While most of us traditionally ring in the New Year by popping champagne with our best gal pals, watching the fireworks in Times Square via TV with a significant other or just sitting at home alone with a big cup of wine while watching movies, the New Year is just beginning for some people across the world.
In Korea Seollal, or Lunar New Year, is one of the biggest holidays celebrated by Koreans and falls on Feb. 19 this year. This day not only marks the new year, but also holds a very deep significance for the Korean people. It is the one time a year when extended families get together under one roof to share food and practice jul, or Korean bowing to the elders in the family, wishing them another healthy year.
Aside from the traditional practices, the tastiest aspect of Korean New Year is the communal cooking. Preparation usually starts the week before to ensure that all the meats and broths are properly marinated and fermented as needed.
One of the main dishes cooked and eaten during Seollal is tteokguk, or rice cake soup. This dish is made up of beef broth, thinly sliced rice cakes and vegetables such as seaweed, chives and onions. When the dish comes together, the broth becomes somewhat thick and very flavorful from the different vegetables immersed in it, and the rice cakes become soft and slippery. Those preparing for the New Year celebration usually prepare up to 20 servings of this popular dish for their family, and the dish itself signifies health and happiness.
Along with tteokguk, Koreans also traditionally prepare side dishes called banchan to complement the main dish. One banchan is japchae, which includes stir-fried sweet potato glass noodles and various vegetables. Garnished with sesame and chili, flavored with soy sauce and sweetened with sugar, this dish is one of the most popular side dishes in Korean cuisine. It can be eaten hot or cold, and is usually a kid favorite.
Savory dishes aside, New Years celebration wouldn’t be the same without everyone’s favorite dessert: candied sweet potato. Rather than mixing sweet potatoes with marshmallows like Americans tend to do for Thanksgiving celebrations, Koreans coat the root vegetable with hot brown syrup. This technique makes the sweet potato chunks crunchy on the outside but hot and soft on the inside. Because the dish is so incredibly easy to make and so popular amongst adults and kids alike, it is usually in high demand. It’s perfect to snack over and catch up with family members, and a great way to end the New Year celebration.