Dduk guk, dduk gook, tteokguk. Though the Romanized spelling of this traditional Korean dish is debatable, its purpose is not: Dduk guk is the celebratory meal for Koreans on Lunar New Year, or Seollal, as we call it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the dish, dduk guk is a savory soup that’s filled with dduk, or chewy rice cakes, and garnished with thin, pan-fried slices of egg, dry roasted seaweed, beef and chopped green onions. You can also add dumplings to your soup to make it even more filling, which is what my grandmother always did.
Traditionally, the soup is made with a beef broth, though there are some recipes that call for an anchovy or chicken stock base. The namesake dduk, or rice cakes, come pre-sliced in thin oval discs that you drop into boiling soup to soften them to a toothsome texture. My mom says the rice cakes symbolize long life because they’re so hearty, but I’ve also read that they’re a symbol of prosperity, because their cylindrical shape resembles coins. I’m going to combine the two and just say that they’re an emblem of abundance, and a tasty one at that.
Though I grew up in a not-so-diverse suburb of New Orleans where I was the only Korean kid in my entire school, I have vivid memories of celebrating this culturally significant holiday with my family every year.