Korean New Year (Seollal/설날) – Attempting tteokguk

In a previous post talking about the Korean New Year, I mentioned that eating a certain food would increase your age for that year. That food is tteokguk (떡국), or rice cake soup.

Seolla tteok LondonGetting into the spirit of the Korean New year, I decided to try making this myself, but before I made it, I researched what this dish is all about and what it means. Although the exact origins and date that this dish began are as yet unknown, there are mentions of it in the 19th Century Book of Customs (Dongguksesigi/동국세시기). It is here that the tradition of gaining a year when eating it on the morning of New Year’s Day is written about.

More significance is given to the dish in given in the book The Customs of Joseon, where the tteok (rice cakes) are meant to represent purity and cleanliness, and eating it at New Year is a meant to bring in good luck for the new year. Usually in tteokguk, the tteok are coin shaped, symbolising money in the hope that the year will hold lots of wealth for whoever eats it. Sources for information used here and here

So after finding out about tteokguk, it was time to try to make it myself! Usually this dish is made from a meat stock and has meat in it, but as I was making this for not just me, but my vegetarian flat mate also, I had to find alternatives. Two handy recipes (found here and here) gave me some good ideas on how to replace the meat ingredients. All the ingredients that I couldn’t find at a general supermarket I got from Centre Point food store.
Recipe:

I ended up with these ingredients (adjust amounts depending on how many people it’s for):

For the broth:
-Onion, halved
-Spring Onion, chopped
-Shiitake mushrooms x2
-Swede, chopped….yes I know this one’s a bit random, but I couldn’t find any chopped daikon and didn’t want to buy a whole one. I don’t know if a swede actually tastes like a daikon in any way, but hey ho! It went in.
-Vegetable stock cube (as I wasn’t sure the broth had any flavour they way I’d made it)

For the soup:
-Sliced tteok
-Vegetable mandu
-Spring onions, sliced
-Soy sauce
-Shiitake mushrooms, sliced

After filling a large saucepan with water, I put in the broth ingredients, and let it boil, then simmer for about 45mins, until it looked like the water in the pan had taken on the flavour of the vegetables. After this, I took all the ingredients in the pan out, so I was left with a broth only.

Having soaking the sliced tteok for about a half hour before using them, I added them to the broth with the sliced mushrooms and soy to taste, on a medium heat. When the tteok was softened enough, after about 10 mins, the mandu went in too. After some stirring (so the tteok didn’t stick to the pan) and heating it for around 5 more minutes, everything was ready.

Seolla tteok 5

Class Report:

I was more pleased with the result than I thought I would be. Having to make this a vegetarian dish meant not making a meat stock, which always gives lots of flavour. When I first tasted the vegetable broth, it didn’t really taste of much, but once the tteok, mandu, soy, mushrooms and onions were added, it became better tasting. I was slightly too vigorous with the stirring as some of the mandu broke apart, so watch out if adding in mandu. My flat mate’s never tried Korean food before, and after being not too sure about the tteok to begin with, soon really enjoyed them, and the dish as a whole. I’d like to try making this again in the future, maybe adding in sliced omelette at the end and using a meat base. This is a pretty easy dish to do, so I’d recommend everyone to give it a go this Korean New Year!

Overall I’d give myself…..

Note: If using frozen mandu, you can just add them to the soup to cook. I tried microwaving some first, and was then going to add them to the soup to make sure they were cooked, but the microwave makes them turn into rocks, so don’t bother.

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