What is a Korean Pancake (Jeon)?
Have you ever heard of the Korean pancake that dates back to ancient times? Jeon is a traditional, pan-fried Korean pancake enjoyed for over a century. These pancakes were favored by the Korean Royal Courts, particularly during the Joseon dynasty. If you're a fan of K-Dramas, then you've witnessed some of your favorite actors indulging in Jeon. Whether eaten during a celebration, a melancholic rainy day, or even in a school lunchbox, jeon is a staple in the Korean food culture. It's worth noting that Jeon is not the typical pancake that you would drizzle with maple syrup. Depending on the region, jeon can be made with various ingredients such as meat, vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
Here are some of the most popular types of Jeon in South Korea that you should definitely try if you want a taste of Korea.
Pa (파) refers to scallions, so of course the Pajeon is a Korean scallion pancake. This savory scallion pancake is made with rice flour, eggs, scallions, vinegar and is usually served with soy sauce. It's a staple dish in traditional Korean cuisine and can be enjoyed as a snack or an appetizer. Seafood lovers can try the Haemul-pajeon which is a seafood version of the Pajeon. It's a perfect snack to indulge in on a rainy day while also being vegetarian/pescatarian friendly.
Another popular Jeon is the Kimchijeon. Made with kimchi, Korean chili paste (gochujang), flour, scallions and green onions, this jeon is a very popular and sought after dish. This dish is also highly versatile and can be paired with an eclectic amount of food items such as pork and a wide variety of vegetables. It is also a perfect snack or appetizer that can be served as a side dish--especially to accompany makgeolli.
Very popular during the summer, Hobakjeon is a year-round favorite in Korea. Typically, this recipe is made by slicing zucchini into thin pieces, seasoning them, coating in flour, dipping them into eggs, and cooking them in oil until they have a light golden brown color. Many Koreans cook it for everyday meals or special occasions. They are symbolic as they are cooked for annual memorials of loved ones who have passed away and celebrations like Chuseok and New Year’s.
Despite its distinct name, Bindaetteok is, in fact, a type of Jeon. It is a savory mung bean pancake made by grounding mung beans and adding various ingredients such as pork, kimchi, onions, and bean sprouts, all pan-fried in the shape of a pancake. It is said to originate from the Pyongan Province dating all the way back to the ancient Three Kingdoms–Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla–period, specifically in Goguryeo. Although the modern-day Bindaetteok includes many ingredients, the ancient dish with pork was usually reserved for the wealthier citizens. At the same time, the plain, vegetarian variation was eaten by the people considered to be of a lower class stature. It is the perfect Jeon to eat if you're craving a variety of savory flavors in a perfectly fried, crispy outer layer.
The hwajeon–typically sweet–is a Korean pancake made with honey. These delicacies are said to have originated from the Goryeo period. With Hwa (화)--meaning flower–Hwajeon is a general term for any Korean sweet pancake made of edible flowers. This specific pancake is eaten during festivals such as Buddha’s birthday. Some different types of flower pancakes are made with chrysanth flowers, roses, gardenia flowers, azaleas, and even jujubes. Popular during the spring, Hwajeon is the perfect dessert pancake that you should try if you love aesthetically pleasing cuisine.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit South Korea or a Korean restaurant, make sure to try some of these delicious variations and immerse yourself in the World of Jeon. Not only are they healthier than typical fried snacks, but these Korean pancakes are also a go-to dish for many Korean cuisine enthusiasts offering a taste of historical and modern Korea. Add them to your list of must-try dishes!