Known as the most popular street food in Korea, these spicy Korean rice cakes (tteokbokki) are beloved by all Koreans young and old (and non-Koreans as well). With this recipe, you will learn tips to replicate the Korean street vendor-style spicy rice cakes.
Having a dish full of spicy Korean rice cakes (tteokbokki, 떡볶이) recently in a busy Korean street market brought me a lot of nostalgia. The chewy rice cakes with gently spicy gochujang sauce…mmm! It was like a taste of my childhood.
I recently had a trip to Korea to visit my family. The two weeks of mandatory quarantine upon arrival was well worth the effort. I was lucky to find a comfortable place to spend two weeks without going overly bored. I spent most of the time watching TV, movies, reading, and enjoying delivery food.
After the quarantine was over, I was thrilled to go out and hit different places for meals. Enjoying street food was no exception on my food adventure.
When it comes to street food in Korea, this street vendor-style spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki) have to be the most popular and common snack you will find. Of course, they all taste slightly different from one place to another. The shape or type of rice cakes they use are different, too.
Korea is a great place for trying many different kind of inexpensive and delicious street foods. You can find a different variety of sweet or savory snacks from street vendors on the busy touristic streets or in the markets. Many food courts in shopping malls have similar types of food as well.
Types of Korean Rice Cake Dish
Interestingly, people in Korea have different preferences when it comes to the tteokbokki. Of course, the main ingredients are pretty much the same: rice cakes and spicy sauce simmered together.
Some like their tteokbokki to be thin, in a puddle of soupy sauce – people call that particular type “gukmul ttoekbokki (국물 떡볶이)” which literally means soupy rice cakes. Others prefer their tteokbokki to be more thick and coated with a spicy glaze. The latter is perhaps the most common one you see from the street vendors.
There’s another type called “girum ttoekbokki (기름 떡볶이)”, which basically is pan-fried rice cakes. This particular ttoekbokki is pan-fried with oil and doesn’t have any gravy-like sauce. I have created a spin-off recipe, spicy Korean rice cake stir-fry, from the pan-fried version to be more wholesome and meal-like with loads of vegetables. Check it out!
Choice of Rice Cakes
When it comes to rice cakes for making tteokbokki dish, look for a short stick shape. A finger size is the most common. Make sure they are made with 100% rice flour.
Some rice cakes are made with wheat flour, which works okay in most tteokbokki recipes, but they won’t carry the chewy texture that you are looking for.
You might find the flat and round rice cakes at the stores, too. But save those for rice cake soup or stir-fries.
If your rice cakes have been hardened because they were stored in the refrigerator, soak them in water for 10 minute to soften them a little.
Some Korean or Asian stores carry freshly made rice cakes. Since they are very soft and ready to use, you don’t need to soak them in water prior to cooking.
How To Make Korean Vendor Style Tteokbokki
This is an optional step but I recommend it, if you want to replicate the Korean street vendor style rice cakes. It is easy and all you need is a good blender.
Process Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) in a blender until very smooth and finely blended. You can skip this step if you want to, but you will see chili flakes on the rice cakes.
NOTE: I blended 1/2 cup of chili flakes although I only need 1 tablespoon for this recipe. I want to keep the rest in the fridge to use later when I make tteokbokki again, and to spice up other dishes as well. Store the chili flakes in a glass jar and they will last for over a year if you keep them in the refrigerator.
For The Sauce
To make your spicy rice cakes to be more flavorful, you MUST use anchovy stock. If you don’t want to use anchovy in the recipe, the next best thing would be using a beef flavored MSG called “sogogi dashida (소고기 다시다)”.
Korean spicy rice cakes are a slightly sweet dish. However, you will find there’s no sugar in this recipe. Instead, you will use Korean corn syrup (mulyeot) or oligo syrup (올리고당). You can also use rice syrup (jocheong, 조청), too.
Using the syrup will bring a shine to the finished dish and adds subtle sweetness without being too sweet. If you prefer not to use any syrup, then replace with 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Making anchovy stock is easy and quick. I like to add a piece of dried sea kelp when I make anchovy stock, but you can omit it if you don’t have it.
Simmer large dried anchovies with a piece of dried sea kelp in water for 5 minutes. Discard the anchovy and sea kelp and reserve the stock.
I recommend to check out my Korean soup stocks post to learn more about a different types of stocks for Korean cooking.
Fish cake sheet and Asian leek are optional but recommend them. They add flavor to the tteokbokki and are commonly used.
In a large skillet or wok, mix the anchovy stock with chili paste and chili flakes. Add the rices that have been drained from soaking.
Add the fish cake and leek. Bring the whole thing to boil over medium-high heat.
When the sauce boils-up, reduce the heat to low and let the tteokbokki simmer until the rice cakes are tender and the sauce thickens. It should take about 5-7 minutes.
You will need to serve ttoekbokki immediately. As it cools, the sauce will get thicken more and the rice cakes will harden.
How To Reheat Leftover Tteokbokki
I highly recommend to cook the amount you can finish at the time of serving. However, if there are any leftovers, refrigerate them. Unfortunately heating leftover rice cakes in a microwave won’t bring the right texture. The best solution is to reheat them on a stove.
You will need extra anchovy sauce, about 1 cup, to do so. Add the stock to the leftover rice cake in a skillet and bring it to a gentle boil. Simmer until the rice cakes become tender, and the sauce has thickened again. Serve immediately.
Spicy Korean Rice Cakes (Tteokbokki)
- Soak rice cakes in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile make the anchovy stock. Combine dried anchovies, sea kelp, and water in a pot. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Discard the anchovy and sea kelp and reserve 2-1/2 cups of stock. Save the rest of stock for a later use.
- In a large skillet, combine anchovy stock, chili paste, chili flakes, corn syurp, and soy sauce; mix well.
- Drain the rice cakes from the soaking water and add to the stock mixture. Add the fish cake and leek slices. Bring them to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice cakes are tender and the sauce has thickened; about 5-7 minutes. Serve immediately