Stock your jesa table with ready-made dishes

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Stock your jesa table with ready-made dishes


Left top: Lotte Food’s ready-made products for Chuseok family meals. Bottom: A consumer holds up packages of ready-made jeon at an Emart in Seoul. Right: Lotte Department Store’s full-set table of ready-made dishes for ancestral rites. [EACH COMPANY]

Preparing the dishes used during ancestral rites is a labor-intensive task that nearly always falls on the female members of the family, but things might be a little easier this year as more families are putting ready-made food on the jesa table.

In a recent survey of people in their 30s and 40s by ecommerce website TMON, 45 percent of respondents said they use ready-made food for jesa, or ancestral rites.

The jesa table plays an important part in the ancestral ceremony. While there is a basic list of what foods need to be on the ritual table, dishes that were preferred by an ancestor during their life are often also added, so every family’s meal includes a slightly different selection of main dishes and side dishes.

Discount chain Emart said sales of ready-made versions of staple dishes for jesa tripled between 2014 and 2017. This includes jeon, Korean savory pancakes; songpyeon, moon-shaped rice cakes traditionally eaten at Chuseok; and japchae, stir-fried noodles. Last year, Emart’s in-house brand Peacock saw sales of such products total 1.2 billion won ($1,000,000), up from 450 million won in 2014.

“A changing trend in the way we spend at Chuseok seems to have affected demand,” said Emart. “The definition is shifting from a day to hold ancestral rites to an occasion where families can get together and have a good rest. This is pushing demand to simplify the process of preparing food.”

The discount chain has a positive outlook on ready-made Chuseok dishes this year. It expects sales to reach 2 billion won, a 61 percent increase year on year, based on the steady demand increase and a shorter Chuseok vacation of five days compared to last year’s nine. This means families have less time to prepare food if they want to rest and see family during the shorter holiday.

The demand has created a seasonal market for food companies and some have been busy developing more creative ready-made options for the ancestral rites table.

Lotte Department Store, for example, released a full set of dishes for ancestral rites so that families don’t need to prepare anything themselves. The set contains 16 dishes including galbi, or marinated beef ribs, and smaller side dishes like kimchi and seasoned vegetables. A package for five to six people to eat after the ceremony is worth 259,000 won, while a smaller one for two to three is priced at 169,000 won.

“The price is around 15 percent lower compared to what the budget will amount to if a family purchased ingredients to cook the same dishes, not to mention it takes less time to prepare,” Lotte said.

The company will cook the food to order on Friday and finish all deliveries by 7 p.m. on Saturday, two days ahead of Chuseok, which falls on Monday this year.

Some companies are taking a different approach - instead of ready-made meals they are offering kits that contain the sauces, soups and ingredients required for specific dishes.

GS Retail’s meal kit brand Simply Cook released four products last week as special editions for this year’s Chuseok, including bulgogi, or marinated beef, and jeon. Each set comes with sauce and prepared ingredients in the exact quantities required.

Shinsegae Department Store released its first Chuseok gift set of meal kits. All products can serve four people and are priced over 150,000 won because they all include a main dish like ganjang gejang, or raw crab marinated in soy sauce, and smaller side dishes.

For many Chuseok dishes like japchae and jeon, prepping ingredients is the hard part because there are lots of different vegetables that often have to be julienned before cooking.

“Preparing food for Chuseok is a complicated process: it’s not just about the cooking, but starts from selecting the right ingredients and prepping them,” said a GS Retail spokesman. “The products were developed in order to unburden families from such tasks.

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