Royal cuisine

Being such an important part of daily Korean life, it’s inevitable that food should wend its way into traditional events. The hundredth day of a child’s life is marked with a feast of colourful rice-cake, while a simpler variety is served in a soup (ddeokguk) to celebrate Lunar New Year. More interesting by far, however, is royal court cuisine: a remnant of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled over the Korean peninsula from 1392 to 1910, this was once served to Korean rulers and associated nobility. The exact ingredients and styles vary and go by several different names, but usually rice, soup and a charcoal-fired casserole form the centre of the banquets, and are then surrounded by a team of perfectly prepared dishes; twelve was once the royal number of dishes and banned to the peasant class, but now anyone can indulge as long as they have the money. The aim of the combination is to harmonize culinary opposites such as spicy and mild, solid and liquid, rough and smooth; a balance of colour and texture is thereby achieved – the Yin-Yang principle in edible form. Some of the best places to try this kind of food are Korea House and Baru in Seoul, or Naedang in Busan.