A Year to Learn Korean Cooking: Tteokguk

Today let’s learn about cooking tteokguk 떡국 at home! This rice cake soup is a traditional dish Koreans eat to greet the Lunar New Year (Seollal 설날). However, this is delicious comfort food for any time of the year.

About the South of Seoul “A Year to Learn Korean Cooking’ Series

If you are familiar with this series, skip ahead to the goodness of Tteokguk. Many of us live in South Korea for only a year. However, time flies past faster than we can imagine. At South of Seoul, we decided to create a simple series that will offer 2-4 dishes to learn each month so that when you leave South Korea you have a slew of new dishes you feel comfortable making anywhere.

This series is a collaboration with Kimchi Rednecks. In 2020 they created the first blog in this series Online Resources for Learning to Cook Korean Food. These two love to have adventures in the kitchen and share the results with their community. Be sure to follow Kimchi Rednecks on YouTube for other great videos about living life in South Korea.

About Tteokguk 떡국

Tteokguk 떡국 is a delicious soup made from rice cakes usually made with beef broth. Typically, the tteok 떡 or rice cake used for this dish are the ones that are sliced thinly into oval shapes. It is customary to enjoy this dish on Seollal 설날, Lunar New Year, as traditionally, after eating tteokguk, everyone’s age advances a year. The white broth symbolizes a fresh start for the year, and the rice cake (which is coin-shaped) is to wish for future prosperity. In addition to enjoying this on Lunar New Year, many Koreans also enjoy this dish on January 1st now as well.

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Although many make rice cake soup with beef broth, there are other variations using clear broths from seafood, anchovy, or kelp. Also, in addition to the variations in broth, depending upon your region, you might also include mandu dumplings (tteok mandu guk 떡만두국) or oysters (gul tteokguk 굴떡국) in the soup as well. Traditionally, South Koreans enjoy tteokguk on Lunar New Year, and North Koreans have manduguk 만두국. However, many in the Gangwon-do and Gyeonggi-do provinces enjoy tteok mandu guk.

The dish can be relatively easy to put together depending upon how much of the dish you choose to cook from scratch. For example, you can make the garaetteok 가래떡 (long cylindrical rice cakes) at home and then slice them for your tteokguk. However, sliced rice cakes are not hard to locate at a local grocery store here. You can also choose to make your own broth or use premade broths. And you can grab a side of jangjorim 장조림 (soy-braised beef) at the grocery market to add to it!

It takes a bit to put it together if you choose to go the route of everything from scratch, but it is worth the effort. But, if you want a quick bowl of tteokguk, there is no shame in taking the easy route.

Biggest Hurdle in Cooking Tteokguk

The biggest hurdle in cooking tteokguk for us was waiting. Seriously, we decided to make the broth from scratch. However, building flavor in a broth always takes a bit of time. Therefore, it took a while before we could eat the fruits of our labors!

If you choose a cut of meat like brisket and cook it in large chunks, it can take longer for the meat to become more tender, but it does provide a more profound flavor since it cooks longer. Conversely, you could choose to cut your brisket into smaller chunks and season it will soup soy sauce and sesame oil and sauté it before adding it to the broth. For this method, we recommend choosing a more tender cut of meat, perhaps a beef chuck or loin.

One other important thing to note is that if you are new to cooking with tteok, you need to portion out what you want to eat at the meal. We have yet to find that tteok reheats very well as it tends to soak more of the liquid of the broth and just disintegrate. In addition, when you use the pre-sliced rice cakes, you will want to soak them for a minimum of thirty minutes before cooking. This is because they cook quickly in the broth.

Our First Experience with Tteokguk

Our first experience making tteokguk was this year. Last year, we made tteok mandu guk for Seollal. However, this year, I wanted to be more traditional and just do the tteokguk. We even made the egg garnish for the dish this year. We did not cook our brisket for an hour, so it was a little tougher. Chuck decided to chop it into large chunks, but the beef still developed a delicious flavor in the marinade.

Tteok Mandu Guk

Three Recommended Cooking Tteokguk Videos to Watch

Check out these three videos for recipes on how to cook tteokguk at home. You can always customize recipes to make the dish more to your liking. However you choose to make the dish, enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Korean American Cooking Tteokguk

Korean Cooking Tteokguk

American in Korea Cooking Tteokguk

American in Korea Cooking Tteok Mandu Guk

Let Us Know How It Turns Out

When you make tteokguk for the first time at home, be sure to leave a comment and let us know how it turned out! Also, if you live in Pyeongtaek, you can even share your success (or failure) with us in the Pyeongtaek Food & Fun Facebook group.

If you are looking for other dishes (Korean or otherwise) or reviews of restaurants, be sure to check out the KimchiRednecks channel or check out our social media accounts on Facebook or Instagram, where we often share what we are cooking or eating.

Read more in our Year to Learn Korean Cooking Series