February 03, 2011 09:42
"Dagwa," the Korean word for refreshment, encompasses many traditional Korean cookies, candy, and cakes. These sweets are quite different from the shrimp crackers, chocolate biscuits and spicy potato chips found in Korean supermarkets. Yakgwa and dasik are perhaps the most notable in that they offer an insight into the traditional lifestyle of Koreans with their distinct social stratifications and unique taste.
Yakgwa was mostly enjoyed by the upper classes and was prized for being made of the finest ingredients. The flour used was cherished because it required four seasons of growth to ripen, and people thus believed that it captured the essence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. According to encyclopedias from the Chosun era, flour was considered a source of many nutrients at the time.
In addition, the flour dough was then mixed with honey, which was also regarded highly due to its many healing properties. In fact, most food made with honey was considered medicinal. "Yakgwa" itself literally means "medicinal fruit." The cakes were then fried in oil, known for its detoxifying properties.
The sweet known as dasik also reflects Korean tradition. Various grains such as sesame, chestnut, green peas and flour are mixed with honey and pressed to form various patterns. Each piece has a different color and pattern.
As varied as the different patterns, ranging from flower, traditional symmetries, characters, and even to animal shapes, were the uses of dasik. It was served in customary formalities such as ancestral rites, weddings and banquets for honored guests, and for treats for members of the royal household.
Yakgwa and dasik remain beautiful manifestations of Korean heritage and are often served as desserts today at exquisite Korean tea shops or restaurants. They are usually served with hot or cold drinks like green tea, ginseng tea, citron tea, or fruit punch, as well as rice punch known as sikhye or cinnamon punch with dried persimmon called sujeonggwa.
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