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What Is Seon?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Seon is a type of Korean cuisine that involves steaming stuffed vegetables. Instead of referring to a single recipe, it is actually the name of an entire class of steamed cuisine. Jjim is similar to seon, but instead indicates steamed meat or seafood dishes. Both are traditional Korean cuisine and come in many varieties.

The distinction between seon and jjim is not always clearly defined. While jjim is almost always made from meat, seon — the vegetable-based cuisine — is sometimes stuffed with meat and so does not refer strictly to vegetable dishes. The process of steaming can sometimes be replaced with boiling after the food has been marinated. The remaining boiling liquid in the pan is reduced and turned into a sauce once the dish is completed.

There are many varieties of seon. Some of the most traditional are winter squash, cucumber and a white radish called daikon. The preparation can vary, but most vegetables are cut into pieces that are 1.5 to 2 inches (4 to 5 centimeters) long, hollowed out, cut in the center or flattened and then stuffed. The stuffed vegetables are then either marinated and boiled or steamed. Seon is often served as a side dish but also might be a main course.

The filling for the vegetables can be eggs or other vegetables. Depending on the dish being created, the stuffing also can be a mixture of chicken or pork, onions and spices. The completed dish can be garnished with chili peppers or layers of egg.

The exact meaning of "seon" throughout history has changed or been recorded differently. It originally referred to steamed vegetables in a type of broth. Later, it was used to refer to a zucchini dish made with a vinegar broth. There are descriptions in early 20th century Chinese cookbooks that describe it as being a dish of stuffed fish.

Seon and jjim are just two terms that refer to entire classes of foods in Korea. Dishes that are stir-fried over heat in a sauce until they are dry again are known as bokkeum. They are divided into two styles, dry and wet. The wet version of the cuisine does not fry the ingredients until dry but rather just reduces the sauce into a thick syrup.

There also is mandu, which refers to a type of stuffed dumpling. The manner of cooking mandu can change the name of the dish. The dumplings are not unlike those served in other Asian countries. They are even served with a similar dipping liquid that contains vinegar and soy sauce.

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