"How many bowls of tteokguk have you eaten?” Tteokguk is a beef-broth soup with chewy rice cakes sliced like perfect potato chips (tteok), eggs, seaweed and spring onions in it. It’s traditionally eaten on the morning of the Lunar New Year. Tradition says that for each bowl you eat, you become a year older.
Although tteokguk is an inseparable part of Korean New Year celebrations, it’s rather hard to find in Sydney, even on Lunar New Year. But you’re certain to find it at Soon-Ok Jung’s, Eunhasu. The restaurant is popular in Strathfield for serving great bossam (a platter of pork belly, leafy wrapping and sides) and another two particularly hard-to-find Korean dishes, wollamsam (Korean-style DIY Vietnamese rice paper rolls) and agujjim (spicy angler fish).
Soon-Ok first learned to cook at her aunt’s agujjim restaurant in Korea. It was the first thing she brought to Sydney when Eunhasu first opened more than 15 years ago. At the beginning, she was on her own. She cooked, served, ran the business – did everything. Now with a newer, more comfortable space on the quiet side of Strathfield, she still refuses to let anyone else cook. That means almost every day for the past decade and a half, Soon-Ok has made every banchan (Korean side dishes that come with every meal), stock, fermentation, fry-up and stew. It’s one of the reasons Eunhasu commands so much respect.
Unlike some of the newer Korean restaurants in the area, the food here is distinctly home-style – not to say that many dishes here aren’t complicated and labour intensive –but there’s no MSG and it’s not overly salty. Soon-Ok doesn’t take shortcuts. It makes it the perfect place to enjoy what’s usually a home-cooked affair, the Lunar New Year feast.
Tteokguk is the centre of that meal. Soon-Ok’s is thick and rich from a bone-marrow-based stock, and loaded with mandu, a Korean dumpling somewhere between Chinese jiaozi and Polish pierogi. Usually tteokguk is served among a great feast with particular attention paid to the presentation, produce and the variety of banchan; two of the most common being jeon and japchae. Jeon are fried miniature egg pancakes filled with anything from oysters or beef liver, to sweet mung-bean paste or azalea flowers. At Eunhasu they’re served either as part of the restaurant’s impressive range of side dishes or as a separate dish (look for “assorted Korean style of pancake”).
Japchae is a stir-fried dish with sweet-potato noodles, thinly sliced vegetables and sesame oil. It’s eaten either hot or cold and although it now appears on most Korean menus, and is enjoyed throughout the year, it’s traditionally eaten during celebratory occasions.
Eunhasu will be open and serving tteokguk, jeon and japchae on Lunar New Year, February 8.
33 Everton Road, Strathfield
(02) 9745 6917
Mon to Sun 11am – 10pm