The traditional Korean New Year dish is called Tteokguk (떡국) and consists of several ingredients that you will find in many dishes of Korean cuisine and that you should know as a Korea expert.
How is New Year celebrated in Korea?
Koreans traditionally celebrate Chinese New Year rather than December 31. Although Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in Korea, we also celebrate December 31 these days.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar. Therefore, the date changes every year. It takes place in either January or February and is called Seollal (설날) in Korean.
While December 31 is not required to be celebrated, Chinese New Year is. There are three official holidays and everyone goes home to their family to remember their ancestors. The ancestor ceremony is an elaborate ritual which I will tell you about in another article.
In this article, I explain the different ingredients of Tteokguk (떡국), the Korean New Year soup. This dish is eaten on January 1 as well as Chinese New Year, the actual Korean New Year.
What is tteok (떡) in Korean cuisine?
Tteok(떡) means rice cake made from glutinous rice flour. There are many different Tteok(떡) varieties.
Some Tteok(떡) are a bit sweet and eaten as a snack, but Tteok(떡) for Tteokguk(떡국) is Garaetteok(가래떡) which is not sweet and can be made with the Tteokbokki(떡볶이).
Tteokguk(떡국) is made from sliced garaetteok(가래떡).
Guk (국) in Tteokguk(떡국) means soup.
Guk (국) is a dish in the class of soup-like Korean cuisine. It is one of the most basic components of a Korean meal, along with bap (밥, rice) and banchan (반찬, side dishes). In Korean table culture, guk (국, soup) is served on the right side of the bap (밥, rice) and on the left side of the sujeo (수저, spoon and chopsticks).
There are many different Guk (국) varieties.
On New Year’s Day, we eat Tteokguk (떡국), but depending on the region, stuffed dumplings called Mandu (만두) are soaked in Tteokguk (떡국).
My family always made mandu (만두) themselves and added it to the tteokguk (떡국).
Tteokguk (떡국) and the Korean age…
Every Korean gets one year older on New Year’s Day. We used to count by the lunar calendar, but because we no longer celebrate our birthdays by the lunar calendar, we now turn one year older on the first of January. This makes the system less complicated as the date does not change every year.
We eat Tteokguk (떡국) for breakfast on New Year’s Day, so we say that if we eat Tteokguk (떡국), we will be one year older.
On New Year’s Day we visit our relatives after breakfast. When relatives ask us how many bowls of tteokguk (떡국) we ate (너 떡국 몇 그릇 먹었어?), they actually want to know how old you are this year?