When I tasted tteokbokki for the first time at friends’ house, I instantly fell in love with slightly chewy, soft rice cakes laced in a fiery sweetish sauce. I still remember being ashamed of second, third – and maybe even fourth – helpings I accepted, unable to refuse something so irresistible. Luckily, other guests were not so enthusiastic and my host was more than happy to see me appreciate this popular Korean dish. I started to cook it only about a year ago and was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy and quick the process is.
The English term “rice cakes” is somehow misleading. Those who don’t eat Asian food usually think of puffed rice biscuits or imagine rice-based sweets. Moreover, what we translate as “rice cake” exists in many Asian countries, where it might have different shapes, uses and tastes. The word “dumplings” would probably be closer, but the word is used to define thin pastry sheets stuffed with different fillings. This is why, while describing the texture of Korean rice cakes (tteok (떡) ) I like to compare them to Italian gnocchi or their less known Eastern and Central counterparts (such as Polish kopytka, translated as “dumplings”). Tteok are however chewier and bouncier, the characteristics which make them so irresistible for people who love such textures. They are made with a mixture of glutionous rice flour and water, hence the delicate versatile taste. They are either cylinder-shaped (as above) or flat, oval-shaped.
Tteok are eaten in both sweet and savoury dishes. Until now I have had them only in tteokbokki, but never get tired of it. Apart from the addictive sweet and hot sauce, it usually contains also fish cake and often hard-boiled eggs. I have always put only eggs, which already make it a very filling one pot meal (and a quick one too!). Actually I find the rice cake and sauce basis quite versatile and often add some leftover chicken too.
Looking for different sauce recipes, I chose the one by Maangchi, but substituted her dried fish & konbu stock with Japanese dashi made with dried bonito and konbu. I have also slightly changed ingredients’ amounts, adapting it to an individual portion and adjusting it to my taste. The result was still fabulous every time I cooked it, so I hope my Korean visitors will forgive me these slight modifications. To be frank, I’m sure that even using water instead of this stock will give satisfactory results, since the wonderful taste is largely due to the seasonings added later and this amazing chewiness of rice cakes.
TIPS: I always buy refrigerated ready-to-use Korean rice cakes, but I have noticed dried cakes are sold in many Asian shops. I have no idea how they taste or what consistency they might have, but I suppose they are similar, but need to be rehydrated.
If you cannot get rice cakes, you can try making them on your own. Maangchi’s recipe is very well explained and seems not too complicated.
If you don’t have time or ingredients to prepare the Korean dried fish stock or Japanese dashi, use water instead.
WARNING! Just like Maangchi warns at her website, this dish cannot be reheated. I did try once and the rice cakes become mushy and lose much of their taste, so make sure you don’t have leftovers.
Preparation: about 20 minutes (if you already have the stock ready or if you use water)
Ingredients (serves one):
125g/about 1/4 lb (1/4 of a 500 g package) fresh (refrigerated) rice cakes
1 hard-boiled egg
1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
1 tablespoon (or less, depending on your preferences) gochujaru (Korean chilli in powder) or other powdered chilli (Korean chilli is usually medium hot, so add other powdered chillies, which might be hotter, carefully)
1 tablespoon sugar or agave syrup or any other syrup (I have used agave syrup)
3 stalks of green onions, cut into 2,5 cm (about 1 inch) pieces
salt or soy sauce
(toasted sesame seeds)
Pour the stock/water into a pan.
Add the gochujang, the gochujaru and the sugar/syrup.
Bring to boil, stirring until everything is well combined.
Put the rice cakes and 2/3 of the green onions (leave the rest for the decoration before serving).
Simmer for about 15 minutes until the rice cakes swell and the sauce thickens.
(When rice cakes start to stick to the bottom of the pan is for me the sign that they are ready).
Adjust the taste adding salt or soy sauce or sugar or gochujang.
Place the egg, cut in two lengthwise and heat for one more minute.
Serve sprinkled with green onions and toasted sesame seeds if you like them.