As you may know, last week was the Lunar New Year. We spent the holiday traveling, but we're celebrating a little late by eating the traditional Korean rice cake soup, called tteokguk (떡국). Tteok is a type of rice cake, and guk means soup. You eat this soup on New Year's morning to bring good fortune for the coming year, and to signify becoming a year older.
The saying goes "In order to get one year older, you must eat your tteokguk". Since age is very important in determining status in Korea, so is tteokguk! Once you finish eating your tteokguk, you are officially one year older. A traditional way of asking someone's age is "떡국얼마나 먹었어요?”, or "How many bowls of tteokguk have you eaten?"
Korean age is a bit different than Western age. Where as Western age is calculated by birthdays, Korean age is calculated by years. Koreans count the time from conception to birth as a child's first year, meaning that when a child is born they are already 1 year old. Then, everyone's age changes on the Lunar New Year, not on their individual birthday. So, a child is born as 1 year old, and then becomes 2 years old on their first Lunar New Year (regardless of how soon before the New Year they were born).
I am used to eating black eye peas and collard greens for New Year's luck. You won't be surprised to learn I couldn't find either of those things in Korea, so I'm making sure we get our good fortune the local way.
In case you want to embrace the Korean New Year, and add a year to your arsenal, make this soup to welcome the Year of the Sheep!
Adapted from "Healthy & Fresh Korean Kitchen"
8 cups vegetable broth*
4 cups sliced tteok
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
5 dashes chili oil
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 gloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 sheet roasted gim (seaweed), thinly sliced
1. Soak the tteok slices in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain.
2. Combine broth, soy sauce, sesame oil and chili oil in a stock pot, and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Separate the egg white from the yolk. Gently beat each until smooth. Lightly oil a skillet, and place over medium heat. Pour the yolk into a thin layer and fry into a crepe. Repeat with the egg white. Remove from heat, slice into thin strips and set aside.
3. Once the broth is boiling, add the rice cake slices, reduce heat to medium and boil until soft, around 3-7 minutes.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with egg, green onions, garlic and gim.
5. Enjoy! Store the leftovers separately. If the rice cakes are stored in the soup, they will become soggy.
*Different regions of Korea use different broth bases. The North normally uses beef broth, where as the South uses oyster or seafood broth. Vegetarians like me, and some parts of central Korea, use vegetable broth.