Tteokguk, a Korean rice cake soup, is a must-have for the first day of the Lunar New Year, called Seollal. Chewy oval rice cakes are simmered in a light beef broth and topped with shredded brisket, thin ribbons of egg omelet, fragrant scallions, and roasted seaweed. It’s a comforting dish to welcome in the new year.
While the beef broth may take up to two hours to simmer, it doesn’t require much attention. The remaining elements are quick and easy to put together. If you make the broth ahead of time, it’s an easy meal to assemble.
Koreans eat this soup for any meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is often served with banchan, like a side of kimchi.
Symbolism of Tteokguk
Tteokguk, always served on Seollal, is full of symbolism. The oval shape of the rice cakes symbolizes coins for prosperity. They are cut from long ropes of rice cakes—its length represents long life. The white color symbolizes purity and the fresh start of a new year.
Eating a bowl of this rice cake soup marks the passing of a year. Despite the heavy mantle of symbolism, at heart, this soup is a humble dish.
How to Make Korean Rice Cake Soup
A light broth is made by simmering beef brisket with onions, garlic, and scallions until the meat is very tender. It is then seasoned with soup soy sauce (more on this below) and salt.
The brisket is shredded and seasoned with garlic, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Right before serving the soup, the rice cakes are briefly simmered in the broth until softened but still chewy.
The soup is then garnished with the seasoned brisket, julienned egg omelet, chopped scallions, and thin strips of roasted seasoned seaweed.
Ingredients for Rice Cake Soup
I cook Korean food on a semi-regular basis, so I stock up on ingredients when I go to the Korean market. I buy a couple of bags of fresh rice cakes to store in my freezer. The soup soy sauce will last forever in your pantry and even longer in the fridge.
Rice cakes: Rice cakes, called tteok or dduk, can be found in the refrigerated or frozen foods section of well-stocked Asian markets. Be sure to buy the oval-shaped rice cakes and not the stubby cylindrical ones.
Frozen rice cakes should be soaked in cold water for about 20 minutes before adding them to the broth. Note that if soaked for too long, they may begin to crack. If the refrigerated ones aren’t pliable, you’ll want to give them a soak too.
You may be able to find fresh rice cakes, sold loosely packed in plastic bags in the fresh prepared food section at well-stocked Korean markets–there’s no need to soak these. Dried versions exist and can be bought online but they’re usually not great quality.
Roasted seasoned seaweed: These are the same ones you often find in small packets at the supermarket, labeled as roasted seaweed snacks. In Korean markets, they’re sold in similar small packets or as larger sheets, the same size as the nori sheets used to make sushi. If purchasing the large sheets, be sure they are the roasted variety.
I prefer the smaller packets because they’re single-portioned—no need to worry about the unused portion getting stale. You can thinly slice the seaweed into 1/8-inch strips with a sharp knife on a cutting board or cut them directly over the bowl of soup with a pair of scissors. There’s no need to be fussy and exact. You can even tear or crush the seaweed with your hands.
Soup Soy Sauce: Soup soy sauce, guk ganjang, is the residual liquid from making doenjang, a fermented soybean paste. It is a Korean soy sauce that is used in soups in lieu of regular soy sauce, which is also widely used in other Korean dishes. Soup soy sauce is lighter in color, saltier, and has more umami than regular soy sauce.
Too much soup soy sauce will darken the broth, so for this recipe I use 1 tablespoon of it and add salt to season. Look for it in Korean markets and store it in the refrigerator or at room temperature. In a pinch, you can use a little less regular soy sauce.
My version uses more beef and eggs and less rice cakes than what I see served in Korean restaurants; feel free to bulk it up with more rice cakes if you’d like. Here are other ways to make it:
Use beef bone broth instead of beef broth. Ready-made bone broth can be purchased at well-stocked Korean markets and some Korean restaurants. They should be clear or milky in color. Don’t use boxed or canned beef bone broth or beef stock since they often contain vegetables, herbs, and spices that will not work for this soup.
Beef chuck roast can be used instead of the brisket.
Add-Ons and Variations
Here are some classic add-ons and variations to try:
- Koreans often add mandu, Korean dumplings, to the soup. It’s then called tteok mandu guk.
- For a quicker weeknight meal, make the broth with dried anchovies and dried kelp (also called kombu) simmered in water and then strained. Sauté strips of flank steak or ground beef with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and sugar for garnish instead of the shredded brisket.
- Instead of the thinly sliced omelet, you could slowly stream the beaten eggs into the boiling soup, a technique you may have seen to make egg drop soup.
How to Store and Reheat the Soup
It’s best to store the soup, the rice cakes, and the garnishes separately. The rice cakes will get mushy and lose their appealing chew if they sit in the soup for too long. Enjoy any leftovers within three or four days.
To reheat, bring the soup to a boil and cook fresh rice cakes in it.
More Warming Soups to Try
Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)
You’ll need to soak the rice cakes if you’re using frozen ones or if your refrigerated rice cakes are hard and not pliable. Fresh rice cakes don’t need to be soaked.
Although this is an easy recipe to follow, the beef broth will need to simmer for about 2 hours, so plan accordingly.
For the soup
12 cups water
1 pound beef brisket, fat trimmed off
3 scallions, trimmed and halved crosswise
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
5 cloves garlic, divided
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, plus more for serving
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
8 cups (2 1/2 pounds) oval tteok (rice cakes), frozen or refrigerated
1 tablespoon soup soy sauce
2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided plus more to taste
For the omelet
1/2 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons water
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
10 small sheets roasted seasoned seaweed
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced on a bias
Make the broth:
In a large pot set over high heat, add the water, brisket, scallions, and onions. Smash 4 cloves of garlic and add it to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, skim off the scum that floats to the top and discard.
Cover the pot with a lid and let the broth simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Check on the broth once or twice to make sure it’s not boiling. It should gently simmer so that the meat doesn’t get tough. Lower the heat if necessary.
If the brisket is still tough after 2 hours, continue simmering it for up to 3 hours, checking every 30 minutes for doneness. Make sure the broth simmers gently, never a hard boil.
Season the brisket:
Remove the brisket from the broth and place it in a medium bowl. When it’s cool enough to handle, use your fingers to shred it into bite-sized pieces. Another option: Slice it thinly against the grain with a knife. If you prefer, discard of any fatty bits. I like to leave a little fat in mine. Mince the remaining clove of garlic and add it to the bowl with the brisket. Stir in the sesame oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Set it aside.
Soak the rice cakes:
In a large bowl, add the rice cakes and cover them with cold water. Set the bowl aside for about 20 minutes, sometimes less. If you notice any rice cakes cracking, drain them well and set them aside.
Skim and season the broth:
Use a skimmer or slotted spoon to remove and discard the scallions, garlic, and onion from the broth. You could also strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl and then return it back into the pot.
Add the soup soy sauce and the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste the broth and add more salt if you’d like. It should be slightly under-seasoned since the marinated beef garnish will add more flavor. Cover the pot with a lid and keep it warm over low heat.
Make the omelet:
In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the eggs, water, and salt. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Pour the eggs into the skillet. Grab the skillet handle and swirl the eggs to evenly spread and coat the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the eggs are set on the bottom but still wet on the top, about 1 minute.
Try not to let the bottom of the omelet brown. It’s purely for aesthetics, so don’t worry too much if it does get color. Use a wide spatula to carefully flip the omelet. You could also slide the omelet onto a large plate and then flip it over into the pan. Let the omelet cook just enough that it’s no longer runny, 5 to 10 seconds. Slide the omelet onto a cutting board and let it cool. Then gently roll it into a log and slice crosswise into 1/8-inch ribbons. Set them aside in a small bowl.
Cut the seaweed:
Stack 2 or 3 seaweed sheets on the cutting board and cut them into thin strips. You could also stack the seaweed and cut them with scissors. Set them aside in a small bowl.
Cook the rice cakes:
When you’re ready to serve the soup, bring the broth back to boil over high heat. If any of the drained rice cakes are clumped together, separate them with your fingers.
Add the rice cakes to the broth and cook them until they’re al dente, soft, pliable, and chewy but not mushy. The best way to check is by tasting one as soon as they float to the top, after 3 to 5 minutes. The rice cakes will continue to soften in the soup. If they’re cooked too long, they become mushy and gloppy. It will also cloud and thicken the broth, but not in a good way.
Serve the soup:
Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with the seasoned brisket, egg ribbons, roasted seaweed, scallions, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Serve with kimchi on the side if you’d like.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 17g||22%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||28%|
|Total Carbohydrate 118g||43%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||23%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 4mg||19%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|