Korean spicy rice cake - also known as Tteokbokki (pronounced duck-bo-key) - is a popular and delicious Korean street food created in 1953 in Seoul by a woman named Ma Bok-rim, right after the end of the Korean war. Its chewy texture and spicy flavour immediately became a hit as an affordable and delicious snack. It's made from garaetteok (soft, cylinder-shaped white rice cakes made with non-glutinous rice flour and known as tteokmyeon, or rice cake noodles) cooked in a spicy sauce and a savoury broth. The broth is usually made with dried kelp and anchovies.
This spicy rice cake is served with assorted toppings, like fried fish cakes, boiled eggs, cabbage, scallions, or pan-fried dumplings. In its original recipe, tteokbokki sauce was made with soy sauce, resulting in a non-spicy variety known as gungjung tteokbokki (궁중떡볶이) which means 'royal court tteokbokki', as it was once consumed by previous generations of the Korean royal family. Nowadays, this Korean dish is more commonly made using spicy gochujang (고추장), a fermented bean paste made with red chilis and one of the essential items for a Korean pantry.
From the classic concept of its humble origin, the original street food treat has evolved with many add-ins to make it an even more inviting culinary delight which we can also find under the names ddukbokki, ddeokbokki, dukbokki or topokki. This Korean rice cake can be bought and enjoyed at pojangmacha and bunsikjip (Korean street food stalls and snack bars) but of course, it can be prepared at home.
Tteokbokki's flavour stems from the sauce, which is deeply savoury, umami-rich, and a little sweet. There is usually a hit of red chilli heat in most recipes these days that use gochujang paste. The rice cakes add chewiness and bounce to the noodles, and their starches thicken the sauce for a silky, rich taste.
Korean spicy rice cake recipe
As we have seen in our introduction, this deliciously spicy Korean dish can be enjoyed with different toppings, depending on one's personal taste and preferences.
Today, we will be showing you how to prepare the gungjung tteokbokki (royal court tteokbokki) which is a slightly sweet, savoury dish made with soup soy sauce.
(guk-gangjang). The ingredients for this recipe are easily found at your local Asian market, and you can also buy them online.
Servings: 4 people
1 lb Korean rice cakes (garaetteok)
4 cups of water
8 dried anchovies
1 (8-inch / 20 cm) piece dried kelp
4 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon sugar
Sesame seeds (to garnish)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
½ lb eomuk (Korean fish cakes)
In a pan over high heat, combine the water, anchovies, and kelp. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Cut the garaetteok into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces.
Slice the green onions into thirds after trimming the roots and removing any dry green parts at the top. Cut them in half lengthwise if they are thick.
When the broth is ready, remove the anchovies and kelp, and discard them.
Stir the gochujang (hot pepper paste) into the broth until it has dissolved. Incorporate the gochugaru (hot pepper flakes), sugar, and optional soy sauce.
Add the garaetteok (rice cakes) and green onions. Add the eomuk (fish cakes) and eggs, if using.
Bring the mixture back to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low. After simmering for a few minutes, the sauce will thicken and the rice cakes will be soft and chewy.
Garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and serve hot.
This version of the Korean spicy rice cake is traditionally garnished with thin slices of beef or short ribs (galbi-tteokbokki), pine nuts, scallions, sesame oil and seeds, and thin strips of omelette.
Korean spicy rice cake variations
Korean spicy rice cake has seen many variations and fusions over the years. Pan-fried mandu (dumplings) were traditionally added. Ingredients such as seafood (haemul-tteokbokki), instant noodles, ramen (ra-bokki), chewy noodles (jol-bokki) are also common additions to the dish. A vegetarian version includes beansprouts, zucchini, mushrooms, and carrots. And don’t forget the cheese tteokbokki, so popular with Korean students nowadays.
For more Korean heart and soul-warming food, make sure you stop by our bibimbap recipe, the quintessential Korean meal-in-a-bowl, and for more Korean culinary adventures, learn how to make kimchi at home.