Siru is an earthenware steamer that is used for cooking grains and also as a prop in folk rituals.
The earthenware steamer was first used in the Korean peninsula during the late Bronze Age, mainly in the northern regions. By the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.E.–676), its use had spread evenly to all parts of the peninsula.
The traditional steamer comprises handles, main body, bottom and hole. It cannot be placed directly over fire and requires a separate pot for heating up water. The steamer is generally used for making tteok, or rice cake, made by steaming grains that have been ground into powder. In pre-historic times, rice cake was the main carbohydrate dish in a Korean meal, but starting in the Three Kingdoms period, it was replaced by steamed grains, and with the development of formal rituals, tteok came to serve as ritual offerings or as food for special occasions. Rice cake, in other words, has long been a part of the offerings table at worship rituals and ancestral memorial services, and also food for chasing away bad spirits or for celebrating seasonal change, and along with this change in function the earthenware steamer has taken on significance as a ritual prop.
Siru is also used in shamanic rituals. “Sirumal” is a song about the creation of the universe, performed in front of an earthenware steamer as part of the village ritual dodanggut in Gyeonggi Province. The steamer is also featured as part of the offering table for Daegamsin (State Official God) in shamanic rituals performed in the Seoul area and Gyeonggi Province, usually for serving sirutteok, made of thin layers of cake with red bean filling.
Siru, in other words, is not an everyday kitchen utensil but one for preparing and serving sacrificial offerings for special rituals, a sacred utensil that carries symbolic significance.