Miyukguk: Seaweed Soup 미역국

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Miyukgook (miyeokgook)

The Birthday Soup

This Saturday is my birthday which means I will be having a bowl of miyukguk (seaweed soup pronounced 'me-yuck-gook'; also spelled miyeokguk) in the morning before heading out to teach at Korean School. You may be asking me why on earth I would be enjoying a bowl of miyukguk for my birthday. It may be surprising but this Korean food is eaten on your birthday in Korea.

If there is one thing I remember really well about having a baby, it was eating A LOT of miyukguk, especially the first week after my firstborn arrived. I literally ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was no missing out on this soup.

There are records dating back as far as the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) where eating miyuk (seaweed) was practiced after childbirth. It is said that the Koreans of that time observed mother whales eating seaweed after giving birth to their calves. Koreans wanted to mimic nature and so the tradition of eating miyuk after childbirth was established.

Seaweed is high in calcium, iodine, and iron which are all great for postpartum. I remember asking my mother why it was necessary to eat so much miyukguk after having a baby and she explained that it was good for purifying all the bad blood, to give me strength, and to help with breastmilk production.

Growing up I didn't really care to look too deeply into the tradition of eating miyukguk on your birthday but I know now that it symbolizes gratitude to your mother who also ate miyukguk to recover from such hardships in childbearing and childbirth.

Not Only For Birthdays

Miyukguk is not a soup just specifically eaten on your birthday. It is a soup that is enjoyed whenever you feel like having it. 

Besides doengjang soup (soybean paste soup), miyukguk is one of two soups that are most requested by my children. I remember when my father-in-law (who is not Korean) was in town observing Joowon (my firstborn) having a bowl of miyukguk and rice for breakfast. He made a comment saying that he couldn't imagine himself eating seaweed first thing in the morning. 🤣

It is the only soup that my husband will refuse to eat. The texture can be quite slimy for some people and for this very reason, my husband cannot handle seaweed. 

My Recipe

My mom taught me how to make miyukguk over the phone when I lived away at Penn State. Since it was my first time away from home and no one to make me miyukguk, I had to make it on my own. Over the years, the recipe has evolved to my personal taste.

There are two different ways I cook miyukguk. The first one, I cook using stew meat and the other with ox tail bones. The miyukguk I make with oxtail bones is simply bone broth made from the bones, miyuk, salt, and pepper (to taste). The miyukguk I make with stew meat has a few more ingredients so I'll share this recipe with you. 

First, you want to grab a handful of dried seaweed (also known as wakame). I weighed this out on a scale for your convenience. You can use between 7-10 grams of dried seaweed. It may not look like much but trust me, it is enough. 

Dried seaweed in a bowl.

You don't want to end up like this where you have a whole tub full of miyuk in your house. This is a scene from Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha when Hyejin decides to cook miyukguk for Dusik's birthday.

Scene from Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha with enormous amount of seaweed in a bowl.

Once you have this in a bowl, fill the bowl with water to soak the seaweed so that it can soften and expand. This typically takes about 20-30 minutes but check the package for suggested soaking times.

Soaking seaweed in a bowl.

You will also need about 400 grams of beef stew. 

Stew beef in a ziplock bag placed inside a bowl.

Spread about a tablespoon of sesame oil in a pot that can easily fit 48oz of water and enough room to spare. Saute the stew meat in the sesame oil until it's about halfway cooked. Optional: You can take the meat and rinse off the scum. I like to do this to lessen the amount that I have to take out later when cooking. 

Beef stew cooking in a pot.

Squeeze out all the water from the soaking seaweed. With kitchen scissors or a knife, cut the seaweed into bite-size pieces (seaweed can be very long if not cut). Saute the seaweed with the stew meat with a little bit of sesame oil. 

Beef stew with seaweed cooking in a pot.

Fill the pot with 48oz of water, 5 garlic cloves, and bring the pot to a boil. With a ladle, take out as much scum at the top of the soup and dispose of it.

Seaweed soup cooking.

Put a tablespoon of Joseon gangjang (soup soy sauce), 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper into the soup and mix. (We tend to eat this soup with a bowl of rice in it. If you plan to eat the soup on its own, I suggest cutting the soup soy sauce by 1/2 tablespoon.)

Picture of fish sauce and soup soy sauce.

Let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with a bowl of rice and some side dishes. 

Miyukgook (miyeokguk) recipe

I hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit about the story behind why Koreans eat this soup on their birthdays. I am no food blogger but I tried. 

If you happen to make the miyukgook, please let me know what you think! If you have any suggestions on how to make it better, I am open to suggestions, too! I'm always interested in learning new ways to make something better. 

Until next time, Friends, I hope that you're staying warm through the chilly winter weather.




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