Rice cake soup (tteokguk) is a traditional must-eat New Year’s dish in Korea. Disk-shaped chewy rice cakes are served in a clear broth made with beef and vegetables. Using beef brisket makes this soup broth very authentic and delicious. Follow this recipe and you will have a beautiful, clear beef broth with a wonderful flavor.

Rice cake soup topped with egg garnish is a traditional Korean New Year's day food

New Year’s Day and Korean Rice Cakes

My fondest New Year’s Day childhood memories in Korea always began a few days before the New Year (Seollal). 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.

My mother would let her five children enjoy the fresh cakes as a snack for a while, but then she had to stop us. She worried there wouldn’t be enough left to make her New Year’s dish. All of us kids had a big appetite!

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!

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.

This Korean rice cake soup has a clear beef broth and sesrved with kimchi

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.

How Is This Recipe Different?

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.

How to Make Korean Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk)

1. Beef Broth

A chunk of beef brisket makes a very flavorful broth. Start with making a good Korean beef stock.

Make flavorful beef stock to use as a base for Korean rice cake soup.

Simmer with onion, garlic, radish, and dried sea kelp. 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.

Remove the sea kelp when the beef stock starts 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.

Korean soup soy sauce and tuna sauce is used to season the Korean rice cake soup.

Season the broth with Korean soup soy sauce, Korean tuna sauce, and salt according to your taste. Keep the broth warm.

Beef is shredded and seasoned separately before adding to the rice cake soup.

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.

2. 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.

Rice cake rounds are soaking in the bowl of water.

Soak the rice cakes in water for 15 minutes while you are making the stock.

Boiling rice cake separately will reduce the heavy starch in the soup at the end.

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.

3. Egg Topping – 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.

Beaten egg yolk is thinly spreader and cooked in a skillet.

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.

Egg yolk and egg whites are cooked separately and sliced thinly to use as a garnish.

Slice the whites and yolks into short, thin white and yellow strips. Set aside.

4. How to Assemble Tteokguk

Pour the beef stock over cooked rice cake rounds to serve as a 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.

Korean rice cake soup in a clear broth with beef and egg is served with kimchi.

This recipe was originally posted in January 2011. I’ve updated the recipe with a few changes, new photos, and more information.

This traditional Korean rice cake soup is topped with shredded beef, egg garnish in clear beef broth

Korean Rice Cake Soup Recipe (Tteokguk)

Round rice cakes are served in a clear beef broth, then topped with seasoned shredded beef, and egg garnish. Using beef brisket makes this soup broth very authentic and delicious. This is a traditional must-eat New Year’s dish in Korea.
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Ingredients

For soup stock

For beef seasoning

For rice cake soup

Instructions 

For the soup stock

  • Simmer with onion, garlic, radish, and dried sea kelp. 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.

For the seasoning of 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.

For the egg topping garnish

  • 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.

For the 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.
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