Many significant moments in a Korean’s life are marked with the eating of rice cakes. After a baby’s 100th day, parents give out gifts of pure white and fluffy rice cake called baekseolgi to ensure good health and fortune for the newborn. To mark the occasion of the fall’s harvest, Koreans make a crescent moon shaped rice cake called songpyeon that is filled with red beans or honeyed sesame seeds. Koreans eat rice cake noodle soup on the first day of the new year to mark the passing of another year. While plain steamed rice is an everyday food, the sticky and silky texture of rice cakes represents a special occasion. The colors and the ingredients used to make rice cakes are symbolic as well for they are believed to bring good luck or ward off evil spirits. They can do all this while also being unique and delicious.
Making tteok is a labor-intensive undertaking that requires time, energy, and patience; and all of this will create a food that has a short life. For many, the rice cake represents the perfect food. Koreans even have a proverb, which translates as “picture of rice cake.” Why? Because the rice cake symbolizes a prized food and a goal to reach.
There are four main types of rice cakes, which all start from rice flour. The rice flour is first soaked and then ground into a powder. Different types of grains will dictate the texture. Regular rice will make a fluffy textured cake. Very white rice or glutinous rice will create a very sticky textured cake. The first type of rice cakes are steamed, such as the plain white baekseolgi, but they can be layered with many different colors as well. The second type is steamed and then beaten with a wooden mallet. This makes a very soft and sticky rice cake that is then topped with roasted bean powder. These can also be extruded through a tube and then dried to make garaetteok. These long cylindrical rice cakes are then sliced like disks and are often used in rice cake soup. The third type are pan fried rice cakes that are decorated with spring flowers and dipped in a sweet syrup. The fourth type of rice cakes are boiled. These are called gyeongdan, and you can usually find them colored with different powders such as sesame seeds, red bean, or millet.
History and Cultural Significance
Tteok was first mentioned in history books dating back to 480 B.C. to 280 B.C. At that time, the rice cakes were used as a ceremonial food. One account described a process that is similar to modern techniques. The rice cake of that time was a luxury food and was only enjoyed by the royalty. According to Yun Suk-ja, director of the Institute of Korean Traditional foods, rice cakes have evolved over time. By the year 1815 there were 198 types of tteok, cooked by various methods and made using over 95 different ingredients. Now rice cakes are enjoyed at many different holidays and are still considered a special food. Rice cake recipes and methods of production are still evolving. In recent years, rice cakes have had a renaissance as you can find them at mainstream cafes, convenience stores, and many bakeries.
Famous Areas to Get Korean Rice Cakes
If you are going to get rice cakes, there are several famous areas. Nakwon district by Insa-dong has a long history of having rice cake shops. During the holidays of Chuseok and Seol, you’ll see many shops in full production mode as they make gift sets for the locals. What makes these stand out from the homemade varieties are the colors, texture, and quality.
Add #1, Nakwon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul Tel +82-2-732-5579
Add # 285, Nakwon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Eunma Market : My favorite market in Seoul is the Eunma Market located near Daechi Station. Built around the late 1970s, this market cooks for and supplies most of the affluent Gangnam people that live in the nearby Eunma Apartments with their food. There are also many shops that specialize in rice cakes. You’ll find rice cakes of many different favors, shapes, and fillings.
Directions: Go out of Daechi Station (Orange Line, Line 3) Exit 3
Open HoAurs: Monday―Saturday, 8:00 a.m.―10:00 p.m.
Gung : Gung in Insadong is probably the most famous rice cake soup restaurant in Seoul. It was started by a lady who makes famous North Korean-style dumplings. The tteok in the soup are not disks that represent the moon but look like a rounded bow-tie.
Add #30-11, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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