Thursday, January 5, 2012


떡국 (Ddeokguk) 

A hearty bowl of ddeokguk served 
on my family table on New Year’s Day

Seasonal Customs of the Eastern Kingdom (1849) (Dongguk Sesigi), in which the Eastern Kingdom refers to Joseon Dynasty then and Korea now, mentions that rice cake soup (ddeokguk) is a dish made with thinly and evenly sliced rice cake ovals in beef or Korean pheasant meat broth and tossed with Korean red chili powder (gochugaru);   it is a must dish to have on New Year’s Day since it is served on charyesang, a table set for dead ancestors  at a memorial service and also on a table for guests (who come over to do sebae, a customary Korean New Year’s Day greeting which is performed with a big bow).

Korean pheasant meat (ggweong gogi) was traditionally favored for making the broth as it guarantees the ultimate taste when used in rice cake soup.  When it was not available though, chicken was often substituted for it.  A famous Korean maxim, “A chicken instead of a pheasant” (Ggweong daesin dalk), is from this food custom.  Its English equivalent can be “If you can’t get a horse, ride a cow.”  Both roughly mean “When your first choice is not available, go for the second best at hand.” 

A big bowl of rice cake soup will definitely comfort, nourish, and sooth you any day, especially when you are feeling under the weather, as well as on New Year’s Day.

INGREDIENTS (2 Servings): 

● 9 oz rice cake ovals,* soaked in water at least for an hour

● 1 egg
● 1 sheet gim* (laver)
● 1 green onion, chopped

Soup Stock
[Almost Vegetarian]
● 4 cups water
● 2 TBSP dried Korean anchovy powder**
● 1 TBSP dried pyogo (shiitake) powder**
● 1 TBSP dried dasima (sea tangle) powder**
● 2 tsp garlic, minced
● 1 TBSP gukganjang* (Korean soy sauce for soup) to taste (optional)
● salt and pepper to taste

If you prefer clean broth, use the ingredients with double asterisk as is.  
For this recipe, you’ll need a fistful of dried anchovies, two or three 
dried pyogo, and two 2x2 inch dasima.  Just don’t forget to remove 
these ingredients from the broth after simmering for 10~15 minutes.

● If you want to make vegetarian rice cake soup, minus the anchovies
and add 2 more 2x2 inch dasima squares and 1/2 midium size onion
for the broth instead.

[Meat Lovers]
● If you prefer, you can substitute beef or chicken stock for anchovy-
pyogo-dasima mixture stock.  In this case, add two more cups of water
in the pot and simmer 1/2 lb chicken breast or beef tenderloin for an hour
over medium heat, and remove the meat from the broth.
Many Koreans love to season the boiled meat with salt, pepper, garlic,
and sesame oil to use it for topping that I’d rather do without.

*You can find rice cake ovals, gim, and gukganjang in your local Korean markets.  Brown rice cake ovals can be substituted for white ones as brown rice is a delicious and healthy alternative to white rice.

**You can find dried Korean anchovies, dried pyogo, and dried dasima in your local Korean markets.  I always have these ingredients handy in my freezer to make MSG-free soup anytime I want.  Most of the anchovies, pyogo, and dasima are ground separately in a blender and stored separately in a jar.  Some are stored in zipper bags as is. 

Toppings for ddeokguk

TOPPING 1:  Thinly Sliced Fried Egg White and Yolk (계란지단, Gyeran Jidan)

1. Put the separated egg white and yolk in a separate bowl.  Add 1 tbsp of water into the yolk bowl.  Whisk each with a fork until smooth.  
2. Smear a small skillet with oil using a spray or brush.  The oil should be thinly spread to cover the whole pan. Heat the pan over high heat for two minutes until it is hot, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low.
3. Put your egg white in the skillet.  Holding onto the handle of the skillet, remove it from the heat and swirl the skillet so the egg white forms a circle and coats the bottom of the pan. You want to make the coating as thin as possible.  When the egg white loses its shine, turn it over and remove it from the skillet shortly.
4. Repeat step 3 to cook egg yolk.
5. Slice egg white and yolk thinly.

If you feel too lazy, you can just skip this part and simply crack open the egg into a bowl, and whisk until well combined.  Then pour the beaten egg directly over the broth and simmer.

TOPPING 2:  Thinly Sliced Toasted Laver (, Gim)

1. Heat a large, dry pan over high heat for two minutes until it is hot, then lightly toast the laver on each side.  Be careful not to burn it.
2.  Cut the toasted laver into thin slices with kitchen scissors.

TOPPING 3:   Chopped Green Onion (,  pa)

●  Finely chop 1 green onion.


1. Soak rice cake ovals in water overnight or at least for an hour before cooking.  Otherwise, your soup will turn out super sticky and thick.

Dried and frozen rice cakes need reconstituting.  

2. Place dried Korean anchovy powder, dried pyogo (shiitake) powder, and dried dasima (sea tangle) powder in a large pot, add 4 cups of water, and bring to boil over high heat for about 5 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to medium and boil for another 10 minutes.  (If you choose to use these ingredients as is, not powdered, then remove them from the broth when simmering is done.)
3. Add in 1 TBSP of gukganjang (optional).  Salt and pepper the broth to taste. Add in 2 tsp minced garlic. (If you choose to use the egg directly into a bowl, pour the beaten egg over the soup now.)
4. Add rice cake ovals and cook for 3~4 minutes.  When the rice cake ovals start to float, remove the pot from the heat.  Otherwise, the rice cake ovals will be overcooked and the soup too sticky.
5. Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with toppings.

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