Tag Archives: Korean Food

Injeolmi Tteok

“It’s somewhat of a tradition in Korea, I’m not sure if they do it anymore, but my mom told me when there’s a wedding, the bride and groom eat a certain kind of Tteok called Injeolmi, which is supposed to be extra sticky. They eat extra sticky Tteok so that the pair ends up sticking to each other, resembling a long and happy marriage.”

My informant learned about this tradition from his mom. He hasn’t witnessed it in person, but has only gone to one Korean wedding. It makes sense he said, since there is a saying of ‘you are what you eat’, hence if you eat something sticky, you might get stuck to your partner, which is a good thing.

I think this is a good example of a ritual. No one truly has control over how long the couple lasts, and by consuming this sticky tteok, it gives the couple control over their marriage. Tteok is also relatively cheap, allowing for this ritual to become common. Tteok is also traditionally very important in Korean culture, and by consuming it on an important day,

Birthday Soups

Background: The informant (J) is the son of two Korean immigrants. He moved to a city on the west coast when he was two years old and grew up there, but he was born in Korea and spent many summers there with his family.

J: On new years you eat this soup called tteokguk. Basically the reason why is that you don’t age by your birthday, you age by the year. Which is why when you’re born you’re like already one year old technically. It’s just different in Korea, like you just age every new year instead of on your birthday. I don’t know exactly why you eat it but it just symbolizes how you’ve aged a year. So according to tradition if you didn’t eat tteokguk on new years then you wouldn’t age, like, as in you have to eat it so you can age.

Me: Do you guys celebrate the new year with the western calendar or lunar or something

J: Uh… I don’t really know but I think it’s the same as Chinese New Year.

Me: Oh that’s the lunar calendar then.

J: Oh also tteokguk is rice cake soup, it’s a pretty light soup. And there’s also another birthday food, it’s called seaweed soup. Or i mean it’s not called seaweed soup it just is seaweed soup

Me: Do you know what it’s called in Korean?

J: Miyuk guk.

Me: Why do you eat that for birthdays?

J: It’s supposed to symbolize all the hard work your mom goes through like, birthing you.

Me: Why does it symbolize that?

J: Cause like, it’s supposed to be like your mom ate the soup when she had you and was recovering, so you eating is supposed to be like you honoring that and remembering…if that makes sense

Me: Wait so do women always eat it while they’re recovering from giving birth? Is it like a healing type soup or something?

J: Uhhh I don’t know…I think they just eat it because it…goes down easy? Like you don’t really have to like…chew a lot cause it’s really light and it’s just seaweed and soup. It’s probably kind of…nutritious too I guess.

Me: Do you eat seaweed soup on your day of birth or also on the new year when you’re like…considered to have aged?

J: No, I eat it on my day of birth. Because we don’t age on our birthday but the soup symbolizes your actual birth and like..the…struggles…of your mom

Me: I assume that everyone eats the rice cake on new year since everyone ages at the same time but does everyone eat the seaweed soup or just the person whose birthday it is

J: No only the..birthday person. Like my mom would eat it on her birthday and my dad would eat it on his birthday.

Context: This was told to me and recorded during an in person interview.



Informant: So in Korean culture… Before like a test or an exam you’re recommended not to drink or eat something that’s like soupy or runny. So, like, don’t have soup on the day of. And you should rather have something sticky like sticky rice or taffy or something like that, that has that like “oomph” to it… ‘Cause the correlation there is like, you drink something runny or you eat something that moves, then that information will leave with it. But if you have something sticky, that’ll help your brain stick that information into your head. 


Interviewer: Do you practice this?

Informant: No, I don’t. It’s just something my mom told me about… I haven’t really thought about it before like now. 

Interviewer: But have you ever tried or tested it?

Informant: No, I haven’t.


According to James George Frazer, homeopathic magic is magic in which like produces like. We see that manifested here, as soupy foods are believed to wash away information, whereas sticky foods encourage information to stick. The idea that what you consume can directly impact your performance in daily life is not unique to Korean culture; it is widely accepted that food is tied to health. Science shows that eating certain foods leads to different physical outcomes (ex. eating carbohydrates versus eating protein before working out). What is unique about this Korean belief is that it is not based on the nutritional value of a food, but on how soupy or how sticky it is––on texture or consistency. This is why it is more likely to be considered a form of magic, than a science-based belief.



Informant: So in Korea there’s this soup called Miyeok Guk. It is…  Essentially like a seaweed soup. And um… Seaweed has like iron in it, I believe. And in your blood… Your like hemoglobin has iron in it as well? So Korean reasoning is that, whenever a woman gives birth, she loses a lot of blood with that. So to make up for it, you should have food that can supply your body with iron, such as Miyeok Guk and seaweed. So on birthdays, in addition to like cake and just like normal birthday routines, the traditional side of it is eating Miyeok Guk and seaweed… For the iron that your mom lost. 


Informant: I do practice this. Cause I like Miyeok Guk.

Interviewer: So you’re really consuming it for the taste? 

Informant: Yeah… I mean… I also think that we all have a desire to keep our culture going. I think when we’re younger it was easy to forget about and not care. Like, “Who cares what they’ve done for a thousand years, Imma do me…” My dad was born in Korea but moved to Guam and later Hawaii and later Anaheim. So he’s very Americanized. My mom didn’t leave Korea until college, so she was always the more traditional Korean side of the family… But my dad and I are more Americanized. Um… But yeah, as time has gone on, I feel like it’s good to keep some things, even if it has zero significance or importance… Even if it’s just soup that reminds me of my mom, it’s nice to continue on with those little traditions. 


Korean birthday tradition honors the mother by including food that recognizes the hardship of childbirth. The informant, while also consuming Miyeok Guk for taste, has grown to appreciate this food as a symbol of his mother. This is multifaceted, as Miyeok Guk is both a Korean symbol of the mother in general, but also a reminder of the informant’s mother specifically, who passed this tradition onto him. This demonstrates how food can have a “broad” cultural significance, but also a more intimate, immediate, familial significance. Thus, there are several reasons that food traditions might be upheld. This tradition also seems to hint at an appreciation for the mother within Korean culture. 

Just throw everything in: The Platoon Stew

Main Piece:

The 부대찌개 (read: Buddae-jjigae) takes the words 부대 (Buddae) meaning army unit and 찌개 (jjigae) meaning stew/soup together. It is a prime example of the melding of Korean traditional cooking with an American influence. Korea before the technological and cultural factory it has become now was once an incredibly poor country and before and during the Korean War in the 1950’s. U.S military troops that arrived and fought there were supplied with many canned foods.

When the war ended, the troops left with the preservable food still around and post-war Koreans decided to utilize these provisions to good use. Using an old Korean vegetable stew and ramen noodles as a base, a myriad of other foreign ingredients such as hot-dog sausages, baked beans, cheese, and canned spam were added to the pot which resulted in the Army/Platoon Stew. Some people say that the stew was cooked and being eaten out of the left-over helmets. While it has a set recipe that acts as the foundation, many other elements and toppings can be added or removed by the preferences of the audience, adding more American style toppings or more traditional Korean ones.


The informant is my father, a proud Korean native born just after the Korean War’s end and a veritable library of knowledge on the country’s history and folkways. His lineage unites the two divided Koreas as his family hailed from the northern territories following his father’s escape to the South. His passion led him to previously be at the head of government funded Korean-American tourism business based in the Midwest during the early 2000s, promoting America to Koreans and Korea to Americans. As per South Korean law, he had also experienced mandatory military service where the stew’s relatively simple recipe makes it a favorite among the others serving their time. He often brings up it to the family when anything Korean ever makes it on the news such as movie stars or someone famous saying something positive about Korea.


I asked about the naming convention of one of my favorite Korean dishes many years ago and received an answer from both my mother and father who provided the recipe and its history, respectively. I asked once more when I had to help make one for the family.

My Thoughts:

While it carries no commemorative experiences by itself, the Buddae-jjigae to my mind perfectly symbolizes the start of the westernization of Korean culture, for better or for worse, while also standing at a liminal point between America and Korean cuisine cultures as well as traditional cooking and “modern” cooking. My grandparents and parents are often critical of the younger Korean generations for being rather dismissive of the traditional foods and forgetting many of the cultural ceremonies and rituals but the Buddae-jjigae serves as a proper bridge that generations both old and new can enjoy. Its recipe can also involve as many ingredients as one chooses, the tougher and traditional means creating homemade stock while the simpler methods are using prepackaged beef or chicken broths. It brings back fond memories of my hometown in South Korea where my and my family would talk to one of the famous restaurants that only served this stew but could only house four parties which meant that there were lines outside constantly. It brings a smile to my face every time I see some American celebrities and T.V Food Critics such as Anthony Bourdain and Andersoon Cooper talk about how much they loved the dish. Apparently even Lyndon B. Johnson loved it.