Christmas is a widely celebrated holiday in Korea, regardless of religious affiliations. Christmas traditions in Korea have developed organically through the years, and this includes the unique menu that is often served for Christmas dinner. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your Christmas routine, check out these great Korean recipes for the holiday season!
The Main Course
Christmas is a holiday that celebrates togetherness with family and friends. Traditionally, Koreans often spend Christmas with their friends and New Years with their family, the opposite of what those of us in the West often do. Christmas is a holiday that offers a lot of experiences outside of family togetherness, with many buffet places staying open and often being overrun with reservations for the special day, which is also quite contrary to Christmas traditions on this side of the Pacific.
Many of us are accustomed to eating a meal similar to the one served on Thanksgiving, with turkey or ham as the main staple. Koreans often make bulgogi (or barbecue ribs) with sweet potato noodles and kimchi instead of mashed potatoes and stuffing. If you have yet to indulge in Korean galbi (갈비), now is the time to hop on the hype train for some of the best meat you’ll ever get a taste of! Maangchi offers an easy-to-follow recipe for 갈비, which she refers to as LA galbi. The name derives from the popularity of the recipe among the Korean community in Los Angeles.
Korean cuisine is known for extensive side dish options, and that reigns true for the special holiday dinner. While kimchi is obviously still a staple of the meal, other options such as pollack pancakes, sweet potato noodles, 숙주오이나물 (mung bean sprout and cucumber), or 시금치나물 (spinach side dish).
It’s the end of the year, so diets and previous new year’s resolutions have already been thrown out the window long ago. Besides, don’t we deserve some time to indulge in deliciousness, especially during such a happy time of year?
There are a few popular dessert dishes in Korea for Christmas. Family holiday meals are often finished up with a Christmas cake or even a buffet of Korean sweets. If you’re aiming for the special Korean Christmas cake, the ingredients generally used are steamed rice cake and fruit decoration. Much like the side dishes, smaller Korean sweets offer a wide variety of options for all sorts of different palates.
Some interesting options include 배숙 (steamed pear), 마탕 (candied sweet potato), 수정과 (a dessert punch with cinnamon, ginger, and persimmons), 곶감쌈 (walnuts wrapped in persimmons), 찹쌀떡 (sweet rice cakes filled with red bean paste), and traditional Korean sugar candy. With so many delicious options, dessert time has the possibility of being just as, if not more, grand than the main course itself.
Bonus: Popular Winter Snacks
As Korea is no stranger to cold weather, Koreans have come up with some pretty fantastic snacks to keep warm during the harsh winter months. Potentially the most famous of winter snacks is hotteok (호떡), a warm, sweet pancake that is served by vendors all over the streets of Seoul. Another favorite is Bungeobbang (붕어빵), warm bread filled with red bean paste in the shape of a fish. These snacks are sold at an unbelievably cheap price, and as a result are a favorite of students. Sweets are quite popular, as another big winter snack is walnut cake (호두과자), filled with red bean paste and, you guessed it, walnuts.
If the sweet snacks aren’t your thing, we’ve still got you covered! Ddeokbokki (떡볶이) may be one of the most well-known Korean snacks, popular all year round. The snack has a surprising utility for colder months, since its spiciness will warm you right up! Fish cake skewers (오뎅) are familiar to any big K-Drama fan, as they are often seen on the big screen of many popular dramas. These skewers are also kept hot and hold up well in cold weather. If soup is more of your taste, rice cake dumpling soup (떡만두국) is a wonderful way to warm up with some tasty garlic broth and minced beef. From sweet to spicy to savory, Korean snacks cover every base to help combat the cold!