Spring Korean Foodie Favorites
Aside from the sunny skies and the fresh breath of spring, nature’s bountiful presents steal our hearts by winning over our stomachs! If you plan on visiting Korea during the spring or want to channel the essence of spring through your palate, these seasonal foods will have you singing Roy Kim’s “Bom Bom Bom” (bom meaning spring) with every bite!
Spring Greens and Sprouts
As the ground thaws and the snow feeds small streams, the first sprigs of green start to sprout. Across Korea, dishes and meals are based on the seasonal produce available. From soups to side dishes, spring vegetables known as 봄나물 (bom namul) bring the fresh taste of spring into any meal.
Many greens, ferns, mushrooms, and plants tend to be strictly regional and only available briefly due to their growing environmental restrictions. They are known as 산채 (sanchae). Certain wild sprouts can only be found in areas such as a specific altitude on a mountain or proximity to the ocean which provides a humid environment, with each boasting their own health benefits. Many spring vegetables and greens are typically blanched and served as 반찬 (banchan) or side dishes, or made into bibimbap.
One of the early heralds of spring is 쑥 (ssuk, mugwort), a tender and soft sprout. While some may describe its taste to be slightly bitter and pungent, it contains high antioxidants and has been used for centuries as an herb with medicinal benefits. Mugwort, also known as chrysanthemum greens, can even be traced back to ancient Korean folklore such as the story of Dangun which told of the creation of the Korean dynasty. Typically, ssuk is used to make soups which signal the end of winter and the fresh taste of spring. It can also be dried or frozen and used throughout the year in treats like mugwort buns, 쑥 인절미 (ssuk injeolmi) or 송편 (songpyeon).
냉이 (naengi, shepherd's purse) is also another spring favorite cooked up in a pot of 냉이국 (naengiguk) or naengi soup, with the roots giving a subtle nutty flavor. Additionally, tender Korean wild chives or 달래 (dallae) can be added to the soup to give it a slight garlic taste. Dallae can also be pickled and served as a side dish. Another favorite that is usually foraged and picked from the mountainside is 고사리 (gosari) or fernbrake. Whether dried or fresh, gosari is typically soaked and then seasoned to be sauteed and served hot or cold as another banchan.
See Food Seafood Diet
Due to the lack of plains to farm on, Korea’s food sustainability relies on a variety of sources, including domestic and international. One of the seasonal foods the country prides itself on is its vast types of seafood. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, the peninsula makes claims to its rich crop of crab and octopus in the early spring months of March and April.
To celebrate the harvest of mouthwatering king and snow crab, many festivals are held to indulge in the variety of catches from the local ports. Once a food that was served to the kings, many ports and cities along the oceanfront hold snow crab public auctions and fish markets for all to take part in. Should you be lucky, you may even get to sample a bite or two from food stalls preparing a variety of crab dishes. Visitors can take part in a variety of events such as cooking competitions and crab-eating competitions, or even try their hand at crab fishing or take a tour on a crab boat. Some festivals to check out are the Uljin Snow Crab Festival or the Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival should you visit Korea during that time.
While these food events are relatively short due to their brief season, one can try to recreate the taste at home. A quick search on the internet may result in a Korean restaurant near you that may serve a crab dish. No luck? No need to be crabby! While frozen seafood can never quite do a fresh catch justice, many amazing recipes such as those provided by Maangchi make quite delectable dishes that also include the chrysanthemum greens mentioned above! Try to recreate Maangchi’s 꽃게탕 (Kkotgetang, Korean Crab Stew) with your local selection of crab.
Like Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor,” bright reds bring to mind many delicious treats that are typically associated with spring. Aside from the bright reds and oranges of crabs caught during the early months of spring, many other fruits and vegetables are also ripening up for the picking.
Along with the wild spring herbs and vegetables is the sweet madness that comes with 딸기 or strawberry season that ranges from late winter into early spring. Some have described the taste of Korean strawberries to be much sweeter than other places which may have strawberries with a tart or sour undertone. Many greenhouses throughout the slightly warmer southern regions of Korea grow strawberries.
Many greenhouses can be associated with cafes as well. While fresh picked strawberries are good right off the vine, much of the strawberry food craze typically revolves around the cafe culture which ranges from jams and jellies to strawberries served on top of waffles or pizza to strawberry juice or ice cream. Some all time favorite ways to enjoy strawberries is in strawberry milk, a strawberry bingsu, or strawberries dipped in chocolate or covered in red bean paste and wrapped in soft, chewy rice cake known as 찹쌀떡 (chapsaaltteok), reminescent of BIGBANG’s “Bae Bae.” Aside from the sweet goodness, strawberries are a berry good source of vitamin C and can also be associated with helping keep skin healthy by reducing brown spots and freckles. This makes it a perfect treat for everyone at the variety of festivities between March and April.