“Soban” (Korean: 소반; Hanja: 小盤) are small tray-like tables, typically crafted from wood and commonly used in Korea for serving and dining. Soban tables were designed to be lightweight, making it convenient for women to carry them along with heavy bronze or thick porcelain bowls of food.
The standard dimensions for soban tables are approximately 30 cm in height and 50 cm in width.
Various types of wood were employed in the construction of soban tables, including gingko, pine, zelkova tree, maple, jujube, and linden. Gingko wood, in particular, was favored for its lightness and durability, making it less susceptible to humidity-related issues. These types of wood were sourced from the local areas where carpenters worked.
In some cases, soban tables were also fashioned from zelkova wood, known for its beautiful grain, and pine wood, which was readily available. Aside from their primary use as dining tables, soban tables served multiple purposes, such as functioning as writing desks, small altars for prayers, or platforms for burning incense.
Koreans traditionally sit on the floor, which is especially important during harsh winters to stay close to the heated floor. As a result, food had to be transported from the kitchen to various rooms within the house, often involving the crossing of a small yard.
This practice reflects Confucian principles, one of which involves a strict separation of individuals based on age, gender, and social status. Particularly during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), members of the same household each had their own dining table. This explains the small size and personalized design of soban tables, which were intended for individual use. It was common for a household to possess at least two to three different soban tables.
Whether it is the shape of the top, the legs, or the wood used, all these elements vary depending on the region of origin. The design also depended on their intended use.
TYPES OF SOBAN ACCORDING TO THEIR DESIGN & AREAS OF ORIGIN.
Soban are generally classified in various ways. Commonly, they are referred to by their region of origin. Another standard system classifies them by the shape and number of the legs. The shape of the table’s top (rectangular, circular, octagonal, etc.) is also used as a differentiation factor.
- Iljuban. It is also called a single-legged soban because there is only one column supporting the top. It was designed for use with simple refreshments or fruit rather than meals.
- Punghyeol Gonggo (Funghyeol Gonggo). This soban was made to carry food outdoors or to government offices. There are openings on the sides so that you can see the front when carrying food, and there are handles on both sides.
- Najuban (羅州盤) Soban made in Naju, Jeolla-do Province. It is among the largest sobans. The rim of the top plate is made separately and attached to the plate to prevent bending. It has a rectangular form. Additional bars between the legs were used to reinforce the fragile structure and prevent bending.
- Gujokban. Of a circular shape, it is also called “Gaedari Soban” because the legs resemble dog legs. It was mainly produced in the “Chungju” area in North Chungcheong Province.
- Majokban. The overall shape of the legs is quite similar to the “Gujokban.” It is called “Majokban” because its legs bend and roll outward, similar to a tiger’s leg.
- Haejuban. It has a rectangular shape. Two boards are erected at both ends instead of the four legs. This engraving (板脚) form is a typical design of “Haejuban.” It was decorated with engravings of thunder and lotus patterns. Haejuban is a type of soban mainly made in Haeju, Hwanghae Province.
- Gangwon Do ban. From Gangwon Province, this small soban has a simple design. It is made by rough-cutting thick plates and was mainly used to serve tea or snacks during the Joseon Dynasty. Another design includes an octagonal top panel with a high rim connected to the legs.
CLASSIFICATION BY THEIR SHAPE
The most popular of these is “hojokban” (tiger leg), which can be of a circular or rectangular form.
Gujokban (狗足盤). This table is named “Gujokban” because the leg shape of the soban resembles that of a dog’s leg. It was primarily produced in the Chungju area in North Chungcheong province. The overall design is characterized by simplicity, with minimal support under the soban and a footrest under the leg, without any prominent embellishments.
This is a soban made in Haeju, Hwanghae Province. These sobans feature luxurious designs with intricate openwork, and they are supported by two wooden boards on both sides, serving as legs for the table. They are often rectangular in shape.
WONBAN (round table).
TO BE CONTINUED