If you’ve seen a few k-dramas you’ve probably seen characters either prepare seaweed soup or ask if another person had some for their birthday. It’s a Korean birthday tradition.
In the recent drama “Warm and Cozy,” the chef played by Yoo Yeon Suk prepared a Jeju Island version of seaweed soup. Park Shin Hye bought some instant seaweed soup or miyeok guk for Jang Geun Suk in “You’re Beautiful.” But he couldn’t eat it since the instant kind had sesame oil. He was allergic.
In “I Hear Your Voice,” Kim Hae Sook made Jung Woong In some seaweed soup for his birthday. But he did not appreciate the gesture and wound up killing her. In “Two Weeks” Lee Jun Ki helps a woman deliver her baby and, even though he was a fugitive, he stayed around long enough to make her seaweed soup.
The tradition of eating seaweed soup on your birthday is meant to remind a person of the day they were born. Traditionally, the soup is given to new mothers as their first meal after the delivery. Because it contains wakame or edible seaweed, the nutritious soup is high in calcium and iodine.
There are times when seaweed soup is not an advisable food choice. You don’t want to eat it before an exam or job interview, warned Chef Shin Kim at a recent K-drama cooking event, sponsored by Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE).
“Sometimes it is good to avoid because it is ‘slippery,'” said Kim. She teaches Korean cooking via Banchan Story and just happened to translate “Warm and Cozy.”
Traditionally, people do not want to eat seaweed soup before an important exam, for example, or the facts you studied so hard could “slip” away. People also don’t eat it before going on a job interview, or they could “slip” up.
“If you say ‘I had a very important exam. I ate miyeok guk,’ it means the person failed the exam,” said Kim.
If you are planning to celebrate your birthday (and not taking an exam the next day), you can try her simple recipe for Seaweed Soup.
Simple Seaweed Soup
10 grams of dried seaweed (miyeok or wakame)
1 teaspoon of neutral-tasting cooking oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic peeled and grated
1 teaspoon of salt
8 cups water plus more for soaking seaweed
1 to 2 teaspoons Koresn soup soy sauce (guk ganjang)
Pinch of black pepper
Optional: 1 5 oz. can of tuna in water, no salt added
1. Soak dried seaweed in cold water and let it soften, about 20 minutes. Rinse in water, drain, and squeeze lightly to remove excess water. Cut to small pieces, set aside.
2. Drizzle cooking oil in heated pot. Sauté seaweed and grated garlic together. Sprinkle salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon.
3. Add 8 cups of water. Bring it up to a boil over high heat then reduce heat to medium-low to simmer over until seaweed turns dark green, at least an hour. Skim off foam as it rises to the surface along the way.
4. Once it’s cooked, turn off heat. When it’s warm, taste and adjust seasoning with salt or soy sauce. Serve warm.