Happy new year, everybody!
You may think that my greetings are either too late or too early, but you’re only correct if you guessed the latter! For those who aren’t aware, it is the first day of the new Lunar year on this coming Thursday, so at this stage, Korean families all over the world are either beginning or in the midst of their massive food preparations for (pronounced ‘sol-nal’). Though the exact method of celebration will vary from family to family, according to their religion and beliefs, there are a few traditions that cross both these barriers, and all of them have to do with the food.
For example, one part of the new year celebrations has to do with a bowl of soup. Just a simple, humble bowl of soup.
This soup is made with a beef broth and usually holds just thin slices of rice cake which thicken it up and provide the filling sustenance of the dish, but many families (such as my own) often prefer to add some mandu (Korean dumplings) to their soup in order to make it more flavourful and interesting to eat. And, let’s be honest, we’ll take any excuse to enjoy some tasty home-made dumplings 😉
The reason that this soup can be found in almost all Korean households on the first day of the Lunar year is because of a longstanding tradition that says that you do not gain or enter the new year until this soup is consumed. The white of the dduk (rice cakes) and dumpling skin are meant to signify a new start, and the rice cakes are traditionally cut from a long sausage shape, the length of which is meant to bring luck for a long and happy life, thus the consumption of this dish on ‘sol nal’ is not seen as a choice but almost as more of a necessity in order to start the new year on the right foot!
Other Korean ‘Sol Nal’ traditions:
- ‘jyol’, or ritual bowing to your elders. People dress up in their ‘hanbok‘ (traditional Korean dress), and the younger generations will perform the traditional bow to their elders, with kids often receiving an envelope of money in return
- ‘jae-sah’, a ceremony to your ancestors. The adult children of a household will gather at the home of the eldest son to perform this ceremony, along with their wives (who usually celebrate this the day before or after with their own families), and a feast table is prepared for the ancestral rituals which are usually performed early in the morning. The arrangement of the food is very particular and must be done in keeping with the elements and east-to-west directions, and this offering is made to the family ancestors in hopes that they will provide help and good fortune in the new year.
- wishing your friends and family a ‘happy new year’, by saying (‘sae-hae-bok mah-ni bah-de-sei-yo’)
- visiting the east coast of the Korean peninsula (if you live in Korea) to see the first sun rays of the new year
While many of these traditions are probably a bit beyond those who aren’t Korean, if you feel like celebrating the new Lunar year with the rest of us, then try making this soup – who knows, it may give your ‘new year’ an even better start!
(‘Dduk mandu guk’ – rice cake & dumpling soup)
Ingredients (to serve 4)
2.5L cold water
300g frozen sliced rice cakes
16 frozen home-made mandu (Korean dumplings)
200g beef brisket
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper
1 1/2 tsp beef dashida (yes, this contains a little MSG but it’s very hard to get the right ‘umami’ flavour without it, and a LOT more work)
1 egg, lightly beaten in a small bowl
1 spring onion, finely sliced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 sheets of toasted seasoned Korean nori sheets (kim), cut into thin strips
1. Soak the sliced rice cakes overnight in water. Traditionally, freshly made and dried rice cakes in sausage shape are used, but they go off quickly so it’s much more convenient to buy a bag of the pre-sliced frozen rice cakes.
2. Soak the beef brisket in water for 1-2 hours to soak out the blood, then put into a large pot with the cold water, garlic, salt, fish sauce, pepper and dashida. Slowly bring to a boil then allow to boil for 45mins – 1 hour, or till the brisket is tender. Scoop off any foam on the surface of the stock, then remove the brisket and finely slice against the grain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan and fry the 2 lightly beaten eggs in a thin omlette. Once cooked, remove to a chopping board and slice into thin, 4″ strips
4. Add another 1 cup of water to the pot (to compensate for liquid lost during the boil), then bring the stock back to the boil. Once boiling, add the frozen dumplings to the pot and boil for 10 minutes, or till they float to the surface.
5. Boil for an additional 5 minutes to make sure the dumplings are cooked through, then drain the soaked rice cakes and add them to the pot. Boil for another 10-15 minutes, or till the rice cakes are cooked, soft and floating on the surface.
6. Once the rice cakes are cooked, immediately turn off the heat and add the sliced brisket back to the pot. Take the lightly beaten egg, then slowly pour into the pot in a thin stream, moving the bowl around to create thin egg ‘ribbons’ in the broth. Place the lid on the pot to help cook the egg ribbons for just a minute.
7. Carefully pour into individual bowls, then top with the sliced egg, nori sheet and sprinkle the finely sliced spring onion on top, then serve immediately while piping hot!
[tags]Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, Asian, Korean, food, recipes, tradition, rice cake, dumplings, soup, broth[/tags]