to buy them on the street. Kore­ans call this way of eat­ing chest­nuts gun­bam (roasted chest­nuts). Wikipedia has an en­try on Korean chest­nuts and their sell­ers, as well as the folk song “Gun­bam Taryeong,” which ex­ists in sev­eral ver­sions on YouTube.

The web­site Maangchi has some won­der­ful recipes for chest­nuts. First, en­joy yu­lan or chest­nut cook­ies (no-bake!).

They’re a con­fec­tion orig­i­nally de­signed for roy­alty and yang­ban of­fi­cials. Korean chest­nuts when used in this dessert are boiled, mashed and then formed into balls with honey and rolled, crushed pine nuts.

Chest­nuts also ap­pear in rice cakes. They are part of yak­sik, a dish of rice with dried fruit and other nuts. They’re some­times an in­gre­di­ent in white kim­chi (baek kim­chi). Chest­nuts are a good source of fiber, vi­ta­min C, cop­per, potas­sium and other vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, too.

Dur­ing the hol­i­day of Dae­boreum, the lu­nar year’s first full moon, chest­nuts form one part of the dish buryeom. Buryeom con­sists of var­i­ous nuts, in­clud­ing wal­nuts and gingko.

An en­try in the blog “My Dear Korea” (my­dear­ko­rea.blogspot.com) says chest­nuts rep­re­sent the Earth and the kid­neys and fea­ture in a tra­di­tional prayer for fam­ily har­mony.

USC Dig­i­tal Folk­lore re­ports a Korean tra­di­tion of throw­ing chest­nuts and dates to sym­bol­ize fer­til­ity and health of chil­dren. The cer­e­mony pye­baek in­volves giv­ing these nuts to a bride as a wed­ding pre-cer­e­mony.

A bride later vis­its her in-laws to give them chest­nuts and dates as a present. The in-laws throw them at the bride’s skirt for her to catch. How­ever many she catches rep­re­sents how many chil­dren she will have in the fu­ture.

Chest­nuts ap­pear in Chuseok cel­e­bra­tions as a dish (joyul­sii). They join other types of nuts and fruit in a cer­e­mo­nial dis­play.

An ar­ti­cle on rit­ual Korean foods at an­ces­tral rite ta­bles by Lee Chang-heon, Kim Young, Kim Yang-suk, and Yun Young men­tions chest­nuts in tra­di­tional court and tem­ple con­texts. Their place­ment in var­i­ous spe­cific lo­ca­tions on the rit­ual ta­ble shows the or­ches­trated and re­fined form of the cer­e­monies over cen­turies of use.

Chest­nuts stand for the har­vest and its promise. They re­mind us of fall’s plenty and the need to con­serve for the win­ter months to come.

They rep­re­sent the cy­cle of life and point to means of sur­vival. They give a source of nu­tri­tion to keep us alive and well.

They ap­pear in rit­u­als rep­re­sent­ing the be­gin­ning and end of life and the mem­ory of loved ones. They taste great! All of this in one bite in fall. En­joy this sim­ple part of Korea!

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