Happy New Year! For Koreans, auspicious food for a prosperous New Year is definitely tteokguk (떡국) — rice cake soup! This starchy and soothing bowl of soup is not only a New Year’s tradition but is a classic comfort food any time of the year!
What is tteokguk (or ddukguk)?
Tteokguk is a soup made with sliced rice cakes, usually in beef broth. It’s a traditional must-eat New Year’s dish. The rice cake used for this soup is garaetteok, which is unsweetened and shaped like a long cylinder. For the soup, garaetteok is sliced into thin oval shapes. The white oval shape symbolizes a bright and prosperous new year.
Growing up, I always loved to eat long steaming garaetteok that my mother used to 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 widely available all year around, making the soup preparation much easier.
Often, I add mandu (Korean dumplings) to tteokguk, in which case the soup is called tteok-manduguk (떡만두국). 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.
How to make beef broth for tteokguk
You can make tteokguk with any broth such as anchovy broth, vegan broth, and chicken broth. However, beef broth is classic. It’s also common to use milky beef bone broth.
There are largely two ways to make beef broth for Korean soups. For the first one, you cut the meat into small pieces, season with Korean soup soy sauce and sauté with a little bit of sesame oil before boiling in water. Since the meat is thinly sliced, it cooks up quickly, more so if you use a tender cut of meat. Use a cut of meat with some marbling that’s not too tough. Beef chuck, loin or bulgogi meat is good for this.
Another method is to boil a large chunk of flavorful beef with some aromatic vegetables. In Korea, beef brisket (yangjimeori, 양지머리) is a popular cut of meat for making soups. It’s a tough cut of meat cooked in large chunks, so it takes longer for the meat to turn tender, about an hour. The resulting broth has a deep flavor. The meat is then shredded, seasoned and used as a garnish.
Variations and tips for making tteokguk
- Use soup soy sauce (guk ganjang, 국간장) to season the broth, if available. Guk ganjang is essential for authentic Korean soups such as this rice cake soup. It adds delicious savory flavor to the soup. A good substitute is a fish sauce.
- 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 steam mandu or cook 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.
- Although egg jidan (sliced egg crepe) is a classic garnish for rice cake soup, a common alternative is to drizzle a lightly beaten egg over the boiling soup (do not stir) immediately before turning the heat off. Or you can omit the egg part entirely if you like.
More New Year recipes:
Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)Main, Soup
Beef Broth (you can also use anchovy broth)
- 1/2 pound 230 grams beef brisket (양지머리) or flank steak (or chuck or loin)
- 1/2 medium onion
- 5 – 6 plump garlic cloves
- 3 scallions – white parts (or 1 Korean daepa white part)
- 2 tablespoons soup soy sauce (guk ganjang, 국간장) see note 1
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Beef removed from the broth
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 scallion
- 1/2 sheet gim (김, aka nori), roasted
Rice cakes (garae tteok)
- 4 cups sliced garae tteok (가래떡, rice cake)
- Soak in cold water for about 20 minutes if hardened. see note 2
- Soak the rice cake slices in cold water for about 20 minutes.
- 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, about an hour or longer. You can add more water if reduced too much. You'll need about about 10 cups at the end. Remove the meat and cool. Discard the vegetables. Stir in soup soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
- Cut the cooled beef into 1 to 1.5-inch wide strips against the grain, shred, and combine well with garlic, sesame oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
- To make egg garnish (jidan), separate the egg white and yolk if desired. Lightly beat the white by gently cutting it with a spoon. Stir the yolk 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. (Do not brown the egg.) See note 3 for another egg option.
- Roll each egg crepe, and slice into short thin strips. Slice the scallion diagonally into thin strips. Cut gim (seaweed sheet) into thin about 1.5-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.
Quicker method for making beef broth
- Cut the beef into thin bite size pieces (1 to 1 1/2 inch). In a pot, sauté the beef with 1 tablespoon of soup soy sauce until all the pieces turn brown. Pour in 12 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Skim off the foam. Add another tablespoon of soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to boil, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Follow step 5 next.
- If soup soy sauce, known as Joseon ganjang or guk ganjang, is not available, you can use a little bit of regular soy sauce to add color (about 1/2 tablespoon) and season with salt. Regular soy sauce is not a good substitute for Korean soups. It will make the soup too dark and a bit sweet. Fish sauce is a better substitute if available.
- 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), see my tteok manduguk recipe.
This recipe was originally posted in January 2013. I’ve updated it here with new photos, more information and minor changes to the recipe.