Happy 2014, friends!
To many, a new year means a clean slate and the bucking of previous trends. There are some rituals, however, that are best carried over and kept intact — such as the Korean tradition of eating tteok guk, or rice cake and dumpling soup, on New Year’s Day. I spent NYE at a friend’s cocktail party indulging in one too many whiskey cocktails, so nothing sounded better the morning after than this soothing, light dish. (I wonder if Korean ancestors established this food ritual knowing that it’d be the perfect hangover fix?)
As Jay’s relatives and their homemade tteok guk were 400 miles away, we resorted to feasting at one of our favorite restaurants, Han Il Kwan, instead. There, we ordered sul lung tang, a beef bone stock, in addition to the traditional soup. The sul lung tang was solid, although Jay had been craving something spicy and would’ve preferred something with bolder flavors. As for the tteok guk — I’ve loved this dish 365 days of the year and always will.
Just as exciting as the entrees, however, is the colorful assortment of side dishes known as ban chan (lead photo). I could, and have often, made a full meal out of these complimentary small plates. Han Il Kwan’s variety is exceptionally good, including marinated dried anchovies, seaweed salad, blanched bean sprouts, warm fish cake slices, pickled daikon, and that Korean stalwart, cabbage kim chi.
The kitchen also sends out additional freebies, including gaerun jim, or egg omelette steamed in a stone pot, and bite-sized pa jun, or savory egg and scallion pancake. Some main dishes also include a bowl of soon dubu, or spicy soft tofu soup. These sides are often my favorite part of the meal — simple yet satisfying.
Every meal at Han Il Kwan is rounded out with sikhye, a dessert beverage containing sweet rice. After an inevitably hearty meal, its subtle, light flavor is a perfect closing note.
While it is surely an exciting time to consider new beginnings, I urge you to look at things you’d like to carry with you into the new year. I certainly won’t give up my pursuit of good food — and if you feel the same, I’d highly recommend visiting Han Il Kwan. Lucky for us, they serve New Year’s soup and other delicacies year round.
Han Il Kwan
1802 Balboa St
San Francisco, CA 94121