For All Your Cravings: Let Them Eat Rice Cake!

By Tran Trieu

It’s chewy, has many flavors and comes in various shapes... tteok! Tteok (떡) is Korean rice cakes that are made with steamed glutinous or non-glutinous rice flour. There is a multitude of preparation techniques, such as pounding the steamed dough or frying it. There are just as many ways to enjoy them, such as in soups, with sauces, various toppings or simply as a snack. Tteok is essential to Korean culture and is offered at almost every special occasion. They’re so delicious and easy to make, so you can cook them at home at any given time!

Hwajeon (화전)

What is hwajeon? It’s a kind of tteok that are shaped like small pancakes and essentially fried. Usually, they're topped with flowers such as Korean azaleas or pear blossoms in spring or rose petals in summer. The origin goes back to the Goryeo Dynasty where the start of spring (called Samjitnal) was celebrated. On this day, the court would celebrate spring by playing games and enjoying hwajeon.

Hwajeon is made with sweet rice flour, salt, and hot water. They're prepared with a method called ickbanjook (익반죽). Hot water is gradually added so that the dough slowly cooks while mixing. The dough is then shaped into small balls and pressed flat, then garnished with flowers. They're then fried and left to cool for a bit before they're eaten.

These delicious rice cakes can definitely be made at home, but be cautious about collecting flowers outside. You should definitely do some research before topping your rice cake with flowers. Alternatively, you can buy dried edible flowers to top your delicious treats!

Baekseolgi (백설기)

Baekseolgi is a rice cake with a long history, its origin dating back over a century. It is served on special days like a baby’s 100-day anniversary or Hwangap (환갑, a person's 60th birthday).  It is believed that if baekseolgi is served to a hundred people, the baby will lead a long and healthy life. Although Baekseolgi has such a long history and dates back to the Goryeo dynasty, there’s little record of it. The first recipes only appeared in the 17th century.

It's simple and easy to make dessert, consisting of only non-glutinous rice flour and a pinch of salt. It is simply steamed and then cut up into small pieces to offer to friends and family. Nowadays, a lot of people top this dessert with nuts or raisins to change up the taste.

Yaksik (약식)

Yaksik, or yakbab (약밥), is steamed a sweet rice cake dish mixed with nuts. Translated, yaksik means “medicinal food or medicinal rice.” The reason for this was because honey was believed to be medicine or a remedy for illnesses. Traditionally, these sweet rice bars are eaten on special occasions like Seollal (설날, Lunar New Year) or Chuseok (추석, Korean Thanksgiving).

The story of how yaksik came to be, dates back to over a thousand years to the Samguk dynasty. The dessert was created to show gratitude to a crow that had saved the life of the king by warning him of traitors that were planning to assassinate him. The king asked the public to create a dish as a token of gratitude. It should include rice, chestnuts, and jujubes—those were the ingredients that crows like.

This dessert is made by steaming glutinous rice and mixing it with honey or sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and cinnamon. Nuts such as chestnuts, jujubes, and pine nuts are added in the next step. The whole mixture is then steamed again before it is served. Yaksik is a tasty and healthy snack that you can make in advance and store for several days—they last even longer if you freeze them.

Have these desserts piqued your interest? Tell us what you'll try out! 

If you want to read more about desserts, you might like these posts:

Written by Tran Trieu

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