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“A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”
Korean street food encompasses some of the world’s best, most devilishly delicious street food from fried snacks to irresistibly sweet and tempting treats and desserts. One of Korea’s most iconic street foods is the enticingly spicy, sweet, and delightfully sticky rice cake dish known as tteokbokki. These stir-fried rice cakes have a special place in the hearts and minds of every Korean from its roots in Korea’s history as a delicious dish fit for kings to the spicy, savory street food. Many Koreans remember rushing to the local street stalls or snack bars (bunsikjip) as kids to enjoy fresh, hot tteokbokki. Whether it’s being enjoyed as a spicy snack for a schoolchild to an essential bar food for those late nights out, tteokbokki is perfect in both cold winter late nights and fun, warm summer afternoons!
The History of Tteokbokki
Tteokbokki can actually be traced way back to 19th century Joseon era in Korea, where the dish appeared in a cookbook known as Siuijeonseo. This ancient cookbook references various versions of tteokbokki including a royal court version featuring red meat sirloin, sesame oil, soy sauce, green onion, pine nuts, Korean rock tripe, and toasted sesame seeds. This version of tteokbokki was enjoyed as a banchan (side dish) and tasty snack by members of the royal court before the advent of chili pepper. The sweet, savory and pleasantly nutty soy sauce-based tteokbokki is now known as gungjung tteokbokki and is often compared to japchae in terms of flavor.
The iconic vibrantly red, sweet, and spicy tteokbokki most know today wasn’t invented until the 1950s, and even its discovery was purely accidental. It’s believed that in 1953, during the end of the Korean War, a Chinese restaurant chef named Ma Bok Lim accidentally dropped some white tteok into a pot of hot sauce and found it to be absolutely delicious! She was eager to share her amazingly delicious discovery and soon started selling it at her local Sindang-dong neighborhood in Seoul. Eventually, her spicy, chewy, sticky and sweet version of tteokbokki became the most popular and iconic representation of tteobokki beloved by everyone today!
My tteokbokki, Your tteokbokki!
The most well-known form of tteokbokki is stir-fried white, cylinder rice cakes stir-fried in the famous sweet and spicy Korean chili paste known as gochujang. This wonderfully sticky and thick sauce adds that iconic kick of spice and hint of sweetness to any dish. The flavor is deeply concentrated, making it ideal for cooking rich stews and flavorful marinades. Gochujang (pepper paste) brings a subtly sweet, umami and spicy kick of flavor to the sticky, chewy, and rich texture of the Korean rice cakes. Deliciously spicy and aromatic, red pepper paste contains a large amount of capsaicin from locally dried Korean red peppers which has shown to boost metabolism, lower blood pressure, and even may reduce cancer risk!
Tteokbokki is wonderfully versatile and complements many different ingredients unbelievably well by embodying each uniquely delicious flavor combination. From rich, creamy version of tteokbokki to deliciously savory and earthy jajjang tteokbokki to even the coveted galbi (marinated short rib) tteokbokki. That’s what makes tteokbokki so great! You can try mixing new combinations of your favorite ingredients to create your own unique version of tteokbokki. Tteokbokki is the perfect dish for beginners or burgeoning chefs looking to improve their skills and elevate their cooking to the elite level of taste and quality.
SeoulMills offers a delicious selection of premium spicy Korean Chili Seasoning Powder that makes making classic tteokbokki effortlessly quick! Carefully-selected, high-quality, and all-natural ingredients and traditional Korean seasonings are blended into the perfect golden ratio that comes in different levels of spice! Choose from mild to extra spicy depending on how hot you can take your tteokbokki.
This highly customizable dish helps instill key basics in cooking skills without overloading on exact measurements and seasoning ratios. While cooking does take time and experience to master, tteokbokki incorporates multiple yet simple steps that lay the foundation for cooking skills to build. Korean cuisine is full of rich and dense flavors with its considerable collection of traditional sauces, seasonings, and marinades.
The only question is, how hot are you willing to go?