The origin of Chueo-tang stems from at least two Korean traditions, one rural and one urban. The first takes place in farming villages, where irrigated rice paddies are drained after chubun (autumnal equinox). The chubby pond loaches, ready for hibernation, are easily caught in the ditches dug around paddy fields. Chueo-tang is often a featured dish in banquets for the elderly.
In Hanyang (now Seoul) during the Joseon era, the panhandler's guild mandated that its members beg only for bap (cooked rice), not banchan (side dishes) or guk (soup). (The practice was intended to maintain dignity and differentiate members from unlicensed beggars.) As an accompaniment to the rice, Panhandlers hunted pond loaches and made chueo-tang. They were also granted the exclusive rights to sell chueo-tang in the city.
The southwestern Korean city of Namwon is famous for its version of the dish.