It's not easy for Koreans to talk about their school days without mentioning tteokbokki. Everyone remembers walking by a small snack stand with smells of tteokbokki wafting in the air, stopping to buy some, and eating them with friends as they walked out of their school gates. This is why tteokbokki is commonly referred to as nostalgia food and is loved by many Koreans. Recently, the tteokbokki craze has spread to the States thanks to the Korean Wave. After BTS member, Jimin, posted a photo of the food on his social media, tteokbokki meal kits skyrocketed. To truly enjoy Korea's global hit food, it's best to understand its regional characteristics. Just as no two people in the world are alike, tteokbokki has distinct attributes from each region. Let's find the tteokbokki that suits your tastebuds starting from Seoul, Daegu, and Busan.
The hometown of tteokbokki: Seoul
There's a Tteokbokki Town in Sindang-dong, Seoul. It's an alley about 100 meters long and filled with tteokbokki restaurants. In 1953, Ma Bokrim created the modern red chili paste tteokbokki. This grandmother created the dish by adding rice cakes, vegetables, red chili paste, tianmian sauce, and other ingredients in a small pot over a briquette fire. Ma Bokrim was a street vendor, and as her tteokbokki started to gain popularity, more tteokbokki restaurants started to open, and Tteokbokki Town was born.
Tteokbokki in Tteokbokki Town is made by boiling various ingredients such as fishcakes, mandu, glass noodles, ramen, and mushrooms in a large pot. Once the soup boils, the noodles are eaten first. In the past, tteokbokki was made with the spiciest flavors that could make anyone cry, but it's been adjusted to a milder taste to suit the younger generation.
Tteokbokki in Korea was originally a street food, a common dish that can be seen at street food stalls, with the rice cakes simmering in a red chili paste on a large iron plate. If you order one serving, they ladle a scoopful from the iron plate right onto your dish. Tteokbokki sold in the streets is cooked continuously and ladled out. It has its distinct taste, but the tteokbokki in Sindang-dong is made to order, which has its appeal as well. On days you want to try something more special, visit Sindang-dong, the hometown of tteokbokki.
Addictive and spicy tteokbokki: Daegu
Daegu is a tteokbokki paradise with many small and large restaurants and franchises. It goes to show how much pride they have in their tteokbokki taste. However, there aren't many additional ingredients added to their version. Of course, there are slight differences from store to store, but they mainly add flat mandu and fish cakes to focus on the original taste of tteokbokki. Also, they stand apart with their generous amount of broth and the spicy taste. The broth is made with Cheongyang red peppers and pepper powder (or curry powder) to make the broth hotter and spicier. Those who pride themselves on being spicy eaters should try Daegu's tteokbokki.
Having earned the name of Tteokbokki Paradise, the people of Daegu take their tteokbokki very seriously. Daegu held the third annual Tteokbokki Festival. A civil service worker from Daegu came up with the idea over their love for tteokbokki. The festival's theme first felt like a joke, but it has gained more popularity with each passing year, proving how sincere the people of Daegu and the entire country are about their tteokbokki.
Thick rice cakes and a rich broth: Busan
In Busan, tteokbokki is made with an unusually thick broth as the main dish. The broth is thick with a lot of red chili pepper paste. You may think it looks very spicy just by looking at it, however, despite its vibrant color, it's not as spicy as it looks. That's because it's boiled with starch syrup. It makes the broth sweet and rich in consistency. Instead of adding water, sliced radishes are added and boiled, and the water from the vegetables becomes part of the broth. Busan tteokbokki is famous among those who enjoy the dish for its thick broth and deep savory flavor.
The vibrant red broth is simmered in a double boiler, which contains thick rice cakes and large pieces of fish cake. The sticky seasoning and simple ingredients give a sweet and clean finish.
Street foods are a specialty in Busan, and a variety of these foods are sold mainly in the markets, but vendors and tteokbokki restaurants selling fish cakes, spicy glass noodles, water rice cakes, and syrup-filled pancakes have been appearing. Visit Bupyeong Kkangtong Market or BIFF to taste the essence of Busan street food.
Tteokbokki's fun transformation: The tteokbokki trend
Korea is famous for its rapidly changing food trends enjoyed by the younger generation. Just a few years ago, tteokbokki sauce trend was all about cream sauce, black bean sauce, and, until recently, rosé sauce. Currently, the emerging trend is the tingling and spicy mala sauce. This trend is evident from the nationwide sell-out of Mala yupdduk tteokbokki from Dongdaemun Yupdduk and other competitive franchises like Dookki Tteokbokki and Youngdabang, releasing a mala-style tteokbokki. The numbing mala sauce h as become a mainstream tteokbokki sauce.
A new trend can also be seen in the sauce and extra ingredients used to enhance the taste of classic tteokbokki. It's not just the classic tteokbokki+deep-fried foods+sundae combination. We're seeing thin pork belly slices, beef small intestine, grilled beef brisket, beef reed tripe, shrimp, and a variety of ingredients being added to tteokbokki.
These additional ingredients are so-called "toppings", and they make the classic tteokbokki feel a little more luxurious. Korea's tteokbokki undergoes an endless transformation, both in terms of sauce and ingredients.
As Korea's soul food, tteokbokki continues to evolve to suit consumers’ taste, we hope you enjoy all the flavors that tteokbokki has to offer when you visit Korea.