Today I have a simple version of the simple soy sauce (간장 - gan jang) rice cake noodles (떡볶이 - ddeok bok gi) - full in flavor, simple to make, and fast to eat.
For those who are interested, let me start with descriptions of some popular dishes made with this type of long, thin rice cakes. There are myriads of ddeokbokgi variations, but here are the basics.
Oh, and the most confusing part about ddeokbokgi is its English spelling - ddukbokki, ddukbokgi, tteokbokgi, toppoki all refer to the same dish. I've decided to go with ddeok-bok-gi which sounds closest to how it's written in Korean.
* Ddeokbokgi (떡볶이) - When you simply say 'ddeokbokgi,' most people will think of the spicy, simple, street food-kind, the ones you eat standing up under a tent on the busy streets of Korea. Often it's just long strands of rice cakes doused in spicy sauce, but you may see a few pieces of flat, sheet-like fish cakes and overcooked scallion strips, which are all part of its charm.
* Ddeokbokgi a la minute (즉석 떡볶이 - jeuk seok ddeok bok gi) - Like a stew, you will get a sizeable pot with a portable gas burner on your table, which means this is usually served at a casual, sit-down snack bar. And it will be for two or more people. In addition to long strands of rice cakes, fish cakes, cabbage slices, scallions, dumplings, glass noodles or ramyeon noodles with a hearty dose of red paste, which is a mix of gochujang (고추장 - red pepper paste), gochu garu (고추가루 - red pepper flakes), garlic, sugar, etc.
* Ddeokbokgi in soy sauce (간장 떡볶이 - gan jang ddeok bok gi) - What I'm making today on this post. Consider it a dish of rice pasta with assorted vegetables. This is for those who don't want the spicy version. In the old days, the dish came about as a way to utilize the fresh rice cakes from the New Year's Day that have gone too hard. These days, it has become a home snack for kids, something that's rarely found outside of home kitchens in Korea. And since this is a home dish, ultimately, the ingredients are whatever mom decides to put in there along with the rice cakes.
* Royal court ddeokbokgi (궁중 떡볶이 - gung jung ddeok bok gi) - The name gets thrown around a lot, and the line between the simple ddeokbokgi in soy sauce and royal court ddeokbokgi often gets blurry. A proper gungjung ddeokbokgi is made with rice cakes from the best rice, along with other ingredients that were not commonly used in the old days, such as strips of beef, fresh chestnuts, dried jujube and pine nut flakes.
* Ddeokbokgi in skewers (떡꼬치 - ddeok ggo chi) - this one leaves the ddeokbokgi 'in sauce'-kind, but it's also very popular I thought I'd mention it. It doesn't have to be in skewers, but the idea is fried rice cakes brushed with spicy sauce of gochujang, ganjang, sugar and ketchup.
To make 1 main or 2 snack portion ganjang ddeokbokgi)
8 long strands (~6 inches) of rice cakes, made with white or brown rice, about 0.6 lb.
4 t soy sauce
4 t plus 1/4 C water
1 t honey
1 clove garlic, peeled & grated
1/4 t ginger, peeled & grated
fresh ground pepper
1 t vegetable oil
1/4 onion, peeled & sliced
1 small carrot, peeled & sliced
2 stems scallions, trimmed & cut to 2' length
a pinch salt
Optional vegetables) fresh shitake mushrooms (표고 버섯 - pyo go beo seot), bell pepper, sesame leaves
1-2 t sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish
If you bought the fresh kind, there is no need to soak rice cakes. If rice cakes are very hard or frozen, soak rice cakes in cold water. If you're in a hurry, you can dip them in boiling water then rinse in cold water (But this creates another pot to wash, so I don't think you're saving much time, just saying). I prefer soaking rice cakes in cold water, which helps rice cakes loosen up without releasing too much starch before cooking. Soak for about 10-20 minutes, just until you can tear apart each strand of rice cake and cut in half. Rice cakes don't need to be completely soft.
While the rice cakes are soaking, make the sauce. Mix soy sauce, 4 teaspoons of water, honey, grated garlic, grated ginger and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
Cut rice cakes per your preference. The picture above shows the rice cakes cut in half, horizontally. I like it this way because it looks and feels like fat pasta noodles. But feel free to cut in 2 or 3 equal lengths, or not bother to cut at all.
Now for the most important step of this recipe, marinate rice cakes in the sauce for 10 - 20 minutes. This is how you can get well-seasoned rice cakes with such short cooking time. For the long strands, I find the bread mold convenient for the job. Plastic bags, as well as regular bowls, will be fine for this.
In the meantime, prepare vegetables. I consider onion, carrot and scallion essential for this home ddeokbokgi dish to add depth of flavor and natural sweetness. Feel free to add other vegetables - I had fresh shitake mushrooms (2) and half of a red bell pepper.
Start cooking by heating a sauté pan over moderate heat. Add vegetable oil when the pan is warm, then add onion, carrot, mushrooms and bell pepper. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and sauté just until onion slices start turning transluscent.
Add rice cakes to the pan, including the marinade sauce, plus 1/4 C of water.
Stir to mix well then cover with a lid. After a couple of minutes (so don't leave the kitchen) when it comes to a boil, uncover and stir so that rice cakes don't stick to the bottom. When the rice cakes turn soft, add scallions and give another stir.
Turn off the heat. Add 1 - 2 teaspoons of sesame oil to your taste and mix well.
Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top. Serve hot.
Buy fresh-made rice cakes. If you have access to Korean grocery stores in the U.S., it'll be pretty easy to find this. Usually the rice cakes for ddeokbokgi are found in vacuumed plastic bags in the freezer section. The fresh-made ones are often displayed with other rice cakes (the sweet, dessert kind). I like the fresh ones for several reasons. They hold up better in cooking even if you freeze them first and use them later, whereas some from the freezer section tend to burst into the sauce in a messy way.
Sometimes there are fresh rice cakes made with brown rice, unlike the frozen kind which only has white rice cakes (as far as I've seen). Unlike whole wheat pasta, which I still can't force myself to pick up because the taste is so different (as in not good) from regular pasta, taste difference between white rice cake and brown rice cake is pretty miniscule.
Also the fresh rice cakes tend to be longer, which gives you more freedom of cutting them the way you want. The way I like is to cut each strand in half, horizontally, which makes them look and feel more like fat pasta noodles.
If you buy fresh rice cakes for ddeobokgi, portion them into 1~2 servings each, wrap each portion in plastic and keep them in the freezer.
후식 (hu sik) - dessert
간식 (gan sik) - snack