Tteokguk: It's No New Year Without It

Since when have Koreans been eating tteokguk, or sliced rice pasta soup? Historians and folk scholars don't know for sure. But what is certain is that tteokguk has been eaten on Lunar New Year's Day for a very long time, being recorded as a necessity for the Charye, a traditional ceremony to thank the ancestors, in documents from the late Chosun Dynasty.

Tteokguk in the past was a special dish. It was not easy to make rice pasta at a time of the year when rice was rare, and shaping it into round sticks from which the disks are sliced for the tteokguk was not easy either. Today, anyone can easily buy rice pasta at the supermarket, but in the past making it was a laborious task that took at least three days.

Why do Koreans eat tteokguk on New Year's Day? The first day of the new year is a new start for all creation, and people started eating tteokguk made from white rice to stress the day's pure and solemn nature, some say. Opinions differ, however, why the rice pasta is round. Some say the disks mimic the shape of coins, to bring prosperity, others that they symbolize the sun. Koreans believe they will be a year older only after eating tteokguk.

Before beef became a common ingredient, pheasant meat was used, or chicken to replace pheasant. The Korean proverb "Chicken instead of pheasant," which has a similar meaning to "If you can't get a horse, ride a cow," originates here. For the health-conscious, 640 ml of tteokguk has about 457 kcal, more than a standard serving of Ramen (443 kcal) calories, according to the National Rural Living Science Institute -- which is why tteokguk is sometimes less welcome today.

◆ How to Make It

The following is the recipe given in a collection of Chosun Dynasty court dishes. It serves four.

- Ingredients : Five sticks of rice pasta, thinly sliced (750 g), half a soup bone, beef (100 g), one egg, soy sauce, one spring onion, two cloves of garlic, a sheet of laver.

- To flavor the beef: one spoonful of soy sauce, two teaspoons chopped spring onion, one teaspoon sesame oil, a little ground pepper.

1. Slice the rice pasta.

2. Boil the soup bone until the soup turns white.

3. Spice minced beef and fry.

4. Take the bone out of the soup and continue to simmer after adding minced garlic and soy sauce.

5. Add the sliced rice pasta. When the pasta floats up to the surface and is soft enough, add egg and sliced green onion.

6. Serve in a bowl with cooked beef and laver on top.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 14, 2007 08:18 KST