Red-bean porridge is a popular dish served in Korea, China and Japan, although it is available in many other places as well. Hot versions of the porridge are enjoyed in cold weather, and cold renditions are refreshing when the weather is warmer. It can be prepared as a savory main dish or as a sweet treat for dessert. Generally served as a simple dinner, red-bean porridge is prepared with only a few ingredients. The main ingredient is azuki beans.
The savory main-dish version of red-bean porridge is prepared with water, azuki beans and rice. Azuki beans are small red beans — approximately 0.2 inches (5 mm) long — that are grown mostly in East Asia and the Himalayas. The beans are boiled in water, strained, crushed and then added back into the water. Rice is added to make the soup into a thick porridge. Although this dish usually is prepared with few ingredients and used to conserve food, some meat might be added to make the meal more nutritious and filling.
In Korea, some people practice the ancient tradition of using red-bean porridge, called patjuk, to chase away evil spirits and bad luck. The red bean represents the color of Yang, which is the strong sun. Red-bean porridge also is used in a ritual that a family performs to wish for an abundant harvest. Rice balls are made, and the amount placed into each person's soup represents his or her age. Some Korean regions will prepare it for a special New Year's Day celebration.
Cooks in Korea often prepare red-bean porridge on the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. Bowls of the porridge are then placed around the house, including at the household shrine. When the red-bean porridge cools, the family sits down together and eats the dish. This tradition of relaxing and enjoying the nourishing meal is a preparation for the hard work on the farm in the spring. It also is a ritual perceived to bring good luck and an abundant harvest.
Sugar can transform red-bean porridge into a dessert that is highly regarded as a delicious treat in both Chinese and Japanese culture. A glutinous rice cake, called mochi, slowly melts after it is placed in the middle of the warm porridge. Variations of the dessert include glutinous rice flour dumplings or chestnuts. Sweetened condensed milk is sometimes used as a topping and to add taste to the porridge. This dessert dish is often served with something consisting of a sour or salty taste, to serve as a contrast to the very sweet porridge.