Miyeokguk Is The Korean Seaweed Soup That's Enjoyed For Birthdays

A comforting bowl of soup can take on many forms, utilizing everything from meats to vegetables for its aromatic base. Oftentimes, it just takes a deft combination of one or two ingredients to create a backbone of flavor.

In Korea, such a method applies to miyeokguk, a delicious soup crafted from wakame seaweed. Matched with soy sauce and a chunk of beef, the dish is equal parts nourishing and flavorful, sans the construction of a labor-intensive stock. The seaweed lends a balanced flavor, that is just a touch salty, with rich notes of umami. And the texture has a pleasant chew, but remains smooth and easily sipped.

Miyeokguk has long been intertwined with Korean traditions related to birth. It's suggested that women eat the soup after childbearing, sometimes multiple times a day. And in traditional beliefs, the soup is associated with several goddesses related to childbirth. Rituals include preparing miyeokguk and placing it by the bedside during the final stage of pregnancy. And in an ode to its connection with childbirth, many Koreans also consume the dish on their birthdays. Often prepared for breakfast, it's a culinary token of gratitude to motherhood. Yet nevertheless, miyeokguk can be enjoyed in more casual contexts, too. It's a steaming bowl of comfort, ready to be eaten as a lunch or light dinner.

Miyeokguk combines seaweed with soy sauce

The tasty soup is constructed utilizing seaweed, soy sauce, and added aromatics for flavor. The marine vegetal base is miyeok — known as wakame in Japan — which gives the dish its name. Usually sold in dried form, the seaweed is pre-soaked for several hours. It's then simmered alongside gukganjang, a thinner, yet more salty and savory soy sauce variant specific to Korea. The dish is then expanded with variable aromatic additions like garlic, ginger, onion and other sauces for flavor. Oftentimes, the broth is also built around a chunk of beef brisket, then simmered until the miyeokguk takes on a pleasantly murky quality similar to other stocks.

In addition to the beef variation, miyeokguk can incorporate seafood items like clams, mussels, and varying types of white fish like monkfish and tilapia. And while less common, there's a chicken version, too, showcasing just how encompassing the soup can be. With only half an hour of simmering time, miyeokguk is the perfect quick dish for delicious seaweed flavor. It's esteemed for its nutritious qualities and offers a nostalgic flavor that recalls birthday occasions.