I cannot speak for all cultures and people when I say this but the cultural difference of preparing a healthy and revitalizing seaweed soup dish for someone on their birthday in Korea versus the typical practice of serving an often overly sugary cake in other parts of the world has always intrigued me.

Seaweed soup – Miyeok-guk (미역국), is a simple and healthy dish typically made with a muscle-based broth, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and chewy Miyeok seaweed. Koreans may ask “Did you eat your seaweed soup?” as a birthday greeting.

Why?

This is because its consumption shows respect and gratitude to your mother, who brought you into the world on your day of birth. Its high nutritional properties such as calcium and iron explain why the dish is eaten by Korean mothers for at least three weeks after giving birth in the first place.

This practice rejuvenates the mother’s strength and nutrition seeing that childbirth takes such a toll on the human body. It also helps to generate breast-milk for the new-born baby. Since the soup is the mother’s first meal after giving birth, it is the baby’s first meal too.

Funnily enough, although Miyeok-guk can be eaten at any time, Korean students will not consume it before an exam as the slippery texture of the plant represents the idea of failure.

Despite everything, the soup is versatile, quick and easy to make, and can be frozen for future consumption. It is also naturally low in calories and fat: a healthy addition overall to anyone’s diet.

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