Home Food When Soup Lets You Know How Old You Are

When Soup Lets You Know How Old You Are

by Nicolas See Tho

For most of us, each year we add on to our age is dictated by our birthdays, but in South Korea, age is counted from the first day of the lunar year, and during the celebration, tteokguk is eaten by many and is used as a marker for age as the moment you eat tteokguk it signifies an additional year in age.

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Tteok is a rice dish of thinly sliced beef and tiny bowls of seasoning. The tteok is symbolic to the Koreans in three ways, the rope signifies longevity, the thinly sliced coin like cuts signify wealth, while the white colour of the white ropes of rice cakes signify purity and a clean start to the new year.

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In South Korea, age is counted from the first day of the lunar year rather than individual birthdates. By eating this soup during the Seollal celebrations, Koreans literally mark themselves a year older and wiser. Fifty-one million people were gearing up for a giant birthday party, celebrated through one special dish.

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Communal culture is part and parcel of the Korean culture as can be seen in their linguistic and culinary habits, whereby they seldom use the word “i” and tend to lean more towards the usage of “we” and “us”. Dinner also shows their communal culture as well as they are served in shared dishes rather than single meals. The same is seen with their drinking culture whereby they tend to pour their neighbours glass first before pouring their own.

Thus when it comes to ageing, they too share a communal age whereby Korean babies are said to be one year old the moment they are born. Each subsequent year is communally shared and celebrated on the Seollal festivals or the Lunar New Year.

So this does take on a new meaning to sharing, don’t you think? Do you think we can share a universal birthday here in Malaysia celebrated over a nasi lemak?


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