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  • Writer's pictureElisha Bae

Celebrating Seollal (Korean Lunar New Year)


Korean traditional tteokguk and other banchans (sidedishes) on the side

Hey everyone! Seollal, Korea’s traditional Lunar New Year, was just a week ago, and even though it's over, I thought it would be nice to share some insights into this special holiday and how we celebrate it in Korea. Seollal is one of the most significant holidays for us, marked by family gatherings, ancestral rituals, delicious food, and, of course, lots of fun and games. So, let me take you through what makes Seollal so unique and how we cook a classic dish for the occasion: Tteokguk, or rice cake soup.


What Is Seollal?

Seollal usually falls in January or February, based on the lunar calendar. It's more than just the beginning of a new year; it's a time for us to pay respects to our ancestors, spend quality time with family, and enjoy traditional customs and foods. The holiday spans several days, giving everyone a chance to travel to their hometowns and partake in various activities.


Family and Ancestral Rites

One of the most important aspects of Seollal is the ancestral rite called "Charye." Early in the morning, we prepare a table full of food offerings for our ancestors. It’s a solemn yet heartwarming moment as we bow deeply and pray for blessings in the coming year.


Hanbok and Games

We also dress up in Hanbok, our traditional Korean attire, which adds a beautiful and colorful element to the celebration. After the rituals, the day is filled with games like Yutnori, a traditional board game, and kite flying. It's all about having fun and connecting with our roots.


Overcoming My Fear of Tteokguk

One of the highlights of Seollal for many is the food, especially Tteokguk. Eating this rice cake soup on Seollal is believed to grant you a year of age and bring good luck. However, I have a personal story with Tteokguk that isn't as pleasant.


When I was younger, I had a bad experience with Tteokguk—I got really sick after eating it. Since then, I avoided the dish completely, not wanting to relive that memory. But this year, with encouragement from my Korean friends, I decided it was time to breakthrough and give Tteokguk another chance. Here’s the recipe for Sogogi Tteokguk (Beef and Sliced Rice Cake Soup) as seen on famous Korean chef Jongwon Paik's YouTube channel that helped me overcome my fears and enjoy this traditional dish once again.


Ingredients (2 Servings)

- 1.5 liters of purified water

- 4 cups (400g) of sliced rice cake

- 1 cup (115g) of beef (shank or brisket, cut into quarter-inch pieces)

- 1 cup (53g) of green onion

- 2 tablespoons (16g) of soup soy sauce

- 1 tablespoon (8g) of salted anchovy sauce

- 1 tablespoon, leveled (6g) of fine sea salt

- 1/2 tablespoon (10g) of minced garlic

- 1 tablespoon (7g) of sesame oil

- 1 egg

- Laver (seaweed) for garnish

- Ground black pepper


Instructions


1. Prepare the Rice Cakes: Rinse the rice cakes in running water and soak them in water for about 20-30 minutes to soften.

2. Prepare the Beef: Cut the beef into strips, about 2cm in width.

3. Slice the Green Onion: Thinly slice the green onion about 0.3cm thick.

4. Beat the Egg: Crack the egg into a bowl and lightly beat it.

5. Stir-Fry the Beef: Add some sesame oil to a pot, add the beef, and stir-fry over medium heat until the fat on the meat melts and the meat is browned.

6. Flavor the Meat: Once the meat is cooked, add the anchovy sauce and continue to stir-fry for an extra burst of flavor. Then add the purified water and bring it to a boil over high heat.

7. Add the Rice Cakes: When the soup starts to boil, reduce the heat to low. Drain the soaked rice cakes and add them to the soup. If you’re using beef brisket, you may need to add more water and boil for an additional 20 minutes on medium heat.

8. Season the Soup: Once the soup boils again, add the soup soy sauce, fine sea salt, and minced garlic for seasoning. If you have Beef Dashida or Miwon (MSG), you can add a bit for extra flavor.

9. Cook the Rice Cakes: Boil for about 5 minutes until the rice cakes are fully cooked. Then, add the beaten egg and half of the sliced green onion. Turn off the heat immediately to avoid overcooking the egg.

10. Serve: Ladle the Tteokguk into bowls and garnish with seaweed, the remaining green onion, and a sprinkle of ground black pepper.


This was what the final product looked like! I think we did a really good job, considering that it was everyone's first time cooking something other than a sunny-side up.


Korean traditional tteokguk on a table


Sharing these traditions with you feels like inviting you into my home. Seollal is a time for reflection, connection, and new beginnings. Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends or even on your own, making and enjoying Tteokguk can be a delightful way to honor this Korean tradition and overcome past memories. Happy Seollal, everyone!

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