Soup for the ages Bowl of Korean tteokguk, a new year tradition, marks passage of time
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The sound of an egg cracking brings Yena running into the living room. The three-year-old is eager to help and beating eggs is her specialty.
Minhee Kim sets her daughter up with a small bowl and whisk at a low table surrounded by colourful posters — cutouts of the Korean alphabet, beginner math lessons and children’s artwork. Yena gets to work carefully mixing the yellow yolks before stopping suddenly and announcing she’s “too shy” to continue.
“That’s OK, great job,” Minhee says reassuringly, before pouring the mixture into a sizzling omelette pan. The cooked eggs will be rolled, sliced and used as a garnish for tteokguk, a Korean rice cake soup traditionally eaten on Lunar New Year.
Food is one way Minhee and her husband, Sunho, share their heritage with their daughters, Yena and Dana, 5. It’s also an entry point for conversations about cultural differences.
While her parents enjoy kimchi, Dana isn’t a fan of the fermented cabbage dish.
“I take that as a teachable moment,” Minhee says. “It’s not nice to say something (is gross), because she will meet many friends in school and they will eat different foods for lunch and you’ve got to respect that.”
Teachable moments are top of mind for the education graduate student and recently installed principal of the Manitoba Korean Canadian Heritage Language School, a cultural education centre that runs out of Grant Park High School on Saturdays.
Founded in 1974, the school has long been a hub for the Korean community in Winnipeg. There are about 80 students enrolled this year and the curriculum includes Korean language classes for kids and adults; as well as music, art, calligraphy and taekwondo programs — the K-Pop dance classes have exploded in popularity in recent years.
The Kims moved to Winnipeg from Incheon, South Korea, in 2015 to pursue better work-life balance. They enrolled their eldest in the language school at four-years-old and Minhee became principal, somewhat unexpectedly, last year. As a parent and administrator, she sees the school as a place to foster pride and belonging among students.
“They are Canadian, but they are Korean Canadian,” Minhee says of her daughters. “If they know their roots and where they come from, I think they will feel confident and they won’t have to pretend (not to be) themselves.”
It’s also a place to find community for immigrants, like herself, without extended family in Winnipeg. Culture, after all, doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“Your culture is composed of so many things, as an individual, you might not be able to catch all of that,” she adds. “At the school, they will have a better chance to meet different people and… (experience) various cultural aspects that you might not be thinking about.”
Lunar New Year, which starts Sunday, has always been about family for Minhee — three days of eating, playing games and spending quality time with loved ones. Some traditions have changed since moving to Canada, but the holiday remains a special time of year.
This weekend, the family of four will be donning their traditional hanbok attire, wishing relatives overseas “saehae bok mani badeuseyo” (a new year blessing) via video call and celebrating with the local Korean school community. The students will play yutnori, a board game, and practise saebae, a deep bow presented to elders that usually results in a monetary gift.
“That’s why young children love to do saebae,” Minhee says with a laugh.
At home, the Kims will cook up a big pot of tteokguk, a simple broth soup filled with soft, chewy discs made from rice flour — the white colour of the rice cakes signifying purity. Eating tteokguk marks the passage of another year.
“We literally say that we eat age,” Minhee says. “It’s a pragmatic expression, saying, ‘I ate one bowl of tteokguk,’ means ‘I got one year older.’”
Also on the menu is jeon, a variety of meats and vegetables dipped in eggs and fried. There will be plenty of opportunities for Yena and Dana to pick up a whisk and lend a helping hand during the celebrations.
Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)
1/2 lb beef brisket, sliced
2 tbsp soup soy sauce
(guk ganjang) or fish sauce
12 cups water
Salt and pepper
4 cups rice cakes
1 carrot, julienned
2 eggs, separated
2 scallions, sliced
Soak rice cakes (which can be purchased from a Korean grocery store) in cold water for 20 minutes.
Season sliced beef with salt and heat sesame oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add beef to pot and sear until browned. Add water and soup soy sauce, if available, or fish sauce and boil, covered, for 10 minutes.
To prepare egg garnish, lightly beat yolks and whites in separate bowls. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and pour egg portions, one at a time, into the pan in a thin layer, like a crepe. Flip once and cook until eggs are just set. Remove from heat and roll the cooked egg, before slicing into thin strips.
Stir fry carrot sticks in sesame oil until tender.
Add the rice cakes to the broth and cook until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings to taste.
Ladle hot soup into bowls and top with egg slices, carrot and scallions.
— Recipe submitted by Minhee Kim, adapted from koreanbapsang.com
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Homemade is a recurring recipe series about home cooking in Manitoba.