As an American, I grew accustomed to two things on my birthday:
Now, I like getting gifts as much as the next girl, but I never really liked sheet cake. My mom always got it at the local grocery store and suffice it to say, it tasted about as good as one would expect from a national chain grocery store. Nevertheless, though it tasted sort of like cavity-inducing-cardboard,
God help my parents if they failed to acquire their American daughter an American sheet-cake for her birthday!
As with many things related to birthday festivities (and traditions, in general), the birthday cake had less to do with taste, and far more to do with sentiment. To me, the sheet-cake certified the following important things:
- Today is my special day, to the exclusion of all others.
- Everyone, including my parents and my little brother, are required to do as I say.
- I can thus eat several servings of cloying sweetness with impunity.
- I am American.
In retrospect, I can see why that last bit was so important to me. I was struggling with wanting to fit in at school with all the other kids. Few of them had parents like mine, looked like me, or had trouble speaking English. Those troubling English words spilled out of their mouths as effortlessly as a bag of bright Skittles. For me, they got caught somewhere between my stomach and my two front teeth.
Unfortunately, my parents were so good at throwing the typical American birthday bash (lest they trigger my adolescent range…), I had no clue what the traditional Korean birthday meal entailed until I was in law school. Sad! In fact, I discovered it while watching a scene from my absolute favorite Korean drama, My Lovely Sam-Soon.
In the above scene, Sam Shik stalks Sam Soon all the way up Mount Halas, basically declares his love for her, and hands her a box of Choco Pies (the designated “I don’t care if I get fat” snack food); but, it isn’t until he fishes out a canteen of seaweed soup–or meyukgook–that he brought for her birthday when her chilly disposition finally thaws and she admits being a little “touched.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my fair share of meyukgook. We ate it all the time growing up, but it was always just another standard, boring soup that showed up on the dinner table with regular frequency. But this–this special birthday soup that the sexy as hell Hyun Bin was handing over to his honey like a pot of gold–now that was something I could get behind.
Why is meyukgook a tradition on birthdays, anyway, though? Who wants to eat seaweed on any day, much less a day that was destined for the early onset of diabetes?
Well, the answer, not surprisingly, begins with the birth part of “birth-day,” as in your Mom. I don’t care who you are, if you were born, you had a mom. In Korea, moms will eat meyukgook for up to 3 weeks after giving birth in order to restore all the vital nutrients and vitamins that were lost. On birthdays, we partake in that meal as an homage to our mothers.
Isn’t that kinda nice?
Not to mention the fact that it tastes pretty dang good, is super easy to make, and is mega-healthy for you.
So, whether it’s your birthday or not, give this recipe a whirl and let me know what you think!!