Seo Geojeong – Thanking Kim Jago’s Sending of Dumplings

Dumplings

Seo Geojeong (徐居正, 서거정, 1420-1488) was early Chosun literati bureucrat and scholar. He was of the Dalseong Seo Clan (達城徐氏, 달성서씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gangjung (剛中, 강중); his pen name (號, 호) was Sagajeong (四佳亭, 사가정); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충). He wrote many works on Korea in general: Comprehensive Mirror of the Eastern Country (東國通鑑, 동국통감, Dongguktonggam), which covers Korean history from Gojoseon (古朝鮮, 고조선, ?-108BC) to the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392); A Geographical View of the Eastern Country (東國輿地勝覽, 동국여지승람, Dongguk’yeojiseungram), which describes the geography and the various local customs of people across Chosun; and The Great Laws of Governing the Country (經國大典, 경국대전, Gyeonggukdaejeon), which was a compilation of the groundwork laws of the Chosun dynasty.

In the poem below, Seo Geojeong describes his delight at receiving dumplings (饅頭, 만두) from a colleague as a present. Dumplings originated from the people known as Southern Barbarians (南蠻, 남만) in Chinese history and were originally called Mandu (蠻頭, 만두), or “southern barbarian heads.” The food entered China via Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮, 제갈량, Jegallyang, 181-234), who conquered the Southern Barbarians. It is said that Zhuge Liang did not wish to sacrifice humans in order to placate strong winds and waves according to Southern Barbarian customs and instead offered dumplings in the shape of human heads. Dumplings entered Korea sometime before the Chosun dynasty and became associated with the winter months, new years, and festive occasions in general.

謝金子固送饅頭 사김자고송만두

Thanking Kim Jago’s Sending of Dumplings

朱榼初開見 주합초개견
饅頭白似霜 만두백사상
軟溫宜病口 연온의병구
甛滑補衰腸 첨활보쇠장
甕裏挑梅醬 옹리도매장
盤中搗桂薑 반중도계강
居然能啖盡 거연능담진
厚意儘難忘 후의진난망

As I open for the first time the red lid, I see:
A dumpling, white as frost.
Its softness and tenderness are suitable for my diseased mouth;
Its sweetness and smoothness patch up my weakened entrails.
Inside the jar, concealed is plum sauce.
On the tray, husked are the cinnamon and ginger.
Easily, I can munch it all down.
With generous intent, it is entirely difficult to forget.

Note:

  • The description above is one of the theories on the origin of dumplings. In the Various Records of Cheng Zhai (誠齋雜記, 성재잡기), it is stated:

孔明徵孟獲. 人曰: “蠻地多邪, 用人首祭神, 則出兵利.”
공명징맹획. 인왈: “만지다사, 용인수제신, 즉출병리.”

Gong Ming conscripted Meng Huo (孟獲, 맹획, Maenghoek). Another said, “In the lands of the Southern Barbarians, there are many evils. They use human heads as offerings to deities in order to benefit their soldiers.”

孔明雜以羊豕之內, 以麵包之, 以像人頭. 此為饅頭之始.
공맹잡이양시지내, 이면포지, 이상인두. 차위만두지시.

Gong Ming then gathered with lamb and pork inside, surrounding them with flour in order to make the shape of a human head. This became the beginning of the dumpling.

  • Jago (子固, 자고) is the courtesy name (字, 자) of Kim Nyu (金紐, 김뉴, 1436-1490), a Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat. He was of the Andong Kim Clan (安東金氏, 안동김씨); his pen name (號, 호) was Geumheon (琴軒, 금헌).

Characters:

  • 榼(합) – Lid (투껑).
  • 甕(옹) – Jar (항아리).
  • 挑(도) – Here, to conceal (가리다).
  • 搗(도) – To husk (찧다).
  • 桂(계) – Cinnamon (桂皮, 계피).
  • 薑(강) – Ginger (生薑, 생강).
  • 啖(담) – To chew (씹다).
  • 儘(진) – To exhaust (다하다).

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