Without family, Chinese New Year (gu jeong – 구정) seems like just another public holiday.
When I was living in Sydney, I began to forget the importance of Chinese New Year, because being in a western city the focus was always on the calendar New Year (January 1). It wasn’t until I moved to Singapore 7 years ago, I rediscovered how important this holiday is. It is a time when the whole family comes together to celebrate.
One of the most fun customs during gu jeong is receiving money from the parents and relatives who are older than you. Everyone dresses in Korean traditional costume (han bok -한복) and the children bow to their parents. In return, the parents give the children money in white envelopes -Se be don -세배돈.
When I was living in Seoul, we used to go to my grandparents on gu jeong. I had 12 cousins at the time and I was the oldest child (and only girl) in the family. We all lined up as if we were in an army and had to bow to our grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Afterwards, we used to wonder what we were going to do with all that money.
In terms of traditional food, one dish you must have on gu jeong is rice cake soup (dduk guk – 떡국). In the olden days before we celebrated birthdays eating dduk guk marked the time when you became one year older. It’s funny, when we were young, we wanted to have 2 or 3 bowls of dduk guk at a time so we could get older really fast. These days I try to avoid eating it so I can stay young!
I don’t usually cook dduk guk as normally I would be spending gu jeong with my parents who would make it, but this year I made a nice batch of the soup to start the year of rabbit off with lots of good luck.
How to make dduk guk (떡국):
Ingredients: 1/2 bag rice cakes, 1.5 L beef stock, a handful of finely chopped spring onions, 2 eggs, 1 tsp seaweed, 1 tsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, salt, white pepper
- I prepared 1.5L beef stock (or anchovy stock is just as good) by boiling beef bones in a pot for one hour. I strained the stock and skimed the fat off the top. Nice thick beef stock!
- While the soup was boiling, I separated one of the egg whites and yolk and fried both separately on low heat and cut them julienne style.
- I seasoned the soup with 1 tbsp of light soy sauce, 1 tbsp of fish sauce and some salt. I then cracked the other egg into the soup.
- I served the soup in a bowl garnished with the fried eggs (both yolk and white), diced spring onions and seaweed.
Isn’t the soup pretty? The egg whites and yolk definitely brings out the colours and makes the boring gu jeong rice cake soup sumptuous! As we say in Korean “Se-he bok man yi bak u se yo! 새해 복 많이 받으세요!” (Happy New Year!)