새해 복 많이 받으세요! Happy Lunar New Year!
The Lunar New Year, more popularly known as the Chinese New Year is celebrated across many East and South East Asian countries. Referred to as Sul Nal (설날) in Korean, it is one of the major holidays of the year in South Korea. It is also the day that Koreans celebrate becoming one year older, literally. Koreans have their own age – a year old when you come out of the womb, and you turn another year older when the (Lunar) New Year comes around. Definitely research it further if you are intrigued, especially since my explanation was simple and it can be a confusing concept to grasp if you haven’t grown up with these traditions. 🙂
From the time I was born until my pre-teens, every year on a set date in January, my family of four and all my closest relatives would gather at my grandmother’s house. I have a memory of when I was about 7 years old, running around my grandmother’s house in a red and green two piece traditional Korean dress called a han-bok (한복). There was a yellow and blue plastic Fisher Price bench set up in her living room that all the kids (me, my brother and my cousins) sat around to play on. As kids we all looked forward to a two things: games and New Years money. One important tradition is the bowing ritual given to your elders called 세배, where afterwards they would hand you an envelope of money. This meant – the more elders in your family, the richer us kids would be into the New Year. Every year, I bowed in my long poof-y dress the way all the ladies are supposed to bow, and my brother would bow the way boys and men are supposed to bow. During these gatherings, I was always reminded of how to behave “lady-like.” My aunts would show me how to bow and sit properly and how as girls, we should not play rough, instilling these gender roles at a young age. Growing up a tomboy and as a feminist in the making, those gender roles didn’t fly with me. At the same time, my mom was a huge advocate for me to voice my opinions and relentlessly encouraged me to express myself mostly due to the fact that I was such a shy kid. Traditionally, in Korean cultures male and female clothing and mannerisms differed as well (comparable to Western cultures). No different than the cultures we grew up with as Americans, women would spend time in the kitchen to prepare all the food. Grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, and daughter-in-laws would sit or stand around in the kitchen busily frying up some mung bean pancakes or stuffing dumplings. Hanging around the kitchen meant opportunity to pick at all the traditional Korean food set up on the dining room table. My grandmother’s cooking was mouth-watering and I looked forward to this day to engorge myself in rice cakes and all the foods.
Today’s post is in collaboration with Ann from Plant Crush, who has the most delightful blog with absolutely scrumptious looking recipes. I drool at the sight of anything on her blog. With this collaboration, I wanted to branch out a little and do something unrelated to fashion. Both of us being advocates to see more of the Asian American voice reflected in our everyday and as the Lunar New Year was approaching, I thought what better way to highlight our cultures and our stories. Asian Americans and persons of color in the vegan movement is disproportionately smaller, therefore it seems that there is a lack of awareness around how to “veganize” traditional cultural Asian dishes. Ann’s blog already does an amazing job at sharing vegan Asian inspired recipes, including Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese. With my background as a Korean American, and Ann’s as a Vietnamese-Chinese American, we each decided to share a recipe and a little interview featuring our mothers.
My parents immigrated here in the late ’70s and became American citizens in the early ’90s. Korean culture has always been a big part of my life infused into our American traditions, to best explain it’s like eating kimchi with a burger. Through this, I am able to share my mom’s story – a brief unique perspective of being a Korean immigrant in the United States and how the traditions my mom grew up with might clash with her new home. Below I share an interview with my mom, and am excited to share it with you all. I am grateful to her for willingness to take this time to share her input.
The following is translated from Korean and transcribed from a conversation I had with my mother. 🙂
What the Lunar/ Chinese New Year mean to Korean culture?
Mom: Family and a time to celebrate something new. It is a chance for our entire families to get together – family members you don’t normally see on a daily basis. We all get to really sit down with each other and share our stories from the past year, and grow one year older together. It is also a day to pay respects to your elders by spending time with them and through the bowing ceremony where envelopes of money and given to all of the children. The Lunar New Year is a very special time – it’s comparable to what Christmas means to Americans. Some people travel long, long distances to go see their parents and relatives. For Koreans, family and respecting elders is a huge part of our culture and this day is a reflection of that. It’s a day where the closest people gather together, catch up, make food, and play games. Everyone’s talking and laughing – it’s definitely a special and joyous time.
What Korean New Year was like in your hometown?
M: Everyone is off work, people are walking around the streets wearing han-bok, and there is a cheery feel in the atmosphere. How the Lunar New Year is represented in the U.S. versus Korea – it’s unparalleled. You really feel the significance and importance of this holiday in Seoul or where ever you are. It’s presence is unmistakable. I mostly recall playing a lot of the games, and of course the food. We used to play a lot of the traditional Lunar New Year games such as, Yut (윷놀이) and Korean hackey sack (제기차기). (Note, my mom left Korean when she was 18).
What was the New Year like after you came to the states? (My mom came to the U.S. alone, leaving her family behind to find better opportunities.)
M: When I came here, there was an older friend whom I met and she invited me over to her house every year. I’d go over and spend time with her family eating dduk guk and play the traditional Lunar New Year games like Yut (윷놀이). I met her through church gatherings. I attended a local Korean church and found a community there where I made friends. Coming to a different country where the language is foreign to you, and still be able to find a familiar cultural community makes me grateful for the diversity that America offers. Then when I got married to your father and had you, every year we’d go over to your grandma’s. I’d prepare and make mandu and bring it over.
What’s your favorite part of the holiday?
M: Eating and chatting away with loved ones. I love being able to sit down and catch up with everyone I haven’t seen in a while.
What’s your favorite CNY (Korean) food?
M: Mung bean pancake without meat (녹두 부침개) and Kimchi dumplings (김치 만두).
To make our mothers proud and to top this blog off, Ann and I will be sharing vegan-ized versions of two traditional Asian dishes – one Korean and one Vietnamese/ Chinese. Check hers out here. This was actually my first attempt at a vegan version of this traditional Korean dish which is typically made with beef broth and egg. This special soup is supposed to represent purity, luck, a fresh start, and growing a year older. Enjoy!!
VEGAN Korean Rice Cake Soup (떡국) Recipe
Total time: 35 minutes
- 10 cups of water
- 8 whole dried shiitake mushrooms
- Half a long sheet of dried kelp aka Dashima (다시마) – in Korean or Kombu – in Japanese)
- 1 medium head of a yellow onion, peeled & cut in half
- 3 scallions, cut off for the white ends and light green ends, reserve the dark green parts
- 7 small or medium garlic cloves, peeled & left whole
- Half of one small daikon radish
- 3 tbsp Soup Soy Sauce (국간장) or find gluten-free soy sauce/ tamari, and more to taste
- 1 tsp Salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 tsp Sesame oil
- Roasted and seasoned dried seaweed, crumbled and crushed
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Korean red pepper flakes
- Scallions, dark green parts
- Shiitake mushrooms from the stock, sliced
- Dried kelp from stock, thinly sliced
- 1 lb of (coin shaped) rice cake or dduk (떡), soaked in cold water for 3o minutes.
(Ask for the rice cakes for rice cake soup or dduk guk dduk (떡국 떡). They should be heavily available this time of the year at any Korean supermarket. Also, try a Chinese or your local Asian market.)
- 2 tbsp vegan egg by Follow Your Heart (Optional)
- In a large pot, pour water and place in shiitake mushrooms, onion, dried kelp, radish, scallion ends, and garlic. Cover and bring it to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Then leave on simmer, and covered for 20-25 minutes.
- (Optional) If you decide to use vegan egg, frying a thin layer as if you are making a crepe or a very thin omelette. Then, take it to the cutting board and flatten out. Cut it in half and slice thinly into small strips. (I did not include it into my dish, but I highly recommend it!!). Leave aside.
- Prepare rest of the garnish. Chop the remaining green onion stems. After 15 minutes, remove the kelp and shiitake mushrooms from the broth and slice thinly. Take sliced pieces of shiitake into a small mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt, a dash of sesame oil, and sprinkle in red pepper flakes. Mix it up and you have your second garnish.
- When the soup finishes boiling, with a skimmer or small metal strainer scoop out all the remaining vegetables from the broth and discard. Return the soup to a boil. Stir in soup soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Drain the rice cakes and add into broth. Boil for about 3-5 minutes.
- Finally, ladle the dduk guk into individual bowls. Top with any garnish combination: green onions, shiitake mushrooms, kelp, vegan eggs, and roasted seaweed crumbles. Ta-da!
Hope this was insightful for you all! I give kudos to Ann and any other food blogger for the amount of work that goes into creating recipes for their blogs. This very first recipe blog post gave me a chance to introduce food to my blog for you all. Although, recipes will be probably a rarity, if you would like – recommend me some things you’d like to see, and I’ll be happy to oblige! I am especially open to vegan-izing Korean food as I personally have experimented with quite a lot of dishes and that it will be a unique contribution to the vegan community.
Leave your comments below!