Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth is a Korean drama that aired in December 2016, and is adored by many lovers of Korean dramas and K-Pop. The cast includes very famous drama actors such as Park Seo Joon (Midnight Runners, She Was Pretty), Go Ara (Snow Flower, Who Are You?) and Sung Dong-il (Jang Ok-Jung, Living By Love; The Legend Of The Blue Sea); and members from popular boy bands such as V (BTS), Choi Min-ho (SHINee) and Park Hyung-Sik (ZE:A).
The Three Kingdom historical era (540-576 AD) series shows the creation of the Hwarang, under the reign of Queen Ji-So, to protect the next in line, King Jinheung (within the Kingdom of Silla). In their busy schedules of battle training and culture learning, it makes us wonder what was in their diet to manage to keep fit and maintain their infamous appearances. Today we will explore the meals portrayed in Hwarang, so you can eat like one of them, or like a citizen of Silla.
Bap, Doenjang-guk and Banchan
Many important conversations and key character development scenes take place at the dinner table, where the six very different dongmu—the peasant Dog-Bird, the hidden king Kim Ji-Dwi, the Queen’s ally Kim Soo-ho, the Queen’s enemy Park Ban-ryu, the caring Kim Yeo-wool and the innocent Suk Han-sung—eventually end up bonding. The meal they have is quite simple, but very balanced: a bowl of bap (rice) and various banchan (side dishes). In the show, the rice is often steamed white rice, but in the period of the Three Kingdoms, other grains could be mixed in to make brown or black rice. The banchan portrayed tend to be kongnamul-muchim (beansprouts) and sigeumchi-namul (spinach), as well as doenjang-guk (soybean paste soup) on the side.
When the warriors were given days off to visit their families, we often see Dog-Bird, Ah-ro, and Master Ahn-ji have an extremely appetizing (and big!) meal. This is known as Hanjeongsik, where only the rice and soup are for an individuals own consumption, and many dishes are placed around the table to be shared amongst everyone. These dishes are a mixture of meat, vegetables, grain and fish. Since Master Ahn-ji is a humble physician who was driven to poverty, the food mostly consists of grains and vegetables, as meat and fish were more luxurious foods. Either way, it does not stop our mouths from drooling and wishing we could share the meal.
It is not uncommon to see these beautiful men snacking on grapes throughout the drama, and who can blame them? Grapes are delicious, thirst quenching and extremely healthy! However, there is an element of historical inaccuracy, as grapes were not introduced in Korea until the Joseon times (around 1392 AD). Instead, there were many different kinds of fruit cultivated in Korea at that time: persimmon, yuja, mogwa-namu, maesil, cherry, pine fruits and pomegranate.
The most passionate love story in Hwarang is probably between Lord Wi-hwa and nurungji (scorched rice). He is always eating this snack (which is considered medicinal for an upset stomach in Korea), especially when he finds himself in a conundrum. After always wondering why he was so obsessed with this snack, I found out the recipe is incredibly easy to make, and it is such an easy snack to eat!
Cha (tea) could be considered one of the main characters in the show, as it plays a big role with the Queen, in Kim Kwang-Kyu’s tea house, and in any scenes that involve power play. Korean tea has been around almost as long as Korea has existed, many believing it was the legendary queen Heo Hwang-ok who brought tea over from India at the beginning of the Three Kingdoms dynasty. Korean tea had a wide variety of flavours, as they typically used leaves, roots, flowers, fruits, grains, mushrooms and seaweed.
Some of the funniest scenes in Hwarang involve soju (clear rice spirit). At first, when Ah-ro decides to drink what is owed to her by the alcohol vendor, resulting in her being extremely drunk and meeting Dog-Bird for the first time for their first (hilarious) conversation. Then, when the Hwarang are forced to drink shots and decide what rooms they get. We see sworn enemies Kim Soo-ho and Do Ji-han end up in the same room, and a beautiful bromance flourish from then on. Either way, soju is used for comical effect in the show, giving the audience an entertaining break from the drama happening in every episode.
Although it does not have a lot of screen time, food plays a major role in character development and storytelling in Hwarang, perhaps that is why it is so memorable for viewers. As you can see, it is quite simple to eat like a Hwarang (or like a citizen of Silla). A lot of Korean cuisine has kept its traditional elements, so finding the dishes mentioned is not that much of a challenge (even outside of Korea!).
Cover Image: Hwarang
Written by Lucille Bamber