Blog Post #1: Matzo Ball Soup

          Matzo ball soup is of great importance to me, almost a spiritual experience, for a variety of reasons—first and foremost, there is its delicious flavor.  There is nothing better than biting into a matzo ball of perfect size, texture, and density, with the right balance of spices.  It is very easy to tell when a matzo ball has just the right ratio of ingredients and was cooked for just the right amount of time.  Secondly, and in connection to the previous point regarding flavor, is the sense of home that a warm of cup matzo ball soup gives me.  There is a reason that people call matzo ball soup “Jewish penicillin,” for there is nothing better for soothing a sore throat or cold than a warm cup of matzo ball soup, prepared just right.  From my preschool through high school days, if I was home sick from school, my mom would offer me a cup of matzo ball soup.  It became associated with ‘sick days’ for me, and as I grew older, she did not even have to ask me anymore if I wanted it, for she knew that it was the one thing I craved in that moment.  When I came to college for the very first time and was hit with a severe cold during syllabus week of my Freshman year, my mom phoned Hillel at Emory—specifically, for their “Jewish Penicillin Hotline,” a special service offered by Emory’s Hillel (and Hillel’s nationwide) that caters to sick students, by delivering matzo ball soup to them at no cost.  More information about Emory Hillel’s “Jewish Penicillin Hotline” can be found on their website (  I had the sense of warmth and of home upon sipping this cup of soup, feeling automatically better—despite my being several hundred miles away from home, my mother still had the ability to ‘take care of me’ via my favorite cure—matzo ball soup—thanks to Hillel’s program.  On another note, matzo ball soup holds special meaning for me because of the connection that it has to my grandmother.  My grandmother’s homemade matzo ball soup was my all-time favorite, and it wasn’t just the eating that ranked so highly but also the fact that we made it together which added up to a special bonding experience, —cooking in general was our main way of bonding.  If it were not for my grandmother, I most likely would never have found the pleasure that I do in cooking and baking (anything) to this day. She had a natural talent for this and delighted in sharing it with me. This was a true inspiration.  Although she is no longer with us, her lessons gave me the skills to continue her tradition and keep her memory close.

          The two photographs that follow are linked to the meaning that matzo ball soup holds dearly for me.  The first one is of my loving grandmother—the matzo ball master chef—and I, at my second birthday.  The second photo is of the dish itself—matzo ball soup—which I tracked down from NPR’s website (  I could not find a photograph of my grandmother’s matzo ball soup but note the dill that is in the broth—a major contributor to the broth’s flavor.

My grandmother and I.
Matzo ball soup with fresh dill (









          While my grandmother did not have a written recipe for her soup, years of observing and assisting—by being her “taste-tester”—taught me the optimal proportions of ingredients, and one day I made sure to write down everything that I had observed.  Moreover, there are two key parts to this soup—the first one being the broth, and the second one being the matzo balls.  Before making the matzo balls (my favorite part), she would make the broth, incorporating the following basic ingredients:

    • 1 whole Amish chicken
    • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
    • 2 cups of water
    • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
    • 2 stalks of celery, diced
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 3 sprigs of dill, rinsed
    • 3 sprigs of parsley, rinsed
    • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
    • KOSHER SALT (to taste, by the pinch)

First, in a large pot and over medium heat, she would sauté the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, in the vegetable oil.  Second, she would add the remaining ingredients, along with 2 cups of water, to the mixture in the pot.  Next, she would place the lid on top of the pot, over medium heat, and let it reach a boil—the point at which she would turn down the heat to a simmer and do this for 30 minutes or so.  In the meantime, I would help her out with making the matzo balls—my favorite part—which required the following ingredients:

    • 1 cup of matzo meal
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
    • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
    • 3 tablespoons of water
    • 1 teaspoon of fresh dill, diced
    • 1 teaspoon of salt

First and foremost, she would have me whisk together the ‘wet’ ingredients: the eggs and vegetable oil.  Next, I would add the matzo meal, baking powder, salt, and a pinch or so of freshly cracked pepper into the mixture—and lastly, I would add the water.  Then, it was time to wait, as we had to allow about 30 minutes or so for the matzo ball mixture to absorb the liquid and harden while in the refrigerator.  Right about now, the soup is fully simmered, and it is safe to remove and shred the chicken.  With the shredded chicken aside, the soup can be strained—thus, discarding the remaining solid ingredients, and the shredded chicken can then go back in.  When it comes to making matzo ball soup, the broth is the most challenging part, as it requires a lot of tasting and modification, accordingly.  Often, the measurements of salt and pepper have to be adjusted; thus, it is important to start off on the lower end in terms of quantity. One can always add more—otherwise, that is, if you add too much, it may be too late to fix.  Moreover, once the broth is complete and you have allowed for the matzo ball mix to harden and absorb the moisture while being refrigerated, you can sculpt!  On the side, you want to have a simmering pot of water, awaiting the sculpted matzo balls which are to be tossed in.  Molding the matzo balls was always my favorite part of the process.  Once they were all ready, in perfectly spherical balls, I would drop them into the simmering water, one by one, and set the timer for 25 minutes.  My grandmother taught me that the longer you cook the matzo balls, the lighter they become. And it is all about preference in this case; I enjoy my matzo balls just in between dense and light.  Once the timer had gone off, the cooking and preparation were complete, and the broth and matzo balls were ready to be combined!  For longer lasting matzo balls, I would often watch my grandmother reserve some of the matzo balls in airtight containers and refrigerate or freeze them (for me to have later on), but depending on the occasion, this was not always necessary.

          An additional factor marking the significance of matzo ball soup for me, is its origin in the Jewish culture and religion—one that my entire extended family has grown up following, and one which links us all together.  Moreover, the Jewish religion has been a major part of my upbringing.  Although matzo ball soup is linked to Judaism in general, it is most often eaten by Jews during Passover, as part of the Passover meal (or Seder). “The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the Biblical story of the Exodus, or the freeing of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. . .The Passover meal, known as a Seder, is all about remembering Jewish history.  Much of the food is deeply symbolic.  Matzo represents the unleavened bread the Jews ate while fleeing Egypt, for example, and horseradish is a symbol for the bitterness of slavery” (  Furthermore, each component of the Passover meal has cultural significance to Judaism, as each symbolizes a concept relevant to Jewish history that has been taught and carried through Jewish tradition.  Thus, matzo ball soup’s which uses only matzo meal —is in keeping with the Passover practice of eating only unleavened food.  This is done because historically, was no time for bread to rise when the Jews left Egypt in a hurry; and the flatness of matzo is said to symbolize humility as opposed to arrogance. So matzo ball soup holds great symbolism for Jewish people during Passover, but I can eat it any day! It gives me all of the above: a sense of familiarity, of comfort, and of home, family, tradition, and religion.

June Sohn Post #1: Tteokguk

One of the most important dishes in my family is called tteokguk. Tteokguk literally translates to rice cake soup, and it not only is an important dish in our family, but it also symbolizes South Korean culture in various ways. To me, Tteokguk is a dish so important to me that it is one of foods that I crave whenever I am homesick. Though there are many variations of this dish, my favorite is my mom’s style: simple, yet so rich in flavor. Always being the first meal my mom cooks for me when I come home for break, Tteokguk brings about feelings of nostalgia and bliss. As I take a mouthful of Tteokguk, I am taken down the memory lane of my four tough years in high school. As an athlete, I was always out the doors by 6 a.m. to go to morning practices. Especially during the cold winters of Seoul, which can get as low as 10 °F, practice sessions were hard to endure. My mom, a typical Korean mother who is always concerned whether or not her child is getting enough food, would always cook me a hot bowl of Tteokguk. “Hot soup and some rice cake will make you feel warmer on the field,” my mom would always tell me. Though sleepy without appetite, I would always finish the entire bowl to see my mom proudly smile, a sign of relief that her child was well-fed. To my surprise, on the days I ate Tteoguk for breakfast, I felt warmer, due to the warmth of the soup or perhaps the warmth of my mom’s heart. The warmth still prevails in my heart and mind, intensifying whenever I eat Tteokguk.

Tteokguk is symbolic of South Korean culture as well. Though it can be eaten at any time of the year, this dish is generally consumed on New Year’s Day. Interestingly, Korea has its own way of counting ages; a baby is considered a year old the moment it is born. And from that point, every year, on New Year’s Day, a person turns a year older, despite it not being their birthday yet. For example, a person born in August 2019 would turn 2 years old on January 1st, 2020. It is said that a person turns a year older if they consume a bowl of Tteokguk on New Year’s Day. In the 19th century, people commonly asked, “How many Tteokguks did you eat?” to ask for a person’s age. It is believed that Tteokguk was first introduced as a dish for New Years because the ingredients symbolize various things. The rice cake that is put into the bowl is originally a long piece of rice cake, almost like a long sausage. This long piece of rice cake represents longevity. The rice cake is cut into pieces to prepare Tteokguk, and it is cut up into circular pieces that almost look like coins. With an abundance of these circular rice cakes in the bowl of Tteokguk, a spirit of wealth and good fortune is thought to follow the person.

Tteokguk was first cooked with beef to make the soup, but since its invention, variations in cooking methods have formed. This difference in preparation methods is important to my family as a whole, for it shows the different roots and origins of where my mom and dad came from. My paternal grandparents are from an area called Masan located near the Southern coast of the Korean peninsula. Located near many ports, Masan is known for its seafood. Having grown up in this area, my paternal grandmother always incorporated seafood into her cooking. Her style of Tteokguk is made from anchovy broth, which has a crisp, refreshing taste much lighter than beef broth. My maternal grandparents are from a city called Daegu, which is located in the south away from the ocean. Seafood is less commonly used in this region, so my maternal grandmother uses beef broth to make Tteokguk. Her broth is very intense and resonating in flavor, for it is cooked on low heat for 5-6 hours. Both styles of Tteokguk represent where my roots lie, which is quite often forgotten when living in the United States. Though it may not be my ultimate favorite dish, Tteokguk is a dish that not only satisfies my taste buds, but it also reminds me of my frequently overlooked ancestry. It’s a dish for both the mouth and the soul.

This is my maternal grandparents with my mom and dad. It was taken when we went out to eat Tteokguk!

This picture was taken from This is the beef broth version of the dish.


Recipe (beef broth, my mom’s style)


  • 500g of cut up rice cake
  • 300g beef brisket cut into cubes
  • 500 mL of water
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (special type called guk ganjang used for soups)
  • Seaweed (optional)


  • Soak 500g of rice cake in lukewarm water.
  • In a pot, put 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and stir fry 300g of beef brisket on medium high heat until no red parts remain.
  • When the beef is cooked, put 500 mL of water right into the pot.
  • On medium heat, bring the water to boil.
  • When it begins to boil, add about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. (More if you would like)
  • Put the pre-soaked rice cake into the boiling broth and cook until the rice cake becomes soft and chewy.
  • Serve hot in a bowl. Garnish with cut-up seaweed if desired.

Journal #1- ban mian

Fujian Ban Mian

A dish that is important to me is the Fujian Ban Mian, which is essentially just sesame and peanut butter noodles. This a relatively unknown street food and it represents my cultural and personal background. My family is from a small village on the outskirt of the capital of Fuzhou, China that used to be mostly undeveloped until about a decade ago. When my parents grew up in the village, they did not have much financially and often had simple meals like this that are fast, filling, and only requires few ingredients. However, even when they have moved away from the village and to America, they have brought the recipe with them and made it at home. I remember eating this often as a child when my mom would make it for dinner or when I was at any family relatives house, especially at my grandmas. We would all sit together in a big table and quickly eat this as it is piping hot as we reminisce about the past and catch up on our lives. If the noodles sit too long, the sauce and noodles would become too sticky. As a child, I frequently visited China to visit my grandparents and other relatives and they would either make these noodles with their homemade peanut butter or they would take me to one of the many small shack-like restaurants a couple blocks away from each other. This peanut butter noodle was insanely cheap, in which the small, medium, and large bowls were 3, 4, and 5 yuan respectively, which are less than $1 in the US. They make everything homemade from the noodles to the peanut butter, which was more like a combination of peanut oil and paste. Because it was such a small village, almost knew each other or knew one of our relatives and they serve you and treat you like family. However, many of the restaurant owners have now immigrated to America and some of the best ban mian noodle restaurant has now closed down.

The Fujian immigrant wave to America started in 1980 to the present and consisted of poor Chinese immigrants often by illegal means. They have brought with themselves this dish to New York, which can be found in a couple shop tucked away in Chinatown New York for less than $3 on Eldridge Street and parts of East Broadway where the Fuzhou immigrants settled. In both China and in America are small, cozy, and hole-in-the wall restaurants with little décor and just open tables. Fujian cuisine often emphasizes the umami taste while being light, flavorful, soft and tender. This type of food is also known as xiao chi, which means small eats or otherwise known as snack. Ban mian translated means “tossed noodles” and is traditionally a lunch food, but it can also be eaten for breakfast, dinner, or late night snack. Peanuts are popular in China as there are peanut oil, paste, or sauce, however, peanut butter is typically an unusual ingredient in China and is not found in most dishes. Many people eat ban mian accompanied with Fujian wonton soup, called Bian Rou, which has thin skin in a light broth. This is a very popular fast food lunch option and is very light and convenient.

When I was about to leave for college, this was one of the first recipes that my mom taught me. It is so simple and takes maybe less than 5 minutes to make this, which is only a little bit longer than microwaving a frozen dish, but so much healthier. My mom prides herself in making home-cook meals as often as possible. I make this when I am crunched on time and as comfort food as this reminds me of my childhood, my grandparents, and of home. It reminds me of my family’s background of where they came from and the hardship of how they immigrated to the United States. This is so significant to me because it is my favorite and first Fujian dish that I ever learned.



1 pack of wonton noodles (contains 3 or 4 nests of noodles)
3 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
Soy sauce, to taste (start with one tablespoon)
Sesame oil, to taste (start with one tablespoon)
1 scallion, for garnish

Cook one clumps of wonton noodles into boiling water. Cook for 1 minute (or 2 if frozen) or until the noodles are warm and pliant. Mix peanut butter, soy sauce, water, and sesame oil in a bowl, tasting until you find a good balance of flavors. Add more pasta water in to make the sauce soupier. When the noodles are done, scoop them up and plop them into the bowl. Throw chopped scallion on top of the noodles for taste and garnish. Mix it all in and Eat!

My mom’s side of the family

Image result for fuzhou ban mian

Image of fujian ban mian from Radii China


Carissimi studenti,

Welcome to our Scholar Blogs site! We are so happy to have you with us on this noodle journey through food and cultures.

Our best, Christine and Hong