Home » Easy 30-Minute Tteokguk Recipe (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

Easy 30-Minute Tteokguk Recipe (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

Tteokguk is a simple yet very hearty Korean rice cake soup that is made with soft, chewy rice cakes and bite-sized morsels of beef simmered in a comforting broth and topped with green onions, eggs, and toasted seaweed.

It’s a very straightforward recipe – foolproof and will take you around 30 minutes at most. And yet it delivers one of the most comforting soups you’ll ever eat. Pillowy soft rice cakes, flavorful beef chunks, the crispy freshness of scallions and tender ribbons of egg all immersed in an umami-rich broth.

It’s gentle and comforting, supremely easy to make, and you only need a handful of ingredients.

That’s why even though it’s best known as the Korean new year soup, I eat it all year round. Once you taste it – maybe you will, too.

What is Tteokguk?

Tteokguk (떡국) is exactly what it’s name claims to be:

  • Tteok (떡): rice cake
  • Guk (국): soup

Tteokguk is the star of the Korean new year meal. Every morning of every new year, Koreans nationwide faithfully slurp up a bowl of tteokguk. It’s as integral to the Korean New Year (Seollal/설날) as gathering with your family and bowing to your elders for a little gift of “sebae” money. But why?

Why Do Koreans Eat Tteokguk for Seollal?

The traditional way to make tteokguk is with a sagol (사골) broth. Sagol is a beef bone broth that is usually made with beef marrow bones, beef leg bones, knuckle bones and/or oxtail. The broth is brewed for hours – usually days – until it’s rich and creamy-white.

Combined with the rice cakes, tteokguk is a white-on-white food that’s come to symbolize a fresh start, a blank tablet that’s been erased of all the trials and tribulations of the past year.

Sort of like the tabula rasa of food.

But it’s not just about fresh beginnings. The rice cake in tteokguk is cut from long, cylindrical rice cakes called garaetteok (가래떡), which symbolize long life. And last but not least, tteokguk rice cakes were thinly sliced to resemble the coins that made up Korean currency back in the day. The implication here is clear – new year, new wealth!

Overall, the ingredients in tteokguk are there to represent the things we all want: health, wealth, and a good life.

Fun fact: Every lunar new year, Koreans get one year older. It’s an interesting – and sometimes confusing – Korean quirk. And also the reason why Koreans will often ask you for your birth year, rather than your age. It’s an easy way to calculate whether you’re actually 25 or just in “Korean age.”

But this extra year doesn’t happen until you’ve had a bowl of tteokguk. It’s an important ritual that’s so widely acknowledged, you can ask someone how many bowls of tteokguk they’ve had instead of asking how old they are. Most All Koreans will understand what you mean.

Tteokguk vs Tteokbokki: What’s the Difference?

Koreans love rice cake. It’s been a staple in our diet for over 2,000 years! As such, it comes in a wide variety of forms. Different colors, tastes, styles, textures. Some are flavored to be spicy, some savory, and others sweet.

Of all of the rice cakes in Korea, though, the most popular are tteokguk and tteokbokki. Although both feature rice cake as their star ingredient, the difference is stark.

Tteokbokki
Tteokguk

Tteokbokki is made with long, tubular rice cakes smothered in a spicy, savory, ever-so-slightly sweet sauce. While tteokguk is made of sliced, oval-shaped rice cakes cooked in a completely non-spicy broth.

Both delicious but worlds apart in flavor.

Tteokguk Ingredients

You only need a handful of ingredients to make tteokguk, most of which you’ll already have. Here’s a quick overview of the ingredients and substitutions.

What Beef to Use for Tteokguk?

Traditionally, beef brisket is the most commonly used beef for tteokguk. It’s cooked and shredded into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Flank (aka bavette in the UK) is also often good for this.

Personally, I prefer to use beef chuck – it’s fattier and thus, more tender and flavorful. That means it imparts a lot of flavor and gets wonderfully tender with even short cooking times. So it’s an ideal cut for this soup.

But to be honest, you don’t need to be constrained by what’s traditionally used or what I use. Ribeye, sirloin, even ground beef will work well in this recipe.

What rice cake to use?

The rice cake that’s used for tteokguk tastes the same but looks different than the rice cake used for tteokbokki.

Tteokguk Broth

Let’s talk about the broth for a minute because like with most soups, the broth is all-important.

As mentioned earlier, the most common and traditional broth to use is sagol (사골), a sort of beef bone broth. This is also my favorite broth. It is nutritionally dense and so full of flavor that you don’t even need any seasoning apart from salt.

I prefer it so much that I always ask at Korean restaurants what broth their tteokguk is made with and I’ll only order if it’s beef bone broth.

But realistically, most of us don’t have the time to brew this broth for days for a bowl of tteokguk.

And that’s okay. Tteokguk broth varies depending on region as well as individual taste. Some families make it with chicken broth, anchovy stock, dried pollack, or even oysters. So use what you have and/or what you like.

For this recipe, I’m using a beef meat broth combined with soup soy sauce (국간장). If you don’t have soup soy sauce, use a 50/50 ratio of fish sauce and salt instead. No fish sauce? Just use salt.

Got leftover chicken stock? Use that in lieu of water. I’m using about 3 cups of chicken stock for this recipe because I happen to have some. Otherwise, I’ll just use water and it’s absolutely fine. Have anchovy stock in the fridge? Go with that. It’s a forgiving recipe – use the broth that you have/enjoy.

Other Ingredients

Apart from the main players – beef, rice cake, and broth – here’s what you’ll need:

Garlic. You can use minced, smashed, whole, chopped, or sliced. Up to you. I like them sliced.

Green onions. Sliced thinly. I choose to separate the white parts from the green parts and add the white slices a minute before turning the heat off to subdue the intensity. The green slices are used as garnish.

Eggs. Traditionally, eggs are cooked separately like a sort of thin omelette, cut into thin strips and placed on top of the tteokguk as a garnish. I don’t find the taste and texture of this omelette (called jidan – 지단) tasty enough to justify the extra work and pan to wash. So I like to mix the eggs like you would with scrambled eggs and then slowly stir them into the soup, creating fluffy ribbons like in egg drop soup.

Sesame oil. The flavor of tteokguk is pretty simple and an important part is the sesame oil that’s used to brown the beef. You can also drizzle in a couple extra drops at the end.

Pepper. Freshly ground pepper goes so very well with tteokguk that I consider it a non-negotiable. I like to use a combination of black and white pepper.

And that’s it! Let’s make some tteokguk!

How to Make Tteokguk

Tteokguk isn’t just delicious – it’s so simple to make. Here’s the step-by-step process…

1. Start by soaking

Soak the rice cakes in water while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. This softens them up so that they cook more evenly and quickly.

2. Prep the Rest of the Ingredients

While the rice cakes are soaking, you can get everything else ready:

  • Slice or cut the garlic.
  • Slice the scallions, separating the whites from the greens.
  • Cut the beef up into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
  • Mix the eggs together in a small bowl.

3. Brown the Beef & Garlic

Add the sesame oil to a large pot or skillet and add the beef. Let it brown for about 2 minutes and then add the garlic, mix everything. Let it all sizzle and brown for another 3 minutes.

Add the soup soy sauce and mix it all together to coat.

4. Make the Soup

Pour in water or chicken/beef/anchovy broth. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Skim off the scummy foam, cover and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Cook the Rice Cakes

Check the broth – try a little piece of beef – and when it’s about as tender as you like it, drain and add the rice cakes. Cover and let simmer for another 5 to 6 minutes. It shouldn’t take long because we’ve been soaking the rice cakes for awhile.

Note: Only add in the amount of rice cakes you will be eating. Cooked rice cakes do not do well as leftovers – they will soak up the broth and bloat like crazy. Store the uncooked rice cakes separately.

6. Add the Egg and Scallions

When the rice cakes are close to done, slowly pour in the eggs and then stir in a gentle circle to create ribbons. Add in the white sliced green onions and the pepper, if you want. Let it all simmer for a minute, turn off the heat and serve.

Garnish with sliced green onions, toasted seaweed (gim), and a drizzle of sesame oil.

What to Eat Tteokguk with?

Koreans eat tteokguk as a meal in itself. Rice is optional since the rice cakes take the place of rice.

Kimchi, however, is not optional. If you have it, it’s highly recommended.

As for side dishes, the ideal partner for tteokguk is a plate of Korean dumplings (mandoo). They’re so good together, in fact, that there’s a whole other soup dish called tteok mandu guk (rice cake dumpling soup). Want to make that? Just add fresh or frozen dumplings to the soup and cook according to the package instructions. Boom – you have tteok mandu guk.

How to Store Leftovers?

Already cooked rice cakes do not store well. That’s why I recommend using only the amount of rice cakes you plan on eating for this meal. You can store the rest of the uncooked rice cakes in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a couple days or for long-term storage, place them in the freezer.

If you have leftover cooked rice cakes, make sure to store the soup and the rice cake separately. When kept in the broth, the cooked rice cakes will get bloated and mushy.

When you want to reheat, do it by heating just the broth to almost boiling hot and then add in the rice cakes.

tteokguk

Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

This is the easiest tteokguk recipe with perfectly soft, chewy rice cakes and bite-sized pieces of beef in a comforting broth and topped with green onions, eggs, and toasted seaweed.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Korean
Servings 4
Calories 491 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 300 grams beef chuck or flank, brisket, ribeye, sirloin, or ground beef
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp soup soy sauce
  • 8 cups water or chicken, beef, bone, or anchovy broth
  • 500 grams tteok (sliced rice cakes)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 green onions
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • toasted seaweed

Instructions
 

  • Soak the rice cakes in water while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. This softens them up so that they cook more evenly and quickly.
  • While the rice cakes are soaking, you can get everything else ready:
    Slice or cut the garlic.
    Slice the scallions, separating the whites from the greens.
    Cut the beef up into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
    Mix the eggs together in a small bowl.
  • Heat sesame oil in a large pot and then brown the beef for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to mix. Let it all sizzle and brown for another 3 minutes.
  • Add the soup soy sauce and mix it all together to coat.
  • Pour in water or chicken/beef/anchovy broth. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Skim off the scummy foam, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  • When the beef is about as tender as you like it, drain and add the rice cakes. Cover and let simmer for another 5 to 6 minutes. It shouldn’t take long because we’ve been soaking the rice cakes for awhile.
  • When the rice cakes are close to done, slowly pour in the eggs and then stir in a gentle circle to create ribbons. Add in the white sliced green onions and the pepper, if you want. Let it all simmer for a minute, turn off the heat and serve.
  • Garnish with sliced green onions, toasted seaweed (gim), and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Notes

What kind of beef to use? Brisket is traditionally cooked and then shredded into smaller, bite-sized pieces. You can do the same with flank. I personally prefer a more fatty, tender cut so I use beef chuck. But it is flexible – you can also use ribeye, sirloin, or even ground beef.
What type of rice cake to use? For tteokguk, you’ll want to use the sliced rice cakes that are thinly sliced and oval-shaped. You can find them at most Korean grocery stores and at some general Asian and Chinese supermarkets. 
Can I use chicken broth? You can substitute water for chicken broth, beef bone broth, beef broth, or anchovy broth. Or you can just use water. Go with whatever broth you have and enjoy the taste of. 
Is there a substitute for soup soy sauce? If you don’t have soup soy sauce, substitute with a 50/50 ratio of fish sauce and salt instead. No fish sauce? Just use salt. I don’t recommend soy sauce for this recipe as tteokguk shouldn’t have a soy sauce taste at all. 
Is there vegetarian version? To make it vegetarian-friendly, substitute the beef with mushrooms that are sauteed in sesame oil and soy sauce, just like we’re doing with the beef. 
Can I add anything else? You can transform this tteokguk into a tteok mandu guk (rice cake dumpling soup) by adding fresh or frozen mandu (Korean dumplings). Kimchi mandu are so delicious in this soup. 
Use only what you need. Once cooked, rice cakes don’t store well. So use only the amount of rice cakes you’ll be eating this meal. Store the rest in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
How to store leftovers. Store the rice cakes and the broth separately. When it’s time to reheat, heat the broth to near boiling hot and then add in the rice cakes to heat through. 

Nutrition

Calories: 491kcalCarbohydrates: 58gProtein: 23gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 134mgSodium: 1327mgPotassium: 353mgFiber: 0.3gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 192IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 57mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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