Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old Standby With A Modern Twist

One of the staples of Korean food is the rice cake, known generally as tteok. It is commonly found in many dishes, usually in the form of small beads or oval-shaped slices dunked in soups, playing the role of a filling starch (like noodles). But tteok can stand on its own as well, as a dessert or snack. Songpyeon, for example, is a small, bite-sized rice cake filled with sweet sesame or bean paste that is traditionally made and eaten in large quantities during the Chuseok holiday in the fall. There are plenty more varieties that I don't know the names of but could identify pretty easily by sight: the rectangular, rainbow-colored kind that is just sweet enough to satisfy a midday sugar craving; the round kind that are filled with super sweet red bean paste; the extra soft kind that are coated in a nutty, beige powder. A visit to any tteok shop in Seoul is always a visual treat because of how colorful the different kinds of cakes can be.

Variety of tteok.

There's one tteok shop in our neighborhood that we've come to love over the last six months, and I'm pretty sure I haven't bought tteok from another store since discovering this one. That's partially because I've eaten a good amount of mediocre tteok since moving here. But this store also never fails to impress.

Usually, they stick to the classics (like the ones I mentioned). No fancy pants surprises, just straight up good tteok. But today Nissa and I noticed a kind we'd never seen before. Right away, she thought it looked like tiramisu -- and she wasn't far off. The shopkeeper told us it was coffee-flavored, which I had never seen or heard of before. There are a number of cases, mainly involving cheese, where Koreans have infused a new ingredient in a traditional dish and made it incredibly better -- melted cheese on bibimbap, for example (there's also cheese-filled tteok... proving, once again, cheese makes anything better). I was hesitant but Nissa really wanted to try it, so we got a pack. And boy was it worth it. Soft, creamy, and with just a hint of sweetness, this stuff is the genuine article. I don't know if this store was the first to try this, but I won't be surprised if I see it again someplace else. Coffee-flavored tteok is seriously good.