What is tteokbokki (떡볶이)?
Tteokbokki is a delicious stir-fried rice cake dish. It’s popular with all Koreans, especially in the colder months. Fish cakes, boiled eggs and spring onions are just some of the many ingredients that are added to it. Seasoned with spicy gochujang (chilli paste) great for those that love it hot or the non-spicy ganjang (soy sauce based) perfect for those that like a subtler flavour. The first record of tteokbokki appears in a 19th-century cookbook, with many different names. The royal court version was made from white tteok (rice cakes), sirloin, sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, rock tripe, pine nuts, and toasted and ground sesame seeds.
There are many other variations, including:
Haemul–tteok-bokki, (해물떡볶이) uses seafood as a sub-ingredient.
Galbi-tteok-bokki (갈비떡볶이) uses short ribs as an ingredient.
Ra-bokki (라볶이) and Jjol-bokki (쫄볶이), are quite similar. They both add noodles to tteok-bokki. Ra-bokki adds ramyeon noodle, and jjol-bokki adds chewy noodles.
It is often eaten and purchased at snacks bars (분식집) and street stalls (포장마차.)
The often used sauce gochujang is a savoury, sweet and spicy fermented condiment made from chilli powder, glutinous rice, meju (fermented soybean) powder, barley malt powder, and salt. The sweetness comes from the starch of the cooked glutinous rice. Traditionally, it’s been naturally fermented over years in jangdok (earthenware.)
- 1 pound tteokbokki tteok, 떡볶이 떡 (about 24 3-inch long rice cake pieces) – See note.
- 1 sheet of eomuk 어묵 (fish cake – aka oden)
- 4 ounces green cabbage (yangbaechu, 양배추)
- 1 – 2 scallions
- 3 cups fish stock (or water)
- 3 tablespoons Korean red chili pepper paste (gochujang, 고추장)
- 1 – 3 teaspoons Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru, 고추가루) – optional for extra heat
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup (or 1 more tablespoon sugar)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)
- Prepare the fish stock. Soak the rice cakes for about 20 minutes if hardened or refrigerated. Cut the fish cake, cabbage, and scallions into about 2-inch long pieces.
- Add the fish stock (or water) to a large pan. Stir in the sauce ingredients, except the sesame oil and optional sesame seeds. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the red chilli pepper paste (gochujang).
- Add the rice cakes. Boil until the rice cakes become very soft and the sauce is thickened, about 8 – 10 minutes. Stir frequently so the rice cakes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the vegetables and fish cakes. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for an additional 4 – 6 minutes. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the sesame oil and optional sesame seeds right before turning the heat off. Serve immediately.
- Tteokbokki doesn’t reheat well in the microwave. Reheat any leftovers, along with a little bit of broth or water, in a small pan over low heat.
You can find these types of rice cakes either fresh, refrigerated or frozen, (in order of preference for this dish), at Korean markets.