>Happy New Year!


For the New Year, it is traditional for Koreans to eat a dish called, Duk Gook, which roughly translates to rice dumpling soup. There have been multiple times where Sarah and I have eaten the proper version of this; there are also times where I have simply added some duk (rice dumpling) to instant udon. This year, we got the real stuff.
In Pallisades Park (which is 40% Korean, by the way) and likely in much of Bergen County, the Korean restaurants all serve Duk Gook on New Year’s Day for free. This, I think, is a fantastic idea. If I ever expatriate and open up a bar, I will serve hot dogs and apple pie for free on the Fourth of July. You can hold me to that.
We went to a certain Korean restaurant that is known for its Korean barbecue. They had a line out the door. Fortunately, it was unseasonably warm. I don’t recall the name of the place, but my Dad assured me that it was a good one for Duk Gook. It had a good, central location, and the restaurant has had the benefit of having the same chef for a long period of years, something that many other korean restaurants in the area apparently cannot similarly claim.
As we got towards the front of the line, we saw the insides of this very traditional Korean restaurant. Like Mandarin, where we had Cha Jang Myun, they had menus, but the only real information you needed to know was written in sharpie on sheets of paper that were taped to the walls. But, given the special-ness of this particular day, they dispensed with the formality of the menu, the hand-written menus, or even ordering at all. The waitresses, who were colorfully dressed in New Year’s hambok (traditional Korean garb), didn’t even ask you what you wanted to eat. Today was free Duk Gook day.

The banchan came out as soon as we sat down. And this place, like Mandarin down the street, was also modest with what they brought out. I would imagine that they are usually much more generous with their banchan at any other time, but again, this was free Duk Gook day. We got kimchi, which is the ubiquitous pickled cabbage dish. Specifically, it is bok choy or napa cabbage that is sliced and jarred with rice wine vinegar, red pepper powder, ginger, and some other things. I do not know the exact recipe for kimchi, as I am not an old Korean woman. As far as I know, only old Korean ladies know how to make kimchi anymore.

Along with the kimchi, we got a dish of pickled bean sprouts and pickled spinach. To call these dishes pickled seems like it would be misleading, as they really aren’t pickled in the Western sense. But, to call these things pickled does seem like a second-best alternative to referring to them rice wine vinegar marinated bean sprouts or rice wine vinegar marinated spinach.

The Duk Gook soon came out after we got the ban chan (side dish condiments). It was amazing how fast it was. We probably couldn’t have gotten our food faster if we had gotten up and gotten it ourselves. But it was New Year’s Day, and everyone needs to eat their Duk Gook. There were no lingerers. And service was quick.

The Duk part of Duk Gook is little rice dumplings, but not in the wonton sense of the word. People have tried to explain duk as a rice cake before, and this may apply to the sweetened version of this substance that is served as dessert on special occasions. But when it is served in the savory version, I think the word, dumpling better applies. I am not exactly sure how duk is made, but I imagine it is not too far from taking a whole bunch of Korean sticky rice, smushing it into a disk, and slicing up that disk. It’s kind of like gnocci or the dumplings in a chicken and dumpling soup. You have to eat it to get it, I think.

The Gook (soup) part of Duk Gook is a beef broth. I am not sure why it turns up white, as I am fairly certain that it is actually a bone marrow soup. Whatever it is, the broth is light, clean, and savory. I have never had beef consomme, but I imagine it would be a lot like this. When you have this broth in the winter, it really warms you up from the inside out, which is a type of fullness that usually requires a chowder or stew.

There is some garnish that goes with this dish. At this place, there were shredded pieces of egg, kim (seasoned seaweed paper), and beef.

It was a good meal, albeit a bit rushed. But each year where we have had real duk gook has been a good year for Sarah and me. Hopefully, that trend will continue for us and for everyone else who shared that meal with me: my dad, my sister, and her fiance.


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