Korean

The Lucky Korean Rice Cake Soup I Eat Every New Year's Day

And a weeknight-friendly dduk guk recipe for any day of the year.

January  1, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

When you’re a kid, age really matters. "How old are you?" an adult might ask. "Nine-and-a-half," you'd answer, emphasizing the half. I remember even quarters were a big deal―each day counted that brought you closer to the next year.

That is precisely why I LOVED being asked for my Korean age when I was younger. In Korea, you’re considered a year old when you enter the world (you’re in your mother’s womb for nearly 10 months, and so they round up). When the calendar turns from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, you also gain a year. So let’s say John’s birthday is March 17, 1990. Here’s how his age is calculated: According to international standards, he is 28 until his birthday. On March 17, 2019, he turns 29. In Korea, he is 29 coming into the new year. Once Jan. 1 rolls around, his age ticks up to 30. He will still be 30 once his actual day of birth, March 17, comes and goes in this year.

Confused yet? (Read more about it here and calculate your Korean age here.)

Yes, that is a lot of math for a soup post, I know. It is important, though, because on New Year’s Day, everyone turns a year older. And everyone eats dduk guk (also tteokguk), or rice cake soup, to usher in good luck for the year ahead.

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Traditionally, dduk guk is made from a deep, beefy broth fortified with bones and tough cuts that eventually yield after an hours (sometimes days!)-long simmer. The rich stock is usually left in the cold overnight (in the fridge or outside, if you live in a chillier climate), after which you scoop off the thick layer of fat that hardens on top by the morning.

On New Year’s Day, the clarified broth is then reheated with the dduk, glutinous cylindrical rice cakes that are sliced thinly on a diagonal, for just a few minutes before being seasoned with guk ganjang (a salty Korean soup soy sauce) and ladled into bowls and garnished with jidan (julienned yellow and white egg strips), gim (roasted seaweed), pa (scallions or green onions), and a touch of cham gireum (toasted sesame oil).

Naturally, dduk guk takes on slightly different forms and flavors depending on your family and lifestyle. My mother-in-law, for example, spends upwards of a day or two on the beef broth alone, coaxing the deep essence out of the bones for hours on end while hand-wrapping homemade mandoo (dumplings) to put in the eventual soup alongside the rice cakes. Every step is a labor of love, and it comes through in the taste—because it is damn delicious.

Me? I’ve come up with a version that's weeknight-friendly, but still plenty beefy and satisfying. This faster interpretation of dduk guk came about because it’s one of my favorite comfort foods, and I’ll happily eat it year-round (especially during these colder months). But I don’t have time to labor over a pot midweek. (Side thought: Maybe I should develop a version for the slow cooker or Instant Pot...) The major timesaver I turn to: I use a bit of ground beef instead of a tougher brisket or shin cut. Why? Because a fattier 80/20 blend yields a nicer soup in just 15 to 20 minutes.

When the rice cakes are just about done, I throw in a bunch of scallions to let them soften. I turn off the heat before drizzling in lightly beaten eggs to create the fluffiest ribbons in the steaming broth (my favorite part, if we’re being honest). Egg drop soup lovers, are you listening?

As for garnishes, you can play to your tastes: The jidan (or julienned yellow and white egg strips), while traditional and beautiful, don’t add much flavor. But I’m faithful to them. Freshly chopped scallions and a heavy hand of crushed gim are necessities. A very tiny drizzle of toasted sesame oil completes the dish.

I may not welcome each passing year with the same fervor I did as a child, but I will always be happy to greet Jan. 1 with a big bowl of luck-bearing dduk guk. And now, I can have it in less than 30 minutes for the balance of the year, whenever I want it.

Have you ever had Korean dduk guk? Let us know below!

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Hana Asbrink

Written by: Hana Asbrink

Hana is the senior lifestyle editor at Food52.

11 Comments

Irene Y. January 2, 2019
Ddukguk is the best part of the new year! I make it every year for me and my sister and any other Korean friends, and yesterday I supplemented with giant kimchi pork mandoo which were so good :D
 
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Hana A. January 7, 2019
Happy new year, Irene! Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, the mandoo is such a bonus, and I'm sure yours is amazing! Hope to meet you IRL in 2019. :)
 
Hipfoodiemom January 1, 2019
Hi Haha! I’m Korean so I loved seeing this on Food52 today! Love your recipe! Have you ever tried adding a teaspoon of fish sauce? I love it! Happy New Year!
 
Hipfoodiemom January 1, 2019
“Hana”!!! Sorry about that!
 
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Hana A. January 2, 2019
Hi Hipfoodiemom! I haven't tried fish sauce, but I am so curious (one of my friend's mom's likes to put fish sauce in, but I haven't taken the leap myself, ha! Bet it's delicious). Thanks so much for your comment and happy new year!
 
Merrill S. January 1, 2019
This sounds so good, Hana! Can't wait to try it. Happy New Year!
 
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Hana A. January 2, 2019
Thanks so much, Merrill! Hope you like it. Happy new year to you and the clan as well, xo!
 
Eric K. January 1, 2019
I found the Korean age explanation at the top very useful, actually! Happy New Year, Hana.
 
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Hana A. January 2, 2019
Haha, that's great! Hope you were home long enough to give dduk guk another go with the fam. ;) xo!
 
jane January 1, 2019
I’m making my beef broth in the Instant Pot right now for dduk guk lunch. Happy New Year!
 
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Hana A. January 2, 2019
Sounds delicious, Jane! And what a great idea. Hope you have a wonderful new year. :)