Korea’s Red Hot Love
Topokki, ddeokbokki―whatever way you want to say it or spell it―is one of those dishes you have to experience to understand the hype surrounding it. It is a beloved dish in Korea that invokes nostalgic memories and emotions. It is a dish with many different variations. I have seen Koreans debate about their favorite topokki and about the merits of different styles and sauces.
When I meet international travelers on food tours they are all curious about this dish. They perceive the hype surrounding it but they can’t seem to fathom what it really is. I guess to travelers seeing it for the first time, it may look like a red hot mess. Some of my guests have seen this dish before on Korean dramas and television so they are curious. They want to try it but they assume that it is very, very spicy and they don’t really know what the rice cakes or the fish cakes in the sauce are. Some guests have even asked me if the dish has tripe or pig skin in it. Also with so many places from street carts to store fronts selling this dish, they can’t decide where to try it.
For those that don’t know what topokki is, it is rice cake noodles in a spicy chili sauce. The dish is said to have evolved from a royal court cuisine dish that was made with rice cakes, mushrooms, carrots, and beef in a sesame-soy-sauce seasoning.
It is widely believed that the red chili paste version recipe was invented by accident in 1953, when street food vendor Ma Bok-rim accidentally dropped a rice cake into her father-in-law’s black bean noodle dish. It tasted good, so she started experimenting with sauces and seasonings.
She found that the red chili paste tasted the best and started selling it from her street cart. She would sell topokki along with steamed corn and potatoes to those going to a nearby theatre. The dish was a big hit and soon she upgraded her street stall to a restaurant and others copied her. Her restaurant can still be found near the entrance of Sindang-dong Topokki Town, proudly proclaiming “Since 1953.”
Well, I hope I have helped you find some great topokki places in Seoul. Eat well and Enjoy.
The Town that Topokki Built, Sindang-dong Topokki
Sindang-dong is the town that topokki built and there are dozens of topokki places selling their variations of spicy rice cake in spicy sauce
If you want a taste of the original, you can go to Mabokrim Halmoni Topokki. The rice cake sauce here is mixed with chili paste and black bean paste so it has a balanced flavor that isn’t just spicy. You get an order based on the number of people that you have. When you sit down, you’ll get a large bowl of noodles, rice cakes, hard-boiled brown eggs, cabbage, onions, and two different types of noodles and fried dumplings in a clear broth. The mixture is brought to a boil and it is important to stir while doing this or the noodles and rice cakes will stick to the bottom. When cooked, you should eat the soft noodles first and then the rice cakes. It’s a hearty and delicious meal.
Add: #292-112, Sindang 1-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul /
I Love Sindangdong
If you can’t get seats at Mabokrim’s topokki place, you can go across the street to I Love Sindangdong. This large restaurant is famous for their Nunmul Topokki: Tear Rice Cake. It is correctly named because it is so spicy that you will cry while eating it. If you are looking for something with less heat, they also have the Gungjung Topokki, which is cooked with bulgogi (beef in soy sauce) and sweet potato noodles in a sesame-soy-sauce.
Add: #302-4, Seongwan Building 1st Floor, Sindang 1-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul/ Tel: +82-2-2232-7872
Old-fashioned Topokki at Tongin Market
Over at Tongin Market there is a very different version of topokki served. Here the rice cake noodles are not cooked in a spicy sauce. Instead, they are coated in red chili powder and fried in oil over very high heat. What you get is a gooey and crispy rice cake noodle that is like a spicy french fry. They also have a version of the rice cake without the chili powder―it’s marinated in soy sauce. This dry version of rice cake has brought fame to the little market and it is a big hit with Japanese and Chinese tourists.
Add: #10-3, Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Topokki in Hongdae
Topokki is very popular among university students and the hot district to get it is over at the Hongik University area. There are a number of humble places that have become famous for their spicy rice cake noodles served with tempura. Here are some of my picks for the area.
Mimine is like topokki high cuisine. It started the trend to do upscale snack food. The place is famous for their thick, spicy, sweet sauce that coats their silky rice cake noodles. The sauce goes perfectly with their incredibly-crispy, battered veggies and shrimp. Their shrimp crackles and shatters when bitten and their fried seaweed-wrapped, sweet potato noodles (gimmali) will give you food dreams.
Add: #367, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul /
Sak is a little greasy spoon shop that is a local hit. The place looks like a bomb went off in a building and they rebuilt it as a snack shop. If there isn’t room enough to sit in the cramped shop, they have another little dining room down the street. Their fried, stuffed chilies are scrumptious and so are their fried sweet potatoes. They also have beer; which we already knew pairs well with anything fried but it also goes well with topokki.
Add: #310-13, Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul / Tel: +82-2-334-5205
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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