Not being much of a gourmet, I’m usually content to live off convenience stores or vending machines whenever I holiday in Korea. That said, I’m not averse to sampling more refined delicacies every once in a while – and on a cold winter’s day this past January, I allowed myself a taste of the refreshments that Korean monarchs might have enjoyed when they were in the mood for a snack.
This’ll be a non-standard, somewhat abbreviated Food Report, with a dash of Field Report thrown in – but I’ll keep the sightseeing stuff short and sweet. Bear in mind that I had no fixed plans for the day, and pretty much made things up as I went along (mainly hitting familiar places on the way).
30 January 2017. Temperature: negative 7 degrees Celsius (negative 13 with wind chill factored in).
In a word: brrrrrr. Not that it matters – the sun is out, the skies are clear, and I’m not about to waste this glorious morning locked up in the confines of my hotel room.
First, an assortment of unhealthy but oh-so-delicious convenience store goodies for breakfast. I love how the calorie counts are so prominently displayed; makes it easier to calculate the precise level of remorse one should feel after wolfing down each item.
Actually, no. Let’s stay. (^_^)
Now then, time to inject a bit of life back into my frozen limbs. A spot of tea, perhaps, and a plate of confectionery to go with it. And since we’re in the king’s largest palace, there’s no better place to enjoy some warmth-restoring refreshments than the king’s own kitchen.
I won’t write in detail here about the Sojubang (소주방), the newly reconstructed complex of Joseon-era kitchens where royal meals were once prepared. You’ll find a comprehensive account (including more pictures) in this earlier post, where I’ve described the different parts of the compound and the types of dishes assembled in each. For the present, our attention is focused on just one of the Sojubang’s three distinct kitchens…
…the Saenggwabang (생과방), also known as the Saengmulbang (생물방). This particular enclosure was formerly devoted to the preparation of sweetmeats and other refreshments for the Joseon royal family. Now, it’s been transformed into an elegant tea room where modern-day visitors can sample delicacies that were once enjoyed by the king and his court.
Shoes off at the threshold. A staff member garbed in patterned silk leads me into one of two enclosed – and, more importantly, heated – rooms, where several pairs of embroidered cushions are set out on either side of low tables.
After a brief wait, the doors slide open again, and the refreshments I’ve ordered are gently placed upon the tables in front of me.
On the left, we have a selection of traditional Korean confectionery (20,000 won), some of which were once regularly served at Joseon royal banquets.
And on the right, an invigorating beverage in the form of freshly made tea (5,000 won). The menu has four different types of tea to choose from, along with coffee as a fifth option. I can’t recall what I ordered on this visit, but it might have been the four-flavoured tea, or samicha (사미차). The recipe for this particular blend was said to have been devised by the famous court physician Heo Jun for King Seonjo of Joseon (reigned 1567-1608), as a remedy for an illness that the monarch had contracted in cold weather.
Here’s a bowl from the first pouring…
…and one from later, after the ingredients have had more time to steep and lend their colour to the drink.
A snack break in the king’s own pantry. Not a bad way to cap off the day.