Questions & Answers

Food Eating

Why is it so special to eat rice cake soup on New Year's Day?

"Today, one can eat tteokguk (rice cake soup) all year round, but in the past, it was not so readily available to most people. Ingredients include classic garaetteok, or a long tubular rice cake, which is sliced, and a hearty beef or vegetable stock. The soup is then served in a colorful way with jidan, or assorted toppings, made from eggs, mushroom, green onion, or ginkgo nuts. All these ingredients might be common these days but when Korea was a poorer, agricultural society, tteokguk was considered to be a fancy and highly nutritious treat, reserved for big holidays. Garaetteok, for one thing, requires a lot of white rice, the most desired staple food in Korea, and beef soup and eggs were once too expensive for everyday meals. Consequently, eating tteokguk came to symbolise a prosperous start to the New Year so having some on that day has a special meaning which it doesn't on other days."

Added to that, "One way of asking someone's age, especially to children, is "How many years have you eaten?" The word left off is tteokguk, with the implication that since tteokguk is eaten only once a year, the number of bowls one has consumed matches one's age. The traditional day for eating tteokguk is New Year's, very traditionally the lunar rather than solar New Year. Koreans count age from conception and everyone becomes a year older on New Year's Day, not on the actual birthday (although birthdays are celebrated, especially by older people in the country by inviting friends for home-made dduk and mokkollee)."



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