For each of Korea’s four distinct seasons, a different set of foods takes center stage in Korea’s culinary scene. Autumn marks the season of three of the nation’s most popular kinds of seafood: blue crabs, jumbo shrimp (prawns), and gizzard shad. Plump blue crabs are cooked in savory soup or steamed, while gizzard shads are enjoyed either raw as sashimi or grilled. Succulent and fleshy prawns are also great eaten raw or grilled, and the most common method for eating prawns in Korea is to peel them and dip them in a vinegar and red chili-pepper sauce.
On land, the best fall seasonal foods include flavorful and nutritious pine mushrooms and sweet persimmon. Pine mushrooms come in stewed, grilled or steamed dishes. They are great with beef or abalone. Persimmons are particularly sweet in the fall and are widely enjoyed as a dessert item. The dried version, called gotgam, is dried under the autumn sun and in the wind; it has a different texture from the fresh, undried version.
Fall foods are best in terms of taste and nutritional value when they are eaten in season. Enjoy some of these nutritious fall foods as the cooler weather sets in.
Delicious, nutritious, and reasonably priced
Blue crabs are in season during spring and autumn. The abundant, creamy roe of the pre-spawning female crabs are best enjoyed in the spring, while the flaky, plump meat of the male crabs is a delicacy best enjoyed in autumn. Crabs are prepared in a variety of ways and can be made into spicy crab soup with vegetables and other seafood, or it can also be steamed, shelled, and eaten plain. Another delicacy is gejang, or raw crab marinated in soy sauce or red chili-pepper paste sauce. Prepared in any form, freshly-caught crabs are a true seafood lover’s delight.
Not only are blue crabs tasty, but they are also packed with nutrients. The crab’s shell contains calcium and chitin and the meat has an abundance of essential amino acids and vitamins. In Korea, blue crabs are known to be effective in the prevention of geriatric diseases and aid in alcohol detoxification.
A feast for the eyes & palate
Jumbo prawns are a mouthwatering fall specialty even to those who do not generally eat seafood. Those caught at sea are not easy to find outside local fishing areas, as these short-tempered crustaceans die quickly after they’re caught. Compared to farmed prawns, jumbo prawns caught at sea have longer antennas, thicker shells, and chewier meat.
You can eat them boiled, steamed, or fried, but for a fuller flavor, heat a large pot, sprinkle it with coarse sea salt, and cook the live prawns for about 10 minutes until they turn crimson. Prawns are savory therefore can be eaten as is without any sauce. If you prefer more seasoning, try dipping the prawns in a mixture of red chili-pepper paste and vinegar.
Soft flesh and bold flavors
In the fall, gizzard shads store up plenty of nutrients for the long, cold winter; meaning they are packed with healthy oils and plenty of flavor. The best months to eat these delicious fish are between late September and mid November. Larger gizzard shads are higher in fat, so make sure to pick a fish over 15cm to enjoy the fish’s true taste.
There are many ways to cook and eat gizzard shads. Slices of raw gizzard shads taste best when wrapped in lettuce and seasoned with chili and garlic sauce. The spicy taste of a seasoned gizzard shad platter mixed with various vegetables and condiments is also a local favorite. However, the best way to cook gizzard shad is to take a whole fish, salt it lightly, and put it on the grill. There’s no need to debone it, so it is ready to be eaten as soon as it is done.
Small in size but big in flavor
Pine mushrooms are considered the best among the hundreds of types of edible mushrooms in Korea. They only thrive on live pine trees and are harvested in autumn. Pine mushrooms are referred to as diamonds in the forest for their high nutritional value and efficacy. The mushroom is great for preventing geriatric diseases and protecting the stomach. More than anything, it is known for its cancer prevention qualities.
Pine mushrooms are expensive as they cannot be grown commercially, but must be collected in their natural environment. Despite the high price tag, it is in great demand thanks to its delicate flavor and nutritional value. The mushroom can be sliced and grilled over a light fire, but it is more commonly cooked with other ingredients. For example, it can be cooked with other vegetables in a soup, or it can be added to rice. When it is cooked along foods like abalone or beef, it is fortified with minerals and proteins, turning into a great stamina health food.
A sweet and healthy dessert
Persimmon is a major autumn fruit in Korea. Depending on the level of processing, it is called by different names: hongsi refers to persimmon ripe to a color of yellow-orange or dark red-orange with no astringent taste; gotgam is persimmon peeled and dried under the sun and the wind; and bansi is seedless persimmon. Persimmon is high in vitamins A, B, and C, and minerals. In Korea, a common saying is, “Just stand under a persimmon tree and you are sure to get healthy.” The fruit is particularly good for the skin and for getting over a hangover. The fruit is also highly effective for stopping diarrhea-related symptoms, so most advise against consuming persimmons in large quantities to prevent blockage.
Freshly picked persimmon can have an astringent flavor. But over time, it will ripen and become sweet, and its color will transition to a deep orange. This fruit is mostly eaten as is without cooking. Hongsi can be frozen and eaten in shaved form or like ice cream. It is also enjoyed as a jam or in a salad.