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[Diana’s Table] New Year Special: Rice Cake Soup or Tteokguk

Rice Cake Soup or Tteokguk (Courtesy of Diana Kang)
Rice Cake Soup or Tteokguk (Courtesy of Diana Kang)

New Year’s Day is one of the major holidays in Korea when all the families gather together and bid each other good wishes for the new year. It is also a day to have specially prepared food which will not only nourish your body but supposedly bring good fortune. Tteokguk is such a dish which is always eaten on the first day of the New Year.

Tteokguk has a special meaning in Korea. We have a saying. “You don’t age a year until you eat a bowl of tteokguk.” Another reason for eating tteokguk on New Year’s Day could be related to the shape and color of the rice cakes. The white color and long shape of the rice cakes signify purity and longevity. Since rice was an expensive commodity in the past, it was a special treat to have rice cake soup on New Year’s Day. Traditionally, we would have the rice cakes made at a local mill and we would cut them at home into small oval slices. But now it is easy to buy them pre-packaged at your local grocery store and as such it is now eaten all year around.

There are many ways of making tteokguk. Usually I make them in a simple beef or vegetable stock with simple toppings, such as beaten eggs poured directly into the soup. But for the New Year’s table, I pay extra attention to the toppings to make it look nicer as well as to taste better. Hence, I prepare the eggs and beef toppings beforehand and I use home-made beef stock. Depending on your home region, some people use rich beef bone stock or even dried fish stock for the rice cakes. Some families also add mandu (dumplings) or seaweed in their rice cake soup.

In our family, I serve the rice soup in clear beef broth with toppings for the New Year’s Day lunch. I also prepare galbijjim (braised short ribs), jeon (pan fried vegetables), japchae (stir fried noodles with vegetables), shrimp wrap and other specialty dishes for the occasion. If we have to eat the same rice soup more than once in the day, I would add mandu for dinner.

Recipe for 4 person serving

4 cups of rice cake

Keep them in water to soften before putting into beef stock



For the Beef Stock:

300 grams of beef brisket

1 medium sized onion

5 whole garlic

2 green onions stalks, cut into half

2 liters of water

Salt and pepper to taste



Soak beef brisket in cold water for 30 minutes to drain blood. Boil in water for 5 minutes to further remove blood. Clean the pot and the wash the beef in running water. Boil 2 liters of water and add the beef to the pot when water starts to boil. Add one onion, two green onions and 5 whole garlic into the beef stock. Boil for 40 minutes on medium heat. When ready, sieve through a clean cloth to get clear broth. Set aside.



For the toppings:

2 sheets of dried seaweed, cut into thin strips, about 2 cm lengthwise

1 green onion cut 2 cm lengthwise

3 eggs, separate the yolk and the white

Pan fry the egg whites and the yolks separately, into very thin crepes. Cool before cutting them into thin strips

Boiled beef brisket, shredded

Take the boiled brisket from the beef stock and shred it into small pieces by hand. Season with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes before pan frying it make sure that the beef is well flavored with seasoning.



Diana’s Table (Courtesy of Diana Kang)
Diana’s Table (Courtesy of Diana Kang)
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Diana Kang is a lifestyle contents creator specializing in Korean food and food culture. She has worked as an executive producer of the PBS series on Korean food, “Kimchi Chronicles,” and has written regular columns on celebrity chefs, specialty ingredients and family recipes. --Ed.
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