Research on Joseon royal birthday cuisine memos

Hae Kyung Chung, Dayeon Shin, Kyung Rhan Chung, Nariyah Woo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is part of a series of research that aims to shed light on Korean cuisine, particularly the characteristics and cultural significance of royal cuisine from the Joseon Dynasty, which boasts close to 600 years of history. During the end of the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire, a number of memos on royal cuisine were written that still remain to this day. Among these, the royal birthday cuisine memos, which outline the table setting for birthday celebrations, were selected for this research. This study analyzed the table settings described in the memos pertaining to King Gojong, King Sunjong, Yi Un, and Honorable Princess Consort of the Eom clan. The “sinhaechilwolsimnyukileokmansyetanilnatgeotsangbalgi” memo was chosen as the basis for a modern recreation of the dishes described. This memo describes the table setting for the natgeotsang (lunch) that was served to King Gojong on his 60th birthday on July 16, 1911. Accordingly, this research examined the food described in the 20 birthday cuisine memos that remain intact and attempted to recreate a modern version of the food described in the table setting for King Gojong's 60th birthday. This study produced the following findings. The foods most commonly eaten on royal birthdays were noodles and dumplings. Noodles consisted of both warm and cold noodle dishes. Side dishes consisted a variety of foods including soup, steamed dishes, pancakes, slices of boiled meat, skewers, fried dishes, sashimi, poached eggs, green-lentil jelly, and jeolyuk, many of which are still eaten in Korea today. The seasonings used were honey, red pepper paste, and mustard. The most striking finding was the overwhelming number and wide range of rice cakes and traditional sweets, which demonstrates that such foods were highly developed and viewed as very important in the royal palace. There were nine types of steamed rice cakes, four types of joak, three times of danja, sweet rice with nuts and jujubes, and eight other types of cakes. Ten types of traditional Korean sweets were served, including oil and honey pastries (7 types), yeonsagwa (7 types), gangjeong (7 types), gamsagwa, mija, tea confectionary (8 types), stewed fruits, fruits preserved in honey, dang, and gwapyeon. It is said that Korea had a less developed dessert culture compared with other countries around the world, but analysis of the memos shows that this is not the case and that many types of rice cakes and traditional sweets similar to western-style cakes existed in Korea during this period. The nonalcoholic beverages contained in the memos include hawthorn berry persimmon punch, saengnisuk, a honey beverage with rice cakes and fruit salad, and the list of fruit contains saengni, jeokni, grapes, seogwa, nectarines, johong, susi, deastringent persimmons, dried persimmons, citron, pomegranates, wild apples, apples, hawthorn berries, longan, lychee, oaegamja, saengnyul, dried shelled chestnuts, fresh daejo, and fruits in various colors (a total of 21). The authors believe that exploring royal cuisine culture from the Joseon Dynasty can serve to provide basic reference materials for further research on royal cuisine, ultimately spreading knowledge about Korean royal cuisine around the world and contributing to the globalization of Korean cuisine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-310
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Ethnic Foods
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 17 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Anthropology


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