All About Korean Lunar New Year (Seollal) + A Traditional Recipe

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Korean Lunar New Year or Seollal is coming up on February 12th. Learn all about this holiday below. And make sure to check out the traditional recipe too.

Korean Lunar New Year vs Chinese New Year

Korean Lunar New Year falls on the same day as the ever-so-popular Chinese New Year. For 2021, the lunar calendar for these very special occasions place the holidays on February 21st. In addition, 2021 pays homage to the Year of the Ox. The ox is perceived as a hardworking animal. It can be seen to represent honesty, diligence, and stick-to-it-ness.

The Korean Lunar New Year is different from the Chinese New Year in a few ways.

The number of celebration days is different. Koreans celebrate for three days while the Chinese culture celebrates 8-15 days depending on the region. The Chinese associate the color red with the Chinese New Year. Koreans, not so much. In fact, the color red is offensive to some Koreans because red is associated with war and death. Culinarily, Korean Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year are different as well. For many Chinese homes, dumplings or noodles are the celebratory food of choice. Koreans opt for rice cake soup, savory pancakes, or sweet rice with jujubes and nuts.

Seollal

Korean Lunar New Year

For the Land of the Morning Calm, the Korean Lunar New Year is known as Seollal (설날). This celebration of the new year is kind of a big deal. It is celebrated for three whole days! People travel from far and wide back to their hometowns for this joyous occasion. This is an important time where families can come together to spend some good ol’ fashioned quality time with one another. Seollal is also an opportunity for Koreans to pay respect to their ancestors.

For three days, there are Seollal festivities galore that are deep-rooted in Korean tradition. Typically, the children will perform what is called Sehbeh (세배). The kids often dress up in traditional Korean clothing called hanbok (한복). Then the boys and girls respectfully bow to their elders and wish them an abundance of luck in the new year. In return, the elders will offer their blessings and well wishes for a prosperous year.

Accordingly, gifts are exchanged during Seollal. The kiddos are usually content with gift cards or cold hard cash. The parents, however, typically receive more traditional gifts such as ginseng, honey, Spam (yes, we love Spam!), toiletry sets, or sweets and cookies.

Ddeokguk

To be completely honest, the festivities on the days before and after Seollal are great, but the actual day of Seollal is by far my personal favorite. This is the day where we eat loads of delectable Korean dishes that take me straight to my happy place.

As per tradition, Koreans will prepare a mouthwatering rice cake soup called ddeokguk (떡국). The inviting aroma of this soup fills many Korean homes as they bring in the hopes and dreams of a prosperous new year. Eating ddeokguk on Korean Lunar New Year invokes a sort of “New Year, New Me” type of vibe.

Ddeokguk has a whitish hue which represents clean new beginnings. Moreover, this flavorsome soup is the ultimate comfort food. Ddeokguk is made up of sliced rice cakes called ddeok which is cooked in a satisfying beef broth. The sliced rice cakes look like coins so they are said to symbolize prosperity. Not sure where to find ddeok? l got you covered, ABQ. You can shop local here. The rice cake soup is topped with freshly chopped green onions, red chile peppers, sliced egg, and roasted seaweed.

I would venture to say that ddeokguk is sort of like the Korean equivalent to beef stew. Both are tasty and both feel like home.

Comparatively, Korean Lunar New Year (Seollal) is not as well known as its more popular counterpart, Chinese New Year.  Nonetheless, this holiday is honored and revered. Seollal is filled with deep traditions and plenty of precious family time.  I am excited to see what 2021, the Year of the Ox, has in store!

Korean Rice Cake Soup (Ddeokguk)

Ingredients: (serves about 3 people)

  • 1 pound sliced rice cakes (ddeok)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 pound flank beef – cut bite size (vegan: omit or substitute tempeh)
  • 4 garlic cloves – minced
  • 4 green onions – sliced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 eggs (vegan: substitute silken tofu “egg”)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (vegan: substitute soy sauce)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 sheet of dried seaweed paper
  • 1 red chili pepper *optional
  • kosher salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Soak rice cakes for at least 30 minutes. *Don’t skip this step! If you do, the rice cakes will be hard and you won’t be happy.*
  2. Using a heavy dutch oven pot, boil the water. Add the beef and garlic. Cook for about 7 minutes.
  3. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the beef simmer for about 30 minutes.
  4. While the beef is cooking, roast the sheet of seaweed until it is green and crunchy. *Tip: I like to cut the sheet into fourths and place the sheets in the toaster for about 30 seconds.*
  5. Put the seaweed into a ziplock bag and crush it with your hand into little bits and pieces.  Put the bag aside.
  6. Separate the egg yolk from the egg white. Put each egg component in their own bowl.  Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt into each bowl.  Beat both separately.
  7. In a non-stick pan, heat up the canola oil. Add the egg yolk mixture and spread it into a thin layer. Reduce the heat to very low and let the egg yolk cook for about 30 seconds. Flip it over and let it cook for another 30 seconds.  The result should be a bright yellow flat sheet.  Transfer this to a cutting board and slice the sheet into thin even slices. Put this aside.
  8. Add the pre-soaked rice cakes, fish sauce, and kosher salt (to taste) to the boiling pot. Be sure to stir so that the rice cakes don’t stick to each other.
  9. Cook for about 10 minutes and add the egg whites (vegan: substitute blended silken tofu). Stir constantly.
  10. Turn off the heat. Drizzle sesame oil into the soup. Add green onions and black pepper.
  11. Prepare to feed your crew by spooning a good helping of the soup into bowls.  Top each bowl with the egg yolk strips, red pepper *optional*, and roasted seaweed.
  12. Serve immediately.  Ddeokguk pairs well with Gina Lee Kimchi!