Authentic Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk)
Tteokguk is a popular Korean rice cake soup enjoyed by many for Lunar New Year’s Day. Soft and chewy rice cakes are simmered in a flavorful broth made with beef and vegetables. Learn how to make this traditional dish with the easy recipe and step-by-step instructions.
What is Tteokguk (Ddukguk)?
Tteokguk is a traditional Korean soup made with thin, oval-shaped rice cakes simmered in a broth, usually beef broth. The white oval shape of the rice cakes symbolizes a healthy and prosperous new year – Seollal (설날).
Tteokguk represents a new beginning of Seollal and it is said to bring good luck for the year. You also gain a year of age on this day.
This dish also honors the meaning of family and its togetherness for the prosperous new year.
Korean Rice Cake Soup for the New Year
My fondest New Year’s Day childhood memories in Korea always began a few days before the New Year (Seollal, 설날). Like many families, we always celebrated the Korean Lunar New Year, which fell on a different date every year.
Just like any Korean mother in the “olden days,” my mother also would carry a big bag of rice in a large container on her head, steadying it with both hands, to a nearby rice cake mill. In a couple of hours, she brought home steaming hot long log-like rice cakes called garaetteok (가래떡), carrying them in the same manner on her head.
Oh, how delicious those fresh garaetteok were! Even though rice cakes are naturally bland and somewhat flavorless, as a child I loved eating those rice cakes fresh from the mill. I loved dipping those chewy cakes in honey and gulping them down.
She let those long rice cakes sit for 2-3 days until they hardened, then she would slice them into thin, oval-shaped disks. As a child, I often asked my mother if I could try slicing the rice cakes.
Unlike hers, mine were thicker and irregular. And it was not easy slicing hardened garaetteok. Her sliced rice cakes were thin and neat as always. I usually gave up after trying a few slices.
On New Year’s day morning, she would make this delicious rice cake soup with beef – tteokguk (떡국). And after eating this soup, my parents would declare that we all had become one year older, and asked us to be wiser and to behave better. LOL!
By the way, garaetteok makes wonderful tteokbokki (Korean spicy rice cakes).
Korean Seollal Tradition
During New Year’s day holidays, most Koreans to return to their hometowns or to their parent’s home to spend tine with family members. They perform ancestral rites (jesa, 제사) to show respect to their ancestors, play folk games (yutnoti,윷놀이), eat New Year traditional foods, listen to stories and talk well into the night.
Sebae (세배): Dressed in traditional clothing (hanbok, 한복), the younger generation in the family wish their elders (grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles) a happy new year by performing a deep traditional bow and saying the wishes of good fortune and health. Elders, then, typically reward them by giving them new year’s money called Sebaet Don (세뱃돈), as well as offering words of wisdom.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
—Because this recipe makes clear broth rather than starchy and cloudy broth of other kind.
Most Korean rice cake soup recipes call for cooking the rice cakes right in the beef stock (broth). If you do so, however, your rice cake soup becomes cloudy and tastes starchy, because the rice starch comes out of rice cakes as it simmers. You can’t enjoy the taste of the broth because of the excess rice starch.
If you want to enjoy the traditional Tteokguk in a clear yet flavorful broth, boil the rice cakes in a separate pot, strain, and then place in a serving bowl. Pour the hot beef broth over the rice cakes. That way your soup will maintain its translucent broth and you will enjoy a truly authentic Korean rice cake soup.
Not at all difficult, right? You just need one extra pot in which to boil the rice cakes separately. Your soup will have a nicer presentation and will taste better, too.
List of Ingredients
- Beef: I recommend using brisket or flank steak for its lean cut.
- Sliced rice cakes: Look for thin rice cake rounds or disks, either fresh or frozen.
- Stock: Make a simple beef stock with radish onion, garlic, and dried sea kelp. It brings full of umami taste to the soup.
- Flavoring: Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang), Korean tuna sauce, and sesame oil
- Egg: Traditionally tteokguk is garnished with Jidan (지단), which is made by strips of pan-fried egg whites and yolks.
If you prefer an easier egg garnish, simply beat the eggs in a bowl then pour it in a circular motion to the boiling soup at the end and heat through–similar way of making egg drop soup.
How to Make Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk)
To make beef broth
Start your recipe with making a good Korean beef stock. A chunk of beef brisket makes a very flavorful broth.
Combine beef, onion, garlic, radish, and dried sea kelp in a pot water.
- If you can find Asian leek, add some including their roots, too. Some even like to add dried anchovies to give an umami flavor to the broth.
When the stock begins to boil, it is important to remove the sea kelp and discard. Continue to simmer the rest for 45-60 minutes over low heat.
Remove the beef and vegetables and reserve the stock. Discard the vegetables but not the beef. Let the beef cool for 10 minutes.
Shred the beef, collecting it in a mixing bowl. Add Korean soup soy sauce, minced garlic, black pepper, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Toss well and set aside.
To Cook Rice Cake Rounds
These days, pre-sliced rice cake rounds are widely available at any Korean or Asian grocery stores, making the soup preparation much easier. Make sure to look for rice cakes made with 100% rice flour.
Soak the rice cakes in water for 15 minutes while you are making the stock.
To cook the rice cakes, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the rice cakes and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Strain the rice cakes with a mash strainer and place them in a serving bowl.
Egg Topping Garnish–optional
Typically Koreans like to garnish tteokguk with egg white and egg yolk topping called jidan (지단) for a better presentation. It’s optional and it won’t affect the taste of the soup. However garnishing with it will surely make your soup more appetizing and authentic.
Separate egg white and egg yolk. Lightly beat each egg part with a fork. Heat a lightly oiled nonstick skillet over medium low heat.
Pour a thin layer of egg whites and spread around the skillet with a spoon. Cook each side briefly, about 1 minute. (Do not brown the egg.) Set the cooked egg whites aside, then do the same with the egg yolks.
Slice the whites and yolks into short, thin white and yellow strips. Set aside.
To Assemble Korean Rice Cake Soup
- Pour the hot beef broth over the rice cakes in a bowl and top with beef, egg topping, and chopped green onion.
- Crumbled roasted seaweed is another popular topping for tteokguk.
- Drizzle a few drops of sesame oil, and sprinkle with black pepper.
- Serve immediately, with kimchi on the side.
Popular Korean New Year’s Day Food
Here are some of the most popular Korean New Year Foods that are enjoyed for the celebration. Some requires advanced level of cooking but most of them are easily prepared at home.
- Easy Korean Japcahe Recipe (Glass Noodel Stir-Fry)
- Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs (Galbi-Jjim)
- Homemade Mandu (Korean Dumplings)
- Easy Korean Beef Patties (Tteokgalbi)
- Korean Meat Tofu Patties (Wanja-jeon)
- Korean Sweet Rice Dessert (Yakshik) – Instant Pot
- Easy Korean Rice Punch Recipe (Sikhye) – Instant Pot
This recipe was originally posted in January 2011. I’ve updated the recipe with a few changes, new photos, and more information.
Authentic Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk)
For beef stock
For beef seasoning
To make the beef stock
- Combine beef, radish, dried sea kelp, onion, and garlic in a pot water and bring it to boil. When the stock begins to boil, it is important to remove the sea kelp and discard. Continue to simmer the rest for 45-60 minutes over low heat. Remove the beef and vegetables and reserve the stock. Discard the vegetables but not the beef. Let the beef cool for 10 minutes.
- Season the broth with Korean soup soy sauce, Korean tuna sauce, and salt according to your taste. Keep the broth warm.
To season the beef
- Shred the beef, collecting it in a mixing bowl. Add Korean soup soy sauce, minced garlic, black pepper, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Toss well and set aside.
To cook rice cake
- Soak the rice cakes in water for 15 minutes while you are making the stock. To cook the rice cakes, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the rice cakes and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Strain the rice cakes with a mash strainer and place them in a serving bowl.
To assemble the soup
- Pour the hot beef broth over the rice cakes in a serving bowl and top with egg topping and chopped green onion.
- Crumbled roasted seaweed is another popular topping for tteokguk. Drizzle a few drops of sesame oil, and sprinkle black pepper. Serve immediately, with kimchi on the side.
- To make egg topping: Separate egg whites and egg yolks. Lightly beat each egg part with a fork. Heat a lightly oiled nonstick skillet over medium low heat. Pour a thin layer of egg whites and spread around the skillet with a spoon. Cook each side briefly, about 1 minute. (Do not brown the egg.) Set the cooked egg whites aside, then do the same with the egg yolks. Slice the whites and yolks into short, thin white and yellow strips. Set asid