Birthdays in Korea: Miyeokguk (미역국)

Growing up at home I got to experience a wide range of food from both my mom and dad. My mom would cook a wide range of Korean food, and around birthdays she would make Miyeokguk (미역국) or seaweed soup as I knew it. 

Traditionally Miyeokguk was served to new mothers after they gave birth. It’s said that help restores and purify the blood in the body and help with circulation. It has vitamins such as B1 and B3, while also being a source of calcium, iodine, and fiber as well. 

Miyeokguk has its origins from the Goryeo Kingdom that existed from 918-1392. Traditionally beef is used, but there are also recipes that make use of seafood such as mussels and clams as well. 

It’s also tradition to eat Miyeokguk on your birthday, and while you can find instant options in grocery stores, it’s not too hard to make it for yourself. After going to the local grocery store and going through what I already had; I gathered the following ingredients: 

  • 2 pieces of garlic (minced) 
  • ½ cup of dried seaweed
  • 2 tablespoons of anchovy fish sauce
  • Sesame oil (to taste) 
  • ~200 grams of beef
  • 8 cups of water

Many recipes call for something like beef brisket, but I had some bulgogi-style beef in the freezer that needed to be used. The dried seaweed I found was already cut into square shapes and even then they expanded quite a bit. The last time that I tried making Miyeokguk I prepared too much seaweed/miyeok. 

After measuring out about half a cup of dried seaweed, I had to let it soak in a bowl of water for approximately 20-30 minutes until it expanded. After washing and draining a few times it was cut up into smaller pieces and put into the cooking pot. 

At this point, I was able to add the water and let the seaweed boil for about 20 minutes to let the miyeok cook. While waiting I was able to cut up the beef and mince the garlic so that they could be added next. 

After letting the beef and garlic boil for another 20 minutes, I was able to add the anchovy sauce and a little bit of sesame oil as well and the miyeokguk was complete. 

Having some fresh rice to go with the soup completes the meal. I usually make enough for a couple of meals since the rice cooker can keep the rice warm in the meantime. My mom would always tell us to put in water just enough to cover our hands to make the best rice. Enjoy the short video at the end where I document today’s meal. 

A birthday wouldn’t be complete without cake. Traditionally, my parents would make a carrot cake on our birthdays, but since there’s over 6000 miles between us right now, I’ll have to settle for a slice from one of the local coffee shops.  

Watch me make Miyeokguk for my birthday dinner.

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