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The Korean rice cake – Tteok

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What is Tteok?

Korea offers many great vegan food options but one of the locals favorites has always been the famous rice cakes – Tteok, that are both nutritious and originally made – VEGAN.
Traditionally, consumed as sweet treats on holidays or special occasions. Nowadays, they are quite abundant in Korea – throughout the year and basically anywhere – in innumerable variations! Although the basic ingredient is normally rice, they come in all kinds of shapes and colors, with fillings, toppings, varying textures, steamed, pounded, fermented etc.

Ddeok Colorful
Colorful Tteok with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Ddeok Coated
Coated Tteok Usually NOT VEGAN!

How to tell if they are vegan:

Tteok can be enjoyed as a snack, dessert or a main dish depending on the variety and the way of serving. Most of the time, these Korean rice cakes consist of vegan ingredients – with some exceptions:

  1. Coated Tteok have a high risk that non vegan ingredients were used – sponge cake (egg), sesame seeds / grated coconut / Jujube slices since there might have been honey used as adhesive.
  2. When they are cooked in other dishes, such as Tteok soup (made with added chicken or beef stock) or Tteok bokki with fish cake and egg.
  3. When they are served with honey or condensed milk as garnish.

Tip: Vegans should search the ones that do not have outer coatings, but rather look for the simple ones or maybe simple with added dried fruit or nuts, or ones that are coated with only soy bean powder, and not other additions.

Ddeok Plain
Filed Tteok in Various Colors

Flavorful Ingredients Used to Color Tteok:

Korean food is often colorful and so are these rice cakes! Ideally (but not always!), they are dyed using natural ingredients:

Red = Red rice 홍국미
Yellow = Sweet pumpkin 단호박
Green with speckles = Mugwort 쑥
Purple = Purple sweet potato 적고구마
Purple with speckles = Black rice 흑미
Pink = Cactus fruit 백년초

Flavor and Texture:

In general, rice cakes will not taste as sweet as our contemporary Western desserts.
The texture varies depending on the type of rice used to make the cake, but is generally a chewy texture.
Powdery coatings, such as roasted soy bean powder (kong garu 콩가루) or white starch, contribute a dry mouth feel, while nuts and dried fruit add a chunky texture to the rice cake.
Tteok makes for a sweet and hearty nutritious snack, that is made mostly from rice, beans and may include added nuts and dried fruit.

Tteok With fruits and nuts
Tteok With Dried Fruits and Nuts

The Price and where to find Tteok:

Tteok Green
Plain Tteok with Mugwort

Packaged Tteok snacks can be found everywhere – in convenience stores, restaurants, on markets, on the street, in the subway and of course at “rice cake houses” (Tteok jip 떡집/ Tteok bang 떡방), where they are produced fresh on location.

In Seoul, prices for the dessert/snack types of Tteok lie between 2000 and 3000 KRW per package, but this varies by regional location, brand and quality of ingredients.

Please note: Rice cakes taste the best on the day they were made.

Enjoy!

Bonnie Suh
Bonnie Suh

Bonnie – alias Bonbon 봉봉 – is a German-Korean foodie currently based in Seoul and the author of Sesame Sprinkles, who pursues colors, tasty scents and veggie-friendly foods.

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