Recovering the royal cuisine in Chosun Dynasty and its esthetics

Hae Kyung Chung, Dayeon Shin, Kyung Rhan Chung, Soe Yeon Choi, Nariyah Woo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We believe that researching the cuisine consumed by the royal family, in particular the king, during the 500-year long Chosun Dynasty is an interesting and meaningful endeavor. This task is an important part of unraveling the cultural significance of Korean cuisine in the 21st century, a new age of gastronomy. Until now, research has largely focused on recreating Chosun royal cuisine based on oral statements from staff in the last royal kitchen or the Uikwe (儀軌), the Royal Protocols which recorded food consumed at banquets. However, little research has been conducted on ordinary royal cuisine consumed by the king, mainly because of a lack of materials to study. This article aims to shed light on this topic and recreate what every day royal cuisine looked like in the late stages of the Chosun Dynasty by examining joseoksangsikbalgi (朝夕上食撥記, memos of morning and evening ancestral rites table) and judaryebalgi (晝茶禮撥記, memos of daytime tea ceremonies). The memos are similar to the chanpumdanja (饌品單子, literally meaning “a list of dishes served on the table”) that recorded national banquets and therefore do not contain records of ordinary royal cuisine. However, the memos of morning and evening ancestral rites table still remain. These documents describe food offered to the deceased, which was the same as the meals they regularly ate while alive. Accordingly, we attempted to reproduce the traditional table setting for ordinary royal cuisine served to King Kojong (高宗) by analyzing these memos. King Kojong (1852–1919) was the 26th king of the Chosun Dynasty, and a detailed description of the sangsik (上食, ancestral rites table) prepared following his death in January 1919 is present in the morning and evening sangsik memos and daytime tea ceremony memos from October 11, 1919. After analyzing the memos from after King Kojong's death in 1919, we were able to determine that the cuisine consisted of rice as bap (a main staple rice), kuk (a kind of soup), tang (stew), banchan (side dishes) such as meat, jeok (skewers), jeon (Korean pancakes), greens and salted dry fish, kimchi, seasonings such as soy sauce, kochujang (red pepper paste) and mustard as well as fruits and fruit salad for dessert. We determined that in addition to bap (rice), kuk (soup), tang (stew), kimchi and sauces, there were 7–9 banchan (side dishes) that served to create a balanced meal. On examination of the esthetic elements of Chosun royal cuisine, we found that the cuisine followed Confucian customs and formalities, and the kobaeumsik (고배음식, religious food serviced by layer upon layer) that symbolizes the power of the king. In addition to this, royal cuisine also embodied the philosophy of yaksikdongwon (藥食同源), an ideology which focuses on the health function of food. It was also nutritionally balanced and achieved synergy between yin (陰) and yang (陽). We believe that studying the cuisine of the Chosun royal family will ultimately play a role in spreading awareness about Korean royal cuisine around the world and creating materials that can be referred to for further research on royal cuisine and culture. However, we cannot be certain that the records present in the sangsik memos are truly representative of what the king ate on a daily basis, and more detailed analysis is required on this point.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-253
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Ethnic Foods
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Ancestral table
  • Chosun Dynasty
  • Korean foods
  • Memo for memorial foods
  • Royal cuisine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Anthropology


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