Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup) Recipe
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At Taste of Korea on February 1st, 2011, Bann restaurant played host to a family-style Korean New Year’s lunch in Midtown. The dish symbolizes prosperity for the New Year and is a personal favorite of television food personality Kelly Choi, who made an appearance at the event. — Rachel Tucker
Food and recipes provided by the Korean Food Foundation.
Click here to see Celebrate the Korean New Year.
- 1 cup thin sliced Korean rice cake
- 14 cups water
- ½ pound beef brisket, cut into chunks.
- 8 ounces beef, cut into thin strips
- 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced thinly
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 8 ounces zucchini, cut into thin strips
- Salt, to taste
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 4 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 sheets dried laver seaweed (Kim in Korean), crumbled
Soak the rice cake in cold water for 30 minutes. Put 14 cups of water and the brisket in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until tender (about 30 minutes). Strain out the beef and return the broth to the pot. Cut the beef into thin strips, and then set aside.
Sauté the shiitake mushrooms in the soy sauce, ½ teaspoon sesame oil, and minced garlic, then set aside. Sauté the zucchini with the remaining sesame oil and salt, then set aside.
Fry the beaten egg and slice thinly, then reserve for garnish or pour the egg little by little directly to the broth at the end.
Bring the broth to a boil and then add the rice cakes. Bring to a boil again, and then reduce the heat to medium and cook until tender (usually the rice cake will float to the top when fully cooked).
Add the green onions. Serve into bowls and garnish each bowl with some beef, shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, egg and some crumbled Kim.
Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)
Tteokguk (pronounced sort of like DUK-gook) is a soup of chewy-soft rice cakes cooked in steaming translucent broth. And, just like American New Year’s foods, it’s a good-luck dish that carries symbolic significance. The white color of the rice cakes signifies purity, so the soup represents a way to start the year off fresh. And traditionally, when you enjoy your New Year’s bowl of rice cake soup, your age increases by one year. Though the soup can be made with chicken, pork, pheasant, or seafood, these days it’s typically made with beef.
Seollal, Korean New Year Dishes – Sechan, and Tteokguk
Much like the Chinese do, Koreans also celebrate the lunar new year.
Historically, Korea, Japan, and China all used the same lunar calendar to track the passage of time. Each country used the lunar calendar exclusively until the 19th century, when all three gradually transitioned to the Gregorian calendar.
In Korea, King Gojong ordered the use of the solar calendar in 1895, but the lunar calendar is still very much in use and Koreans celebrate the major lunar holidays throughout the year.
Seollal: the Korean New Year
Seollal marks the beginning of a new lunar year in Korea. It is a three day festival, the main celebration for which is held on the second of the three days.
The first known historical reference to Seollal is in a seventh century book titled “The Book of Sui.” In the book, it describes how the people of the Silla kingdom salute the sun and the moon on the first day of the new year.
The Seollal festival is the most prominent festival in Korean custom. Participants dress in their newest and best clothes as they gather with their families to practice the many rites and traditions that embody the holiday.
Ancestral worship lies at the heart of Seollal. Families gather at the home of the eldest male relative to prepare large quantities of food, that is then offered to the family’s ancestors before being consumed by the family. Traditionally, the women prepare the food and the men perform the rite of offering the food to the family’s ancestors.
This offering ceremony is called the Seolcharye, however, the offering of rice cake soup is specifically called a Tteokguk Charye. Families make offerings to the past four generations of ancestors.
As families celebrate the beginning of the new year by making offerings to their ancestors, they are informing their ancestors of the passage of time. This rite kicks off the elaborate traditions of the holiday that fuses a respect for the past with an appreciation for the future.
Following the Seolcharye, family members conduct exchange Sebae, new year’s blessings, with one another. Younger family members bow to elder family members and receive a blessing in return. Young children even receive small gifts of money from their elder family members!
After the Sebae, all of the family members consume the prepared foods (in which tteokguk is definitely included).
One of the most delightful aspects of Seollal is sharing wishes of good fortune with friends and loved ones. Wishes are often expressed in the past tense, in an effort to express an earnest desire for the wish to come true.
For example, one might say, “I heard that you were married this year.” Have you ever heard of a more beautiful and sincere way to express well wishes? In the spirit of this tradition, we heard that your year was filled with good fortune and delicious meals.
Sechan: Korean New Year Dishes
If there’s one thing to keep in mind about the Korean Lunar New Year celebration, it’s that there’s a lot of Sechan, or special dishes specifically for the New Year.
There are a wide variety of Sechan prepared to celebrate the lunar new year. In a 2008 study that, among other things, counted the number of traditional Korean dishes, it was learned that there are 5 main dishes, 35 side dishes, and dozens of other smaller dishes and desserts prepared for the new year.
The many smaller dishes that constitute Sechan are often mailed or delivered to friends and distant relatives. Truly, the Koreans excel at spreading well wishes and tasty treats to welcome the new year.
Tteokguk and Aging One Year
Rice cake soup is the main dish on Korean New Year. It has a significance not unlike the turkey for Americans during Thanksgiving. During Seollal, tteokguk replaces cooked rice as the main dish of the meal.
In a nineteenth century book about Korean festivals, “Dongguk Sesigi,” this rice cake soup appears under a variety of names. One of these names is cheomsebyeong, which means aging rice flakes, because it is believed that one can only age one year after having consumed a bowl of Tteokguk.
In Korean, asking a person how many bowls of rice cake soup they have eaten is the equivalent of asking a person their age. Because the soup is traditionally only eaten on the Lunar New Year, a person will only have eaten as many bowls as they are years old.
It is said that on Seollal, some young people try to sneakily eat multiple bowls of soup in an effort to age more than one year at a time! We don’t know about you, but some years we would have liked to skip our bowl of rice cake soup and stay a bit younger!
A Cloudy Origin for a Clear Soup
Tteokguk is about more than just nourishment for the body. It nourishes connections to one’s family, both living and ancestral.
Unfortunately, the origin of tteokguk is unknown. What little is known of this rice cake soup is that the stock was historically made with pheasant. It is believed that pheasant is the traditional ingredient because pheasants became widely available when falconry was introduced to the aristocracy on the Korean peninsula by the Yuan Dynasty circa the thirteenth century.
Food made with the meat of animals hunted by falcons, mainly pheasants, were considered a luxury at the time. It is believed that this is why pheasant was used to make tteokguk, because serving it was a special occasion due to the luxury obtaining a bird killed through falconry.
On the most important holiday of the year, those who could use pheasant proudly served it to their ancestors and family member. Those who could not afford pheasant used chicken as a substitute for the stock.
Now, many Koreans use beef to make the stock for their rice cake soup, though (as we’ll soon see) the tteokguk is highly adaptable and can be made from a variety of ingredients to suit different dietary needs.
Saehae bog many-i bad-euseyo! Happy new year!
Tteok (ddeok, dduk, duk/떡) are Korean rice cakes made from a specialty short grain rice flour. I was able to find them in the refrigerated section of my local Korean market. If you don’t have them available nearby, you can also make your own.
I haven’t tried personally, but Maangchi has a tutorial on how to make Garaetteok (Cylinder rice cakes- then you can then slice them into ovals for the soup). I usually keep Tteok in the freezer and pull out only the amount I need. They defrost quickly at room temperature.
Soak the rice cakes in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes, then drain before simmering in the soup. Make sure to separate any rice cake pieces that are stuck together.
Guk-Ganjang (Joseon-Ganjang/국간장) is a Korean soup soy sauce generally made as a byproduct of doenjang (fermented soybean paste). It is made from soybeans, water, and salt. This sauce has more salt and the light color won’t change the color of the broth. It can be found in the condiment section of markets featuring Korean products.
Maangchi also features a way to make your own. Substitutions aren’t recommended, but some that I have come across include using less soy sauce and adding more salt to taste or using fish sauce (start with a smaller amount and work your way up based on taste).
Why do Koreans eat Tteokguk (rice cake soup) for New Year’s?
No one knows for sure exactly why Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteok Guk) became a traditional Korean food to eat at home on New Year’s day. Theory 1: Because rice was harvested in the fall and in the old days there were no means of storing it long-term, making rice cake was a way of using up old rice.
Theory 2: Based on customary beliefs, it has to do with yin and yang and that New Year’s day represents the yang (positive) energy and also so does the rice cake. Don’t ask me why exactly rice cake represents yang energy…
With the earliest records of tteokguk dating back to the Joseon dynasty, the origins of Tteokguk tteok (rice cake ovalettes) and Garaetteok 가래떡- from which the round oval rice cakes are cut from- are very interesting. It is said that the ‘white’ color of the rice cakes symbolized ‘brightness’, for a bright and clean start to a New Year. The round shape of the rice cakes also represented the sun and the long continuing baton like shape of Garaetteok represents ‘continued wealth’. As well as the round disc like shapes being similar to old Korean coins – again symbolizing wealth.
Long time ago, the stock for the rice cake soup was made from pheasant meat. In more modern times, beef stock has become the standard. You can also use anchovy stock or chicken stock. Anchovy stock is not as rich tasting as beef stock but it is easier, quicker and has a cleaner taste. It is also lower in calories, so I like using anchovy stock for everyday Tteokguk.
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Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk) Recipe
I have such fond memories as a child begging my mom to make this dish for me over the years. While this dish is prominently known to be eaten on Seollal (Korean/Lunar New Year), it is also just as delicious any other time of the year!
I make it a handful of times throughout the year because it is now one of Matt’s favorite Korean dishes and he now makes a special request every now and then.
What is tteokguk (Korean rice cake soup)?
Tteokguk is a special rice cake soup that Koreans eat to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It’s a traditional must-have dish every New Year and it’s filled with sliced rice cakes (also known as garaetteok) in a delicious beef broth.
From Korean tradition, eating a bowl of tteokguk on Lunar New Year symbolizes a long life, good health, and becoming one year older.
There are dumplings you can purchase at Asian markets. We have even found some frozen dumplings in our local chain grocery stores, such as Walmart, Kroger, and Publix.
The best dumplings in our humble opinion are always homemade dumplings – hands down. We recommend using our very own homemade dumplings recipe. Please check out our Fried Korean Dumplings (Yaki Mandu) recipe. In the original recipe, we fry them, however instead of frying them, you can just put them in this soup. What we typically like to do is make a big batch of dumplings (mandu) when we intend to fry them, and just set some aside to freeze for steaming or making soup for later on. That way you always have some dumplings on hand in the freezer ready to go for when the dumpling urge hits. Plus, when you need a few for a recipe like for our Korean rice cake and dumpling soup recipe you already have some dumplings waiting in your freezer ready to go.
The New Year’s Day Soup I Grew Up Hating
There are certain Korean dishes I could eat every day for the rest of my life. My grandmother’s galbi jjim, or soy-braised beef short ribs, top this list. Gyeran jjim, a hot egg custard cooked in pungent fermented-shrimp broth, is a close second. And I regularly crave transfusions of fiery kimchi jjigae, a stew that's best made using only the stinkiest, overripe kimchi.
But when it comes to tteokguk, a Korean rice cake soup traditionally eaten for breakfast on New Year’s Day to symbolize luck and prosperity, a bowlful a year has always been more than enough.
No single aspect of this soup is particularly offensive to me. Beef stews with garlic and ginger to make a broth. Rice cakes cook in the soup until they become chewy and release some of their starch, slightly thickening the liquid and turning it cloudy. Every Korean family has its own version my mom finishes ours with a couple of whisked eggs streamed right into the pot, and a bowl of crumbled toasted nori for garnish.
But somehow, when eaten together, the sum always fell short of its parts. I remember obediently eating a bowl of tteokguk on New Year’s Day, waiting just long enough until it was an acceptable time for second breakfast, a.k.a. “normal” breakfast, a.k.a. a bagel with cream cheese.
Then, recently, I spotted a tteokguk recipe in our holiday issue from Sohui Kim, chef of Insa in Brooklyn. I immediately recalled a spicy squid and udon noodle stir-fry I had eaten at Insa a few weeks before—a dish so good I lingered over it at the table for the better part of an hour, not wanting it to end. I had an idea: I would cook Sohui’s tteokguk recipe for my family, have a rice cake revelation, and write about the process. If anyone could convince me to love this soup, or at least give it another chance, it was Sohui. I pitched the story to my editor. Game on.
So one Sunday, I took a bus to New Jersey and hit the local H-Mart to gather my ingredients: a hunk of lean brisket a bag of fresh rice cake discs scallions, ginger, garlic a large moo, or Korean radish.
Deeply browning cubes of brisket is the first step to a flavorful broth.
I set up shop in my parents’ kitchen and got to work deeply browning the brisket cubes, grating the garlic, smashing the ginger. I filled the stockpot with water and let everything simmer for the next two hours as a dense, beefy scent filled the house.
“That’s not the right color,” my mom said as she peered into the pot. “Too brown.”
“Are you going to season this?” my dad asked as he dipped a spoon in. “Because it tastes terrible right now.”
I ignored them and kept stirring, skimming, tasting. I knew the broth was done when it was rich and dark, and the meat was so soft it practically shredded itself when I pressed on it with my thumb. In went a few glugs of fish sauce, lots of cracked black pepper, and thin slices of Korean radish. I’ve never eaten tteokguk with radishes before, but I have always loved the way their soft flesh yields when cooked, like a boiled turnip or carrot. And finally, the rice cakes, which needed just a few minutes to cook (conventional wisdom says when they float to the top of the pot, they’re done.)
I whisked a couple of eggs together and cooked them in a skillet like a crepe until set, then sliced the egg blanket into thin yellow ribbons (Sohui follows the traditional egg preparation for this dish, unlike my mom’s egg drop soup method). I sliced some scallions. My mom crumbled a few sheets of nori, which aren’t included in Sohui’s recipe, but which she knows I can never resist.
No offense to my mom, but those first hot spoonfuls were unlike any tteokguk I’ve ever tasted, including hers—the broth was salty, meaty, and umami-rich from the fish sauce a gentle, gingery heat lingered after every bite and the rice cakes, which I had never had fresh before, were plump and soft.
I’m planning to make this again for New Year’s Day breakfast. And although I may never choose tteokguk over, say, soy-braised short ribs, this year, I might just go back for seconds.
Rice cake soup
Teeokguk (rice cake soup) is a delicious, filling soup made of disc-shaped rice cakes in a clear broth. Koreans always eat it on Seollal (Korean New Year’s Day), the first day of the Lunar calendar and one of the most important holidays in Korea. Traditionally, according to Korean age reckoning, everyone’s age went up one year on Seollal, and the process wasn’t totally complete until you had a bowl of tteokguk. I make a beef broth in this recipe, but you can use any meat you prefer, or use seafood, or just make an anchovy stock or kelp stock.
You’d ask someone on Seollal: “Did you eat a bowl of rice cake soup today?” Meaning: are you one year older?
These days Koreans also have tteokguk on Western New Year’s day, January 1st, too. The whiteness of the soup symbolizes a clean, fresh start to the new year, and the disc-shaped rice cakes look like coins, so they symbolize a wish for upcoming prosperity for anyone who eats them.
Despite the symbolism, this soup is not just for special occasions: personally, I eat it all the time, because it’s delicious and easy to make! It’s a one bowl meal.
I think the real key to this soup is i making a clear, delicious broth, which takes some care and attention to do. But overall this is a very easy recipe to make: you can buy the rice cakes in a Korean grocery store, or even make your own with my garaetteok recipe.
Why don’t you make a resolution to try tteokguk on new year’s day, and let me know how it turns out!
Ingredients (2-3 servings)
- 1 pound store-bought sliced tteok rice cakes or homemade rice cakes (store-bought or homemade, if they are frozen, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes and drain before using)
- 7 cups water
- ½ pound beef (flank steak or brisket), chopped into small pieces
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 dae-pa large green onion (or 3 green onions), washed and sliced thinly and diagonally.
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (or soup soy sauce to your taste)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 sheet of dried seaweed paper (gim aka nori)
- 1 red pepper (optional), chopped
- Bring the water to a boil in a heavy pot over high heat and add the beef and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.
- Turn the heat down to medium, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until the beef is tender and has infused the water with flavor.
- Roast both sides of a sheet of gim until it’s bright green and very crispy. Put it in a plastic bag and crush it by hand. Set aside.
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites of two eggs, putting yolks and whites into separate bowls. Add pinch of salt to each and mix with a fork. Remove the stringy chalaza from the yolks.
- Add the cooking oil to a heated non-stick pan. Swirl the oil around so it covers the pan, and then wipe off the excess with a kitchen towel, leaving a thin oily layer on the pan.
- Turn off the heat. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan and tilt it so it spreads evenly and thinly. Let it cook on the hot pan for about 1 minute. Flip it over and let it sit on the pan for another minute, then take it off, slice it into thin strips and set it aside.
- Add the rice cake slices to the boiling soup along with fish sauce and kosher salt. Stir it with a ladle. Cover and let it cook for 7 to 8 minutes until all the rice cakes are floated and are softened throughout. Pour the egg whites by little by little into the soup and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add sesame oil, ground black pepper, and chopped green onion. Stir the soup. Remove from the heat and ladle the rice cake soup into individual serving bowls. Garnish with yellow egg strips, crushed seaweed, and red pepper if you want.
- Serve it right away, with kimchi and more side dishes if you want. If you wait too long the rice cakes will get soggy, so everybody dig in and enjoy!