Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Mark your calendar and get ready to fill your belly on February 3rd, 2011. The day is known as Seol-nal (Lunar New Year) in Korea and is more popularly known elsewhere as the Chinese New Year. Usually a week before the actual Lunar New Year, I get really excited thinking about all the good food, the family reunions and the traditional games I used to play. This year will be no different.
When I was 9 years old, still living back in Seoul, Korea, I would dress up in my traditional Korean clothes known as hanbok, which consists of a blouse shirt known as the jeogori and a full-length wrap-around skirt known as the chima. The tricky thing about this outfit is tying the goreum, the ribbon located in the front of the blouse jacket. I would usually struggle by myself for about 10 minutes or so making weird knots and finally giving up and asking my mom to make that perfect goreum. I distinctly remember loving the feeling of being in my colorful hanbok, twirling around and then catching the air underneath my chima. The joy of being in the chima was also in its unlimited ability to expand which was critical since I was always determined to eat as much good food as possible but also needed to hide my bulging stomach.
Waking up on Seol-nal, I would usually be greeted in the morning by the mouthwatering smells of delicious mandu (Korean dumplings), jeon (pan-fried dishes) and dduk-gook (rice cake soup) and the sounds of my mother and aunts talking and cooking while the pans on the stove sizzled. As part of the tradition, before indulging ourselves in this delectable food, we dressed in our hanbok and paid respect to our elders by doing saebae or bowing. When the kids do saebae, the adults usually give saebae money to them. When I was growing up, I put much more emphasis on how much money I would receive than on honoring the elders. What kid wouldn’t?! After all, the saebae money kept me in toys and books for the rest of the year.
After saebae, we could finally eat. The signature Seol-nal dish is called dduk-gook, a flavorful rice cake soup made with chicken, beef or anchovy broth, garlic, soy sauce, scallions, with lightly beaten eggs mixed in. We Koreans believe that eating dduk-gook brings good luck and blessings for the year ahead. The elders liked to tell the kids that if we ate all our dduk-gook, we would get one year older and wiser. Oh, the responsibility that came with eating one bowl of dduk-gook! I even wondered if I would age 3 years in one day if I ate three bowls of dduk-gook.
As an adult, I often think about the good old days when I would get up feeling ecstatic about wearing beautiful hanbok and eating wonderful homecooked food in the spirit of the New Year. But because I have now reached the age where I don’t particularly want to think about getting one year older, I’ll just think about the beautiful, savory food that will be prepared in Asian homes everywhere to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit.
"Sae-hae-bohk mahn-hee bah-duh-sae-yo!" (“Happy New Year!” in Korean.)