Korean New Year's Day traditions rock! I always look forward to this holiday, and the best part is, I get to celebrate it twice – once usually on January 1, and then again with the lunar New Year calendar. The holiday is all about rejoicing with family, and is similar to Thanksgiving in vibe. The day of the New Year, family members gather at the designated family member's house. Younger ones kneel and bow to elders as a symbol of respect, and elders give or toss money to the young ones to wish them a prosperous New Year. The celebratory meal is consumed at breakfast, since it has to be the first meal eaten! After chowing down, everyone hangs out together and talks, chats, plays games—card games, a unique stick game similar to dice, or even sings karaoke these days.
These are a few traditional Korean New Year’s dishes:
Tteokguk (Soup with sliced ovals of rice cake [Korean-style unsweetened rice cake] in a clear beef broth) Serves 4
1 cup thin sliced Korean rice cake 1/2 pound Beef brisket, cut into chunks. 14 cups water 4 green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces 8 ounces beef, cut into thin strips 2 eggs, beaten 2 sheets dried laver seaweed (Kim in Korean), crumbled 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced thinly 8 ounces zucchini, cut into thin strips 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
Soak the rice cake in cold water for 30 minutes. Put 14 cups of water and the brisket in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until tender (about 30 mins). Strain out the beef and return the broth to the pot. Cut the beef into thin strips. Sauté the shiitake mushrooms in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and minced garlic. Sauté the zucchini with sesame oil and salt. Fry beaten egg and slice thinly (or pour the egg little by little directly into the broth at the end). Bring the broth to a boil and then add the rice cakes. Bring to a boil again, and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook until tender (usually rice cake will float when fully cooked). Add the green onions. Put into bowls. Garnish each bowl with the beef, shiitakes, zucchini, egg, and some crumbled Kim. Serve.
Kelly says: Unique to Korean culture, one food that must be eaten is dduk guk—rice cake soup/stew. It's easy to make, to boot! Rice "cakes" cut into shapes of discs are simmered in beef broth with garlic, soy sauce, etc, and then garnished with julienned fried egg, toasted nori and scallions. This dish is eaten to "gain one year" of life. Dduk guk is one of my favorite dishes of all time; it reminds me of my childhood because my mom would make it for me very often as a kid. Of course you eat it on New Year's Day, but it's a popular dish in general, akin to chicken and dumplings in American cuisine.
Galbijjim (Short ribs cooked in a soy sauce seasoning with assorted vegetables, such as carrots, mushrooms and radish) Serves 4
1/4 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup rice wine 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon honey 4 garlic cloves, minced 1 small onion, grated 3 scallions, finely chopped 1 tablespoon sesame seed 1 tablespoon sesame oil 1/2 Asian pear, peeled, save only juice 1 1/2 lbs beef short ribs, bone-in 8 chestnuts, peeled 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soak for 20 minutes and drain 1 tablespoon pine nuts, tossed, save for the garnish
Soak the ribs for 30 minutes to remove blood. Drain the beef and score it. Mix together all ingredients except ribs, chestnuts, mushrooms, and carrots. Pour the marinade over the beef. Marinate for an hour. Pour the ribs and marinade into a large pot over high heat. When liquid comes to a full boil, cover the pot and turn the heat down to simmer. Cook for 1 hour to 90 minutes, until meat is tender. Add chestnuts, mushrooms and carrots about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Put into bowl and garnish with pine nuts. Serve.
Kelly says: The table on New Year’s is decorated with a lot of different entrees and side dishes, too, to symbolize prosperity and bounty. A meat dish, galbi jim (braised short ribs), is a usual suspect. Lots of marinated mountain veggies are prepared, too, as side dishes.
Japchae (a colorful dish made with glass noodles, beef, carrot, and spinach in a soy sauce seasoning) Serves 4
6 dried shiitake mushrooms 4 ounces uncooked cellophane noodles 3 tablespoons sesame oil 1 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons sugar 3 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds 2 garlic clove, minced 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/2 lb sirloin beef, sliced thinly 1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 bunch of spinach, blanched 1 medium onion, sliced 1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded 1 egg, beaten
Soak mushrooms in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain and cut into thin strips. Sauté the mushrooms with ½ teaspoon of sauce. Cook noodles in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Mix sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, and pepper in a bowl. Add 1/3 of mixture to sirloin in another bowl; marinate for 10 minutes and sauté the beef. Reserve the leftovers of the mixture. Heat 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat and sauté carrots and onions stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Toss spinach with 1/2 tablespoon of the leftover mixture. Fry beaten egg and sliced thinly. Quickly stir fry noodles with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and remove from heat. Put all ingredients into the big mixing bowl and add the rest of the mixture, then mix well. Serve.
Kelly says: Another usual subject on the table is japchae (savory glass noodles with beef and veggies). For dessert, many different kinds of fruits (Fuji apples, Korean pears, persimmons) are piled onto one another and served. Also on hand are some sesame-type sweet crackers—lots of different varieties that include orbs filled with sweet yellow or red bean or sesame paste, and some sweet rice cakes covered with yellow mung bean powder...yum! A popular sweet persimmon concoction accented with a lot of cinnamon is common to drink. Chestnuts, ginko, and pine nuts (very popular in Korean food), dried fruits like jujubes and dried persimmons (kkot gam), decorate the table.
Kelly Choi, born in Seoul, Korea is an Emmy-award winning TV personality & producer. She created, produces and hosts Eat Out NY, Very Appetizing with Kelly Choi and also hosts the nationally syndicated Secrets of New York with the NYC life channel in the NY/NJ/CT area. Choi also hosted Bravo TV’s reality series “Top Chef Masters”, the spinoff of the hit reality food series Top Chef. Kelly worked as a VJ for MTV Korea, as well as an entertainment reporter for the TV Guide Channel. She is also an acclaimed food reporter and seasoned food critic. She has expanded her love for food by being a judge on Iron Chef America, Master Chef in Puerto Rico, and has hosted the USA finals of Bocuse d’OR, a prestigious culinary competition held every two years in Lyon France. She has also hosted various culinary competitions in the tri-state area. Kelly is currently working on her own NYC restaurant show Very Appetizing with Kelly Choi as well as shooting a new season of Secrets of New York. Kelly supports diabetes and Alzheimer's research, as well as the Angelwish Foundation.