Tteokguk (Rice Cake Soup)
A bowl of tteokguk, a year older
Would you eat something if it made you a year older? It’s a very weird question but really, think about it for a second. Ok fine. Luckily no such thing exists (of course it doesn’t! I can imagine some of you really scratching your heads, shuffling through all the food memories you’ve had that brought you close to making you feel a year older). There is no food that can make you older. There is no phrase so dedicated to pseudoscience as that. But the Korean New Year is coming up and that has some significance with getting older after eating a bowl of rice cake soup. Aha! Let’s unwrap all this nonsense that I’ve just caused here.
The Korean new year
The Korean calendar year begins on the 1st of February, just like the Chinese new year, or better known as the lunar new year. The Korean new year is called seollal (설날) and is highly celebrated with friends and family just as all new year holidays are celebrated everywhere in the world. If you are planning on going somewhere, be aware that public transportation like buses, trains and metros are mad busy on those days. Don’t mention the traffic. Days before seollal, food is prepared. Like A LOT of food! Among the foods, the most important is the tteokguk (떡국) or rice cake soup.
What is tteok?
Tteok (떡) or rice cake is made from cooked rice pounded into a sticky and chewy texture. Most of you probably know this by the word ‘mochi’. But mochi is usually rice cake filled with sweetened red beans and is eaten for dessert or a snack. Tteok can come in many forms and shapes and it can be used in so many different dishes. One of the most popular dishes is tteokbokki (떡볶이).
History of tteokguk
So now that we know what tteok is, let’s get to the history of why tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is so important to be eaten on the Korean new year. Tteok was an expensive ingredient and so it was not commonly consumed in dishes. This was because rice was a rare commodity. Only on rare occasions and holidays did Koreans eat rice cakes. Tteokguk therefore has a symbolic significance and is eaten on the Korean new year holidays every year. The whiteness of the tteok marks purity, which symbolizes a fresh start to the new year. The oval shape represents the old Korean coin (yeopjeon), which symbolizes wealth. And this is where the saying of eating a bowl of tteokguk makes you a year older starts to make sense. Comically enough, Koreans ask children how many tteokguk they ate to ask their age. How many tteokguk will you eat after making this batch? *wink*
Tteokguk will always play an important role in Korean traditions despite the fact that you can find tteok almost everywhere affordably. Pair it with kkakdugi (daikon radish kimchi) and be amazed by the festival happening in your mouth.
- 200g steak beef (chopped into thin slices)*
- 3 shiitake mushroom (fresh or dried)
- ½ onion (chopped)
- 1 garlic (chopped)
- 2 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
- 1 bag of tteokguk-type tteok**
- 2 tbsp fish sauce***
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- Chopped spring onion
- Red pepper (optional)
- Seaweed (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring 500ml water to a boil. Once the water boils, add the beef, mushroom, onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes on high heat and then cook for another 20 minutes until a broth is created and the meat is soft and tender.
- In a pan, fry the egg yolk with a bit of oil. Cut them lengthwise into a string shape. Set aside.
- Once the beef is cooked, add fish sauce and a bit of salt. Then add the tteok and close the lid. Cook for 5 – 7 minutes or until the rice cakes have risen to the top.
- Slowly add the egg white to the soup and mix with a spoon. The egg whites will cook immediately. Add the spring onions and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Serve immediately in a bowl. Decorate with the egg yolk, seaweed, red pepper and more spring onions as you like.
*If you don’t want to use beef, you can use more mushrooms instead to give it an umami flavor.
**You can find these in more Asian stores. In the Netherlands you can find these at the Amazing Oriental store.
***You can substitute soy sauce for fish sauce. Add a cube of mushroom stock to give it a more deep and umami flavor.