One of my favourite Korean dishes is called dukbokki (sometimes spelled tteokbokki or deokbokki). It’s a spicy rice cake dish that is eaten as a shared appetizer or possibly even as a main meal.
I discovered this dish when I was in South Korea. Street vendors sold it as well as restaurants, but I always enjoyed buying them from street vendors more. It just seemed fresher and there’s always something about street food. Prior to trying this dish, I had a low tolerance for spicy foods. In fact, I hated it. However, dukbokki was so good that I built a tolerance for spicy food just so that I could eat it!
Even though dukbokki is made of rice cake (duk), it’s not literally cake in the sense that it is a sweet dessert. Rather, it has a soft, gummy texture and is made of rice flour, salt and water. These ingredients form a dough that is first steamed before it is kneaded. Most people buy them from grocery stores because it takes a long period of kneading to get that desired sticky consistency, which is important when making the rice cake..
In addition to rice cake, many dukbokki dishes have fish cake (also not a dessert), green onions, boiled eggs, etc. Really, it’s pretty versatile so you can probably add a number of things into the mix. Although recipes vary, the dukbokki sauce is normally made with gochujang (a chili paste that is used in many Korean dishes), hot pepper flakes, sugar and a fish stock. I like to add some sesame oil to make it more aromatic and some sesame seeds too.
I remember when I came back from South Korea years ago, I was desperate to find a dukbokki recipe. However, it proved difficult because Korean food wasn’t that popular and everything that was related to dukbokki was written in Korean. Thankfully, I stumbled upon a YouTube video by a Korean lady named who named herself Maangchi. She taught various how-to Korean recipes in English with funny side comments written on the screen as she cooked. You can easily tell her videos were very amateurish back then, but she has such a cute and funny presence in front of the camera that she eventually became loved by many people in the online community. She even published a recipe book recently!
While it sounds strange because I never met her, I am happy for her success. Not everybody makes it in the world of YouTube. Also, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy dukbokki in the comfort of my own home. So Maangchi, if you read this, thank you!