Lunar New Year—a festival celebrated around the world that ushers in the new year—is often marked by devouring specific foods. In China, slurping noodles symbolizes longevity, and chowing down on dumplings is thought to bring wealth, while in Vietnam, squat squares of steamed rice cake (banh chung) are passed out, its square shape a testament to the earth and the universe.
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But in Korea, the Lunar New Year always means one thing: bowls of dduk guk (or tteokguk), a rice cake soup. It’s a brothy soup, brimming with shreds of beef, scallions, rice cakes, and ribbons of egg, and it’s a necessity to have on Lunar New Year.
“You have to have dduk guk,” Sarah Lee, the co-founder of Kimbap Lab in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, says. “You don’t need anything else [on Lunar New Year]. Just dduk guk and kimchi.”
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Sarah spent an afternoon with Chowhound, walking senior video producer Guillermo Riveros through the making of dduk guk. To start, Sarah cooks a beef broth, replete with hunks of beef chuck, onions, garlic, and scallions, which is simmered for nearly two hours. Once the vegetables have been discarded and the beef is cooled, the meat is shredded and seasoned with a mix of salt, sesame oil, and minced garlic. Coin-shaped rice cakes are tossed into the broth to simmer, and then the whole soup is ready to be assembled: The rice cake-studded broth is crowned with bits of beef, strips of egg, scallions, seasoned seaweed, and chopped peppers, then served with a side of kimchi.
“It represents prosperity,” Sarah explains of serving dduk guk. “For a lot of people, this is their first meal to start off the new year.”
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Although there are plenty of places that serve dduk guk, most people mark Lunar New Year with cooking the soup at home, surrounded by friends and family and working from recipes that have been passed down for generations—Sarah included. “Food is memory. So when you have that one special dish that your mom or your grandmother made, it doesn’t leave your memory,” she says. “Throughout my whole food journey, I’ve been striving to preserve that.”
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Want to make it yourself? Check out the Chow-To video and recipe below. There, you’ll find Sarah’s tips and techniques to make the whole thing come together—guaranteeing prosperity in the new year.
Dduk Guk Recipe
- Beef Broth: 14-16 cups cold water
- ½ pound beef chuck
- 1 medium onion, peeled and halved
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 4 scallions white and pale green parts, (reserve dark green parts for garnish)
- 3 tablespoons Korean soup soy sauce (Guk-ganjang), or more to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish:Cooked beef chuck removed from the broth, thinly shredded
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 eggs (use 2 yolks and one whole egg for omelette)
- Thinly sliced scallions (from the reserved dark green parts)
- Crumbled or thinly sliced gim (dried seasoned seaweed)
- 4 cups sliced dduk (Korean rice cakes) (or 1 cup per person), soaked in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes before using
- Place the cold water, beef, onion, scallion ends, and garlic in a large pot, cover and bring to a gentle boil.
- Skim off the scum/fat that forms with a spoon or ladle, and discard.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for 1 ½ - 2 hours (until meat is tender enough to easily shred).
- Make the egg garnish: separate the yolks from the whites of two eggs. Mix a whole egg with the two yolks, and whisk until integrated fully. Heat a lightly oiled small nonstick pan over medium low heat. Pour the yolks/egg mix into a thin layer covering the surface of the pan. Cook each side lightly, do not brown the egg. Slice your omelette into thin strips.
- Remove the cooked meat from the broth and let cool. Shred the beef into thin strips and combine well with the minced garlic, sesame oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Slice the scallion diagonally into thin strips.
- Slice your gim (roasted dried seaweed) into thin strips, or crumble into pieces using your hands.
- Remove the vegetables from the broth and discard.
- Return the broth to a boil. Stir in soup soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. If cooking for less than 4 people, scoop out some broth into a smaller pot to cook your rice cakes and save the rest of the broth for later. You do this because the rice cakes tend to release starches into the broth. Freeze any leftover broth.
- Drain the soaked rice cake slices and boil in the broth until soft (not mushy) about 2-4 minutes, or until they rise to the top (you can check the texture at this point).
- Ladle the hot soup into individual bowls and garnish with some of the seasoned shredded beef, egg yolk strips, sliced scallions, and gim strips.
Header image by Chowhound.