Ddok Guk and the Lunar New Year

It is tradition for Koreans, on the Lunar New Year, or Solla, to serve ddok guk at the ancestor memorial in place of rice. Ddok (rice cake) guk (soup) is a humble soup composed of clear beef broth, to symbolize a clear mind for the New Year, round sliced rice cakes, to symbolize the rising sun and strength, a scant helping of minced beef and a garnish of egg slices.

Ddok Guk

After performing the service, family members eat the soup then perform customary bows (saebae) to parents and grandparents. Ledged has it you become one year older when you eat this soup on New Year’s Day. Hmm. As I near closer to thirty I’d prefer something that could take the years off, or a fountain of life-esque broth, no?

I remember the streets of Seoul shutting down for Solla and Chusok. For once you could go for a stroll and all the shops would be boarded up, dark. No fears of getting mowed down by a chicken/pizza delivery driver on a moped, and gaze at empty shots of the Namdaemoon gate traffic circle on the news. Most foreigners would end up at any of the numerous pubs in Itaewon, if they weren’t skipping town for a jaunt to Japan or Thailand.

Ddok guk was my first Korean recipe given to me by a co-worker. At the time I didn’t eat meat, and replaced the beef with tofu. Thanks to personal preferences and picky eaters ddok guk has many variations (including mandu!), here are my recipes for this hopeful new years soup.

Ddok Guk 1.
This is the recipe for traditional, clear, ddok guk

Makings for ddok guk

1/2 lb brisket, soaked in cold water for 1 hour, and drained
1 Quart water
5 garlic cloves
Soy sauce
Salt and pepper
Two eggs, white and yolk separated
1/2 bag sliced rice cakes, soaked in water for 10-30 minutes
Green onion

1. In a large saucepan, bring the brisket and water, along with the garlic cloves to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook brisket until tender, one hour.
2. While brisket is simmering, skim off impurities from the pot.

Beef broth for ddok guk
3. While the brisket is cooking, season whites and yolk (still separated) with a touch of salt. You can also add a bit of water to the yolks. One at a time, add the whites to a nonstick skillet over medium low heat. Spread out as thinly as possible. I find it easiest to use one of the rectangle pans used for cooking Japanese and Korean rolled omelets. Cook over low heat until whites are completely coagulated and cooked through. Remover from the pan and repeat with the yolks.

cooking egg garnish for ddok cook
4. On a cutting board trim cooked eggs into neat rectangles around 2.5 inches in height. Very thinly slice eggs for garnish. Alternatively, slice on the diagonal about 2 centimeters apart, then come back from the other direction for diamonds. Set aside for garnish.

egg garnish for ddok guk
5. Trim the green onion and thinly slice. Set aside for garnish.
6. Once the brisket is tender remove from the broth and slice thinly, shred, or mince.
7. Taste the broth and adjust flavorings with soy sauce, salt and pepper. Return broth to a boil.
8. Drain rice cakes and add to the beef broth, once soaked these only take a minute or two to cook.
9. Turn off the heat and ladle broth and rice cakes into individual serving bowls. Add a tablespoon or two of the meat and carefully place in the center of the bowl. Garnish with egg slices or diamonds, and green onions, and voila. Don’t blame me for any accrued wrinkles or gray hairs.

This soup is very delicate, if you are looking for bigger flavor add some sesame oil, chili flakes, or even minced garlic to the broth before serving.

Option one:
Instead of going through the painstaking task of separating the eggs, and slicing, simply crack two eggs into a bowl and beat to combine. Add the eggs to the soup after the rice cakes and let eggs cook in an egg-drop soup fashion.

Eggs in ddok guk

My Dubu Ddok Guk

tofu ddok guk
1 Quart of vegetable stock
1 package firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T minced garlic
2 T minced green onion (reserve 1 T for garnish)
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 T sesame oil
1/2 package of sliced ddok, soaked in water for 10-30 minutes.
2 eggs, beaten

1. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil.
2. Add the tofu and boil for 5 minutes. Carefully remove tofu and let stand on the cutting board for a couple of minutes. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch thick, 1 1/2 x 1 inch planks (basically a little larger than bite size)
3. In a shallow dish, combine the soy sauce, garlic, green onion, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil. Add sliced tofu and coat.

tofu for ddok guk
4. Return broth to boiling and add ddok. Cook for just a couple minutes, until ddok is tender.
5. Add the eggs to the broth and stir to cook.
6. Drain off the marinade from the tofu and add to the soup. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and lay a few tofu slices over the top. Garnish with green onion.

Even today I still make my tofu version, this time with the beef too. To add tofu to ddok guk, simply follow step 3 of this recipe and add it after the egg in the ddok guk recipe.

Tofu and beef ddok guk

Happy Lunar New Year!

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4 thoughts on “Ddok Guk and the Lunar New Year

  1. Just to point out the section that this soup is VERY delicate, I wholeheartedly recommend the addition of chili and sesame oil, makes a huge difference and in my mind, makes or breaks the soup. Delicious recipe!