Happy Korean New Year! Many often hear about Chinese New Year, but it’s actually a lunar new year celebrated by many Asian countries around the world. This celebration marks the start of the new harvest year at the end of a long winter. I’m looking forward to this year of the sheep, which will shepherd in a smoother quieter year after last year’s galloping horse, which was a bit too turbulent for my taste.
There are countless articles on how the Chinese celebrate the holiday, so I thought I’d share some Korean customs. It’s one of the biggest holidays and a time for being with family to show love and respect, especially to your elders. Children love this time because they are rewarded with money envelopes after paying their respects with a deep bow. Family time is customarily continued with games such as yunnori (a historic board game) but in my house it will be Texas hold ’em.
Since an everyday meal already consists of several small plates, menus for a New Year meal will be significantly longer by several dishes. While Chinese dishes are chosen by the similarity of the names of the dishes to auspicious terms, like luck or prosperity, Koreans choose dishes more for likeness and symbolism.
The star of the day is “Tteok Guk” – a soup made with sliced rice cakes similar to noodles with a thick broth. The white rice cakes symbolize a clean slate and fresh start. Korean custom dictates that you are a year older after eating it. Obviously I personally stopped consuming this dish at 27. It’s a great noodle alternative for those who may be gluten sensitive.
My personal favorite are dumplings, which can be filled with nearly whatever suits your fancy. They look like little money bags, so symbolize wealth. Similar to Chinese customs, long noodles are served for a long life, but Koreans use sweet potato noodles and mix them with a little meat and lots of vegetables. Fish may also be served and, again like the Chinese, it will be the whole fish, head to tail to signify abundance, fertility and luck, start to finish. Fresh in season fruits are presented to welcome an abundant crop. Desserts made with pounded rice are served for a sweet life.
Korean rice cakes, sweet potato noodles, and sweet rice cakes can be found all along Koreatown on East 32 Street here in midtown, just around the corner for the clinic.
Whether you decide to go traditional or just celebrate with friends and family over delicious dishes, please enjoy the festivities and excitement in New York City this weekend.