Earthy tableware for traditional dishesTable display is an essential ingredient in traditional Korean food, which is why restaurants try to lure modern diners with the promise of a visual treat as much as a culinary one.
For this reason, traditional tableware such as ceramics and brassware are making a comeback, adapting to a more contemporary look.
“The plates on which the dishes are served should reflect the soul and culture of the country,” said Choi Jung-hee, a curator at the World Ceramic Exposition Foundation.
Choi says artists, hotels, galleries and housewives in particular are rediscovering the contribution that ceramics make to modern dining.
“Artists are refining the basic technique [of making ceramics] with modern technology to create new forms and patterns,” Choi said.
Traditional ceramics were a common sight on Korean dining tables until Japan’s colonial rule over Korea (1910-1945).
Most tableware objects disappeared during this time and Western glassware was gradually introduced.
However, during the 1960s some artists started to make ceramics again, and thus they preserved a tradition which continues to today.
At previous Toya tableware festivals in Seoul, a yearly event since 2004, some 20 emerging artists displayed a variety of table-settings using porcelain, celadon and onggi, or earthenware used to store kimchi.
“Due to the five-day workweek, people have more time to think about dining decorations and the overall culture of dining,” Choi said, adding that the festival was a hit with housewives.
Naturally, she says, Korean soup is best when served in elegant ceramic bowls decorated with drawings of cranes and clouds rather than in Royal Copenhagen bowls from the West.
“Different plates have different souls,” Choi believes.
One of the pioneers in spreading traditional tableware and table setting is KwangJuYo, a traditional pottery manufacturing company in Seoul.
“In order to promote traditional food, it is important to establish the right image for younger generations to appreciate,” said Kong Min-ae, a PR manager at KwangJuYo.
The company’s tableware is mainly pastel-toned with simple patterns designed in traditional colors of yellow, blue, white, red and black.
“Since Korean dishes like seasoned vegetables and sauces that are very colorful, the table set should be simple,” Kong said.
Aolda, a tableware brand under KwangJuYo, sells cheaper handmade dinnerware for everyday use.
“We stick to traditional methods using soil, water and fire to make pottery while modern technology makes the process more productive,” Kong said. “Plates are more solid than before and can be mass produced.”
Chilryang, a Korean traditional restaurant in southern Seoul, only uses earthenware. “You can’t serve Korean food on glass,” said Lee Jung-in, managing director of the restaurant. “The food cannot breathe.”
By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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