Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

January 2, 2013

Happy New Year! This month’s theme at World on a Plate is auspicious food for a prosperous New Year. For Koreans, it’s definitely tteokguk (떡국)! The tteokguk (or ddeokguk/ddukguk) recipe was originally posted on January 9, 2010 when I was very new to blogging and food photography. So I decided to update my tteokguk recipe for this month’s New Year recipe roundup. 

Tteokguk is a soup made with sliced rice cakes, usually in beef broth. It’s a traditional New Year’s dish in Korea. “Tteok” means rice cake, and “guk” means soup. It’s made with garaetteok, which is unsweetened and shaped like a long cylinder. For the soup, garaetteok (가래떡) is sliced into thin oval shapes. The white oval shape symbolizes a bright and prosperous new year. Also, Koreans traditionally age another year on this day, rather than their birthday. It’s commonly said that one must eat a bowl of tteokguk to become one year older. Growing up in Korea, I always loved to eat long steaming garaetteok mom would bring home from a rice cake mill to prepare for the New Year’s feast. She would wait a couple of days for the garaetteok to turn hard before slicing them into thin oval slices. These days, pre-sliced gareatteok is available all year around in any Korean grocery store, making the soup preparation much easier.

Often, Koreans add mandu (Korean dumplings) to tteokguk, in which case the soup is called tteok-manduguk. You can use any kind of mandu in the soup. My favorite is kimchi mandu because of its pungent flavor and crunchy texture, which I think adds a nice contrast to the mildly flavored broth and soft rice cake slices.

This starchy and soothing bowl of soup is not only a New Year’s tradition but is classic comfort food any time of the year!

4 servings
Beef Broth (you can also use anchovy broth):
1/2 pound (230 grams) beef brisket (양지머리)
1/2 medium onion
5 – 6 cloves of garlic
3 scallions – white parts
1 – 2 tablespoons soup soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups sliced garae tteok (rice cake)
(Soak in cold water for 10 to 20 minutes if hardened.)

In a large pot, bring the meat, onion, scallions and garlic to a boil in 14 cups of water. Reduce the heat to medium low, and skim off the scum. Simmer, covered, until the meat is tender enough for shredding, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Remove the meat and cool. Discard the vegetables. Stir in soup soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste.

To make egg garnish (jidan),* separate the egg. Lightly beat the white by gently cutting it with a spoon. Stir the yoke with a spoon until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled nonstick skillet over medium low heat. Pour each egg part into a thin layer, tilting the skillet and/or spreading with a spoon. Cook each side briefly until no visible liquid remains. (Do not brown the egg.) Slice into short thin strips.

Rice cake soup (Tteokguk: 떡국) - YouTube

Shred the cooled beef into thin 1 – 1 1/2-inch long strips and combine well with garlic, sesame oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Slice the scallion diagonally into thin strips. Roast the gim on a hot skillet. Cut into thin 1 1/2-inch strips with kitchen shears, or simply crush them with hands.

Return the broth to a boil. **Add the rice cake slices and boil until soft, usually about 5 – 8 minutes. Ladle the steaming soup into individual bowls and garnish with the shredded beef, egg, scallion and gim strips.

*Although egg jidan is a classic garnish for tteokguk, a common alternative is to drizzle a lightly beaten egg over the boiling soup right before turning the heat off. Or you can omit the egg part entirely if you like.

**If you want to add some mandu (dumplings), you can drop them in along with the rice cake slices, stirring gently so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until all of them float, and continue to cook for another minute or two. You can also cook mandu in boiling water separately, and add to the soup when the rice cake is softened. This method will keep the soup from becoming too thick from all the starch released from the rice cake and mandu.

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