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Tteokguk (떡국)

By Janice Kim

Age Group: Elementary School

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever eaten tteokguk? Tteokguk, also known as rice cake soup, is a mouthwatering combination of thinly sliced rice cakes and savory beef broth. It is usually eaten on Seollal (Korean New Year), but it doesn’t have to be eaten on Seollal, it can be eaten whenever you want! Now, imagine you’re at a Korean cuisine restaurant, sitting in front of a freshly served tteokguk. You pick up the spoon and start scooping up the chewy rice cakes. You chew, and chew, and chew, and chew. Can you feel the satisfaction and chewiness in your mouth? Now, for the broth. You scoop up the broth (along with the rice cakes, of course) and...Ssssslllluuuurp! Oops! Excuse me! Hehe! Anyway, do you taste the perfect taste? The satisfaction? Appetizing, isn’t it? Now, grab your spoon so that we can happily dig into the history of this symbolic and delicious dish!

A TASTY HISTORY

The first reference to tteok was in books about wars involving China and Korea. The wars took place between 480 B.C. and 222 B.C. One report describes the rice being washed, pounded, and smashed into a powder then mixed with water. Next, they were shaped into small, flat patties to be steamed into the tasty tteok. Tteok, often used as ceremonial food, was usually combined with flowers to add colors and herbs to provide medicinal advantages! Although it’s not really certain when Koreans started to add rice cakes into soups, tteokguk is mentioned in a 19th-century book of customs. Even though the ingredients and taste of tteokguk may vary from region to region, the broth is mainly made by simmering a protein(like meat).

ONE BOWL = ONE YEAR OLDER

Like I said before, tteokguk is enjoyed on Seollal(Lunar New Year), but can also be enjoyed anytime! Possibly the most important holiday in Korea, Seollal is a holiday where family members come together to celebrate the new year. Tteokguk is also consumed on this holiday because of its ingredients’ symbolic importance. The white tteok, for example, signifies purity - a fresh start for the new year! Meanwhile, the round, coin shape of the tteok resembles Korea’s old coin currency, yeopjeon, and is believed to represent prosperity.

An important event that happens on Seollal is that one year is added to each person’s age! So, if you are 11, you’ll turn 12 on Seollal! But, it is said that one cannot become one year older unless they consume a bowl of tteokguk. Sometimes, children ask for extra servings of tteokguk in hopes of becoming older more quickly. This custom is so common that, in fact, many people often use the expression of, “How many bowls of tteokguk have you eaten?” to ask a person’s age (although...it is kind of rude to ask an adult for their age). Although rice cakes can be purchased from just about any market today, and tteokguk is now eaten year-round, this special and tasty dish will no doubt continue to play an important part in Korea’s special traditions for many, many, many years to come.

OTHER INFORMATION
➢ Origin: Korea
➢ Main ingredient: Tteok (obviously!)
➢ It is usually topped with thin cooked eggs, meat, gim (김), and sesame
oil
➢ History information from A Brief History of Tteokguk, Korea's New
Year Soup

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