The new year is about family in Korea, and a day when all families gather together at the eldest home to spend some time together. All the important traditions like Sebae (traditional bow of respect to elders) and Charye (ancestral rites) take place often in Seollal (Korean New Year) that follows the Lunar New Year. Tteokguk is always eaten on the first day of January or on Seollal for a reason. To allow an easier understanding for why, here's Korean lesseon. “Aged a year,” in Korean, is “한살 먹었다” (han-sal muk-ut-da) which literally translates to “ate a year.” This is where the soup comes in, as the act of “eating” Tteokguk symbolises ageing a year. Easily put, in Korea, when you eat a bowl of Tteokguk during the new year period you age a year. Kids try their best to eat as many bowls as possible because they wish to become an adult fast haha. Side note, I now refuse to eat Tteokguk ever 🥲
One can wonder, why is Tteokguk so special to become the symbol of New Year’s Day? This dish was traditionally eaten as the first meal of the year since hundreds of years back, for a couple of good reasons. The rice cake in Tteokguk is called GaraeTteok, which is initially made as very long cylinders which are then chopped into little circles. Long noodles were always the symbol of long-living, which Koreans thought was similar to the long GaraeTteok, and the little chopped circles looked like coins. So the two meanings in Tteokguk are blessings of long life and wealth, which we hope for each other on every New Year’s Day.
Tteokguk can come in different shapes, with different toppings and seasonings. Depending on the province you live in, the family traditional Tteokguk can come with either boiled chicken, oysters, seaweed, tofu, or even dumplings! Yet, the most common and the most original is Beef Tteokguk. This type of Tteokguk is where the soup is made clean and white to symbolise purity and a bright year ahead, garnished with bits of beef, eggs, spring onion, and dried seaweed optionally.
1) In a pot, stir fry sliced beef briskets in bite-size with sesame oil until well cooked.
2) When the beef is cooked, pour two cups of water and let the broth boil for 30 mins.
3) While the broth is boiling, soak the rice cakes in cold water for about 10 to 20 mins.
4) For garnish, chop the spring onion and dried seaweed thinly.
5) If you want to be fancy with the eggs, separate the yolk and the whites and beat them separately. On a pan, cook them thin like a crepe one by one. When cooked, roll them up and julienne.
- If this is too much work for you, you can also simply beat the egg in a bowl and add the mix in the soup 2 mins before serving!
6) When the broth is ready, add the sauces (minced garlic, soy sauce, and salt) according to your taste. (Tip! 1 Tbsp max for the soy sauce, because it can darken the colour of the soup. Use more salt instead of soy sauce if needed.)
7) Add the rice cake to the soup and let it boil. Don’t forget to stir it in case the rice cakes stick to the bottom.
8) When the rice cake softens, turn off the heat and move to a bowl. Garnish with the eggs, spring onion and seaweed before serving. Add pepper according to preference.
This recipe from Zinie’s YouTube channel is a very simplified version of making Tteokguk. If you want to make a genuine rice cake soup, you have to start with a fine vegetable-based broth, marinate the beef, and so forth. But this quick & easy recipe is just as good as the fancy Tteokguk to have at your dinner table this January, and so worth it.
In case you want a vegan recipe for Tteokguk, check this video out! We can’t leave you behind when everyone’s ageing a year! 😉