Have you ever had a taste of tteokbokki, the famous stir-fried rice cakes from Korea that are made from rice cakes and seasoned with the spicy gochujang (chili paste)? Perhaps this menu is your favorite food? Either way, today we will talk about what makes this menu so popular from many years ago until now. Thank the Korean Pop and Dramas for indirectly advertising their authentic cuisines; people have started eating Korean foods worldwide and fall in love with their unique taste.

 The name of this dish, tteokbokki, comes from tteok that means rice cake, and bokki that means stir-fried food; hence tteokbokki means “stir-fried rice cake”. This popular dish is commonly purchased and eaten at pojangmacha (street stalls) or bunsikjip (snack bars). Still, some restaurants are dedicated to serving tteokbokki, too, called the jeukseok tteokbokki (impromptu tteokbokki). They are also popular as a home dish because the rice cakes can be purchased pre-packaged and semi-dehydrated to be easily cooked at home.

History of Tteokbokki

History Tteokbokki
History Tteokbokki

 Tteokbokki is street food in Korea. Its popularity rose and become one of the most popular late-night foods and delivery in Korea. These stir-fried rice cakes date back to the late Joseon dynasty, where tteokbokki is a part of Korean royal court cuisine. It was listed using the archaic spelling “steokbokgi” in Siuijeonseo, a 19th-century cookbook. According to the said book, tteokbokki was known by various names like tteokjjim (steamed rice cakes), tteok-jeongol (rice cakes hot pot), and tteok-japchae (stir-fried rice cakes).

The name tteokbokki also appeared in the enlarged version of Joseon Yori Jebeop, described as a soy sauce-based savory dish. The original tteokbokki was brown and plain back then, while the modern ones usually taste spicy. The original tteokbokki was named “gungjung tteokbokki” which means Royal Court Tteokbokki, made from white tteok (rice cakes), sesame oil, sirloin, soy sauce, rock tripe, pine nuts, scallions, and toasted and ground sesame seeds. After the introduction of gochujang later, tteokbokki has started to change into red and spicy around 1950s. 

               There were also records of the dish existing around the 1930s during the Japanese Colonization period in Korea, proven by the song sung by the pop singer during those years that mentioned the dish. It goes like “… the older brother eats all the bulgogi tteokboki, while I only get vegetable dishes.”, proving that tteokbokki back then was considered as a luxury dish.

               While the known history of this dish can be relatively scarce due to the lack of records, this food has changed the scene of Korean street food and become its genre of cuisine.

Ingredients of Tteokbokki

 Tteokbokki usually consists of small-sized garae-tteok (rice cakes with long, white, cylinder shapes), commonly known as tteokbokki-tteok, and eomuk (fish cakes), boiled eggs, and scallions. It can be seasoned with the spicy chili paste of Korea, gochujang, or non-spicy ganjang (soy sauce). It is more common to have tteokbokki with gochujang these days.

Variations nowadays also include curry-tteokbokki, jajang-tteokbokki, cream sauce-tteokbokki, seafood-tteokbokki, galbi-tteokbokki, and many more. We will talk more about the variations of these rice cake dishes below!

Variations of Tteokbokki

               Tteokbokki has numerous variations and fusions. They can even be categorized into two variations, based on added ingredients like seafood, instant noodles, short ribs, etc., and based on the sauce used for the seasonings.

– Tteokboki based on added ingredients:

  1. Haemul-tteokbokki, or seafood tteokbokki, is a tteokbokki that features seafood as its second ingredient.
  2. Galbi-tteokbokki or short rib tteokbokki features short ribs as the dish’s secondary ingredient.
  3. Ra-bokki or instant noodle tteokbokki, also called jol-bokki (chewy noodle tteokbokki), are similar variants that feature noodles to the dish. Ra-bokki adds ramyeon noodles, while jjol-bokki adds chewy jjolmyeon wheat noodles.
  4. Jeukseok-tteokbokki or “on-the-spot-tteokbokki” is a tteokbokki boiled on a tabletop stove during the meal inside a jeongol (hot pot). It will be added along with vegetables, mandu (dumplings), udong, or ramyeon noodles. It is usually a meal rather than a snack, often paired with bokkeum-bap or fried rice. This variety of tteokbokki is originated from Ma Bok-rim Tteokbokki in Sindang-dong, Seoul. 

– Tteokbokki based on the sauce:

  1. Gochujang tteokbokki is the most popular variety. There are two types of gochujang tteokbokki; one is soup-styled gungmul-tteokbokki, while the other is the dry gireum-tteokbokki. Kelp-anchovy stock is often used in gungmul-tteokbokki to bring out the savory flavor; gochugaru (chili powder) is added for additional heat and color of the dish, while mullyeot (rice syrup) to help with the sweet and consistent taste of the tteokbokki.
  2. Ganjang tteokbokki is the sweet and savory tteokbokki using brown soy sauce as the seasoning. It is often called the gungjung-tteokbokki. The earliest record of this tteokbokki is found in an 1800s cookbook called Siuijeonseo. This variety has a similar taste to japchae (the stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables). Ganjang tteokbokki is typically served with egg garnish and added with other ingredients such as mung bean sprouts, onions, dried Korean zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, and so on.
  3. Curry tteokbokki uses a yellow Korean-style curry base as the seasonings. The curry powder includes turmeric; hence it is considered a healthier variation of tteokbokki.
  4. Cream sauce tteokbokki is the tteokbokki that inspired my carbonara. It uses cream sauce and bacon for the seasoning and secondary ingredients.
  5. Jajang tteokbokki features a tteokbokki using jajang (sweet bean paste).
  6. Cheese tteokbokki is a variant where the tteokbokki is topped with cheese and often sold in snack bars. It can be eaten along with other seasonings like herb powder, sesame, or parsley.
  7. Gireum and gyeran tteokbokki, or called the oil tteokbokki, is another variety of tteokbokki that is stir-fried in oil, served with a little or no sauce at all. This variety is famous in Seoul’s Tongin Market. The gyeran tteokbokki or egg tteokbokki uses a variation without any sauce, only consists of tteok, eggs, seasonings, and vegetables. It’s not spicy like gireum tteokbokki.
  8. Rose tteokbokki, named after a rose pasta as a variation of tteokbokki. The basic tteokbokki is seasoned with cream sauce and rose pasta.