If you’re familiar with Korean food you have probably had some of Korea’s most traditional dishes, like tteokbokki, kimchi, and bibimbap. However, have you ever heard of Korean hangwa? Korean hangwa (한과) is a term used for traditional Korean confectionary. These sweets can be really colorful and decorative as some are made in the shape of flowers. The key ingredients needed to make these sweets are rice, grain flour, fruit, and honey or yeot. If you visit Korea, you might see these sweets being sold at rice cake shops and some supermarkets, but it is most commonly eaten on big holidays like Seollal and Chuseok. It is also offered at special events like weddings and social dinners.
Hangwa first became popular in Korea during the Silla era and Goryeo dynasty due to the spread of Buddhism. In Buddhism, monks were allowed to eat beef, chicken and pork only if they knew that the animal was not harmed on their behalf, and as a result, they chose instead to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. It was due to this that hangwa became a common treat – as a way to compensate for those who chose the Buddhist way. Hangwa soon began to spread throughout the country and people started to commonly eat it. However, as many of the sweets were deep fried and covered in honey or yeot, King Sukjong, the 15th emperor of the Goryeo dynasty, issued a restriction on the usage of deep-fried hangwa to control the usage of resources.
The many forms of Hangwa:
Although rice cake is included as one of Korea’s hangwa, there are many different kinds of sweets included in that category. For example, gangjeong (강정) is a hangwa made of different kinds of seeds mixed with honey. Yakgwa (약과) is another familiar hangwa made of wheat flour. This treat is most commonly moulded into flower shapes, making a beautiful treat. Lastly, another more popular hangwa is yugwa. Yugwa (유과) is made out of glutinous rice flour which is then deep fried and lastly covered in honey and puffed rice. This sweet is very chewy and crispy at the same time.
Yeot (엿), which was mentioned at the beginning of the article, is itself, widely enjoyed as a form of confectionary and is a common treat in Korea. It’s a sort of taffy made up of glutinous rice, steamed rice, barley, and sometimes contains other warm flavourings like pumpkin or ginger. This candy is very sweet and is traditionally given out to students who are sitting an important exam in order to give them a boost of energy from the sugar. Therefore, many parents consider it as a good luck treat. This sweet is also particularly known for how it’s sold. The 엿장수, or yeot tradesman, either has a cart or tray who is often heard yelling, “엿 사세요!” or “Buy some yeot!” around the streets of Seoul and wider Korea. At the same time, he also carries a rather large, heavy pair of metal scissors which are used to create a beat by hitting and cutting the yeot in order to attract the attention of those nearby. If you happen to hear or see a Yeot seller – be sure to drop by to try it out for yourself.
The next time you find yourself craving some new, delicious Korean food – make sure to check out the area, keep your ears and eyes peeled, and see if they offer any Korean hangwa.
Featured image source: © Hangwa, 14.11.2018, Inspiremekorea.com