In Korean dramas, characters are always given tofu (beancurd) when they get out of police station, jail or prison. In the 3rd episode of one recent K-Drama “Doctors”, Grandma brings some tofu from the refrigerator and feeds Hye-jung after she is released from the jail. What’s that about, you may wonder?
Eating tofu can help you free of respiratory tract infections
The prisons are dusty and poorly ventilated; anyone who stays longer in the prison will inhale polluted air and cause uncomfortable feeling around the neck and throat irritation. The Koreans believe that consuming tofu can help preventing respiratory tract infections.
Be like tofu, white and pure
Tofu is pearly white. It is a symbol of cleansing the soul and a new beginning. The criminal has paid their debt to society and is time for them to start their life anew. By eating tofu, which symbolizes purity and innocence, the convict resolves to live a crime-free life going forward. Besides, tofu cannot be changed back into the soybeans it is made form so it represents a resolve not to revert back to old ways.
Therefore, families or friends will bring tofu to their loved ones when they come out of the prison. They will at least have a bite of tofu upon exit before heading back home.
There are so many white colored foods, such as milk, vanilla ice cream, cheese, white carrots, breads, but why tofu? When this custom appeared, the prison conditions were beyond terrible, and prisoners were often malnourished. So families wanted to give their loved ones something nutritious when they came out of prison. As tofu is one of the cheapest source of protein, someone who just got out of prison could receive an emergency injection of nutrition in the form of tofu.
Do not simply give tofu to Korean!
In Korea, or when you meet Korean, do not simply give tofu, or ask whether they have received tofu as present before. As mentioned above, tofu is given when people released from prison, as a symbol of cleansing the soul. You will be despised if you give tofu without any valid reason, and there is no one who will share their experience of being detained in the jail or prison. Therefore, to be polite, never ask a Korean whether they have received tofu as gift before.
For those who are not aware about this custom, now that you know this is true! Remember to share out this knowledge to your friends!
Translated from: 【韩剧迷】为什么韩剧里出狱后要吃豆腐？在韩国，不能随便送人豆腐！