If it’s January, it must be time to eat another new yearIt’s been three days since New Year’s Day as I write this, but I’ve lost the sense of the season. Maybe it’s because of the warmer weather.
I’ve done the usual things to start the new year. I put away my Christmas tree, cleaned my house and took a bath at a public bathhouse. On New Year’s Day, in Busan, I phoned my mother, toasted the new year with my aunt and ate a large bowl of tteokguk, or rice cake soup. I didn’t watch the first sunrise, but I did immerse my feet in sand on a beach on New Year’s morning.
All was pleasant. But something has been bothering me.
Maybe it has to do with losing my sense of time. I was horrified the other day to see that I’d written “1998” on the back of a bank check. I was in my mid-20s in 1998. Perhaps that was when I stopped counting.
But something else has been on my mind since New Year’s Day. It’s the Korean word “meokda.”
I’ve been trying to figure out why this word, which means “to eat,” is also used by Koreans to mean growing a year older. What do eating and getting older have in common?
The question has stuck with me since New Year’s morning, when my aunt sat me down to feed me that bowl of rice cake soup.
“Have this, you are eating another year,” she said.
Besides eating, “meokda” can also mean “to absorb,” “to listen,” “to put on,” “to saw” and “to achieve.” And it can mean “to grow older,” though the meaning is subtly different from that of “deulda,” which means “to age.”
Whereas “deulda” emphasizes the natural order of aging, “meokda” is more about maturing. It conveys responsibility.
In other words, in Korean, growing is different from aging. You might age, but you don’t necessarily “put on” another year just because a year has passed.
There are certain obligations you are expected to fulfill in order to properly grow another year. You need to be able to absorb, listen and take responsibility for what you are.
What’s also interesting about “meokda” is that when used with the word for “ear,” it can mean “to go deaf.” Does that mean we have to pretend not to hear what others say, and do what our hearts tell us, in order to grow up? Maybe. In a way, it’s a poignant metaphor for growing up and accumulating experience. Because, after all, you are what you eat.
Or maybe my real problem is that I wasn’t ready to eat another bowl of rice cake soup.
How to Cook
Tteokguk (rice cake soup)
Ingredients: 200g of beef brisket, 300g of rice cakes, 1 egg, 2 green onions, 4 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of diced green onion, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, a pinch of pepper, 7 cups of water. Serves 4.
1. Pour the water into a pot; add the brisket, the two green onions and the garlic cloves and boil for 2 hours.
2. Remove the brisket and cut it into bite-size pieces. Let them marinate in the soy sauce, sesame oil, crushed garlic, diced green onion and pepper.
3. Add the rice cakes and the salt to the boiling water.
4. When the rice cakes have softened, add the egg.
6. Serve topped with the brisket.
From miz.naver.com, Delicook
by Park Soo-mee