Tteokbokki – Spicy Korean Rice Cake Stew

Tteokbokki, Ddeokbokki, Dduk Boki - Spicy Korean Rice Cake Stew
Tteokbokki, Ddeokbokki, Dduk Boki – Spicy Korean Rice Cake Stew

Tteok (also transliterated as ddeok, duk, dduk and so forth) is a type of Korean rice cake that you can buy frozen at any Korean grocer or better general Asian grocers. The two most common shapes you will find are flat ovals, and cylinders about 1/4″ in diameter. You can see a package of the former in the picture above. They can be used in various kinds of stir fries and soups like the Tteok Guk that is a standard New Year’s dish. Today I’ll show you how to make a simple, spicy stew called tteokboki.

To make the stew you are also going to need kochujang, a ubiquitous Korean paste of fermented chilis, soybeans and rice. It tastes like fiery miso. Don’t worry, once you buy a small tub there are plenty of other things to make with it, like kimchi fried rice, spicy fried zucchini, and the kimchi stew that will be in my book.

There is nothing set in stone about the choice of shiitakes and eggplant for this dish. Koreans put all sorts of things in tteokbokki, including almost any vegetable, hardboiled eggs, even mandu or noodles (for that delicious starch-on-starch action). So feel free to improvise with what you have on hand. Just think about the timing so that the ingredients will finish together, or for precooked items simply add them at the end.

The most important thing with this stew is judging when it is done. The tteok should certainly be tender and cooked through, but not cooked so long that they are leaching out tons of starch and making an overly gooey sauce. You can add a bit more water at the end to adjust the final thickness.

Tteokbokki – Spicy Korean Rice Cake Stew
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Serves 4

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons kochujang (check ingredients if you need gluten free)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (choose a gluten free variety if needed)
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1″ piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 pound frozen tteok (Korean rice cakes), any shape (check ingredients if you need gluten free – some have wheat!)
  • 1/2 pound Asian eggplant cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Toasted sesame oil
  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a large skillet. Non-stick is a good option as the tteok do tend to stick a bit. Add the kochujang, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and ginger and stir. It is ok if the the kochujang doesn’t fully dissolve immediately, it will have plenty of time.
  2. Add the tteok and cook, stirring occasionally until it comes back to a simmer, then adjust the heat to maintain the simmer. After 5 minutes add the eggplant and shiitakes and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and checking the bottom for sticking, until the tteok and eggplant are tender, about 15 minutes more minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a bit more water.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning and sauce thickness. It should definitely be thick like a stew, not a soup, but not gummy and tight. Add a bit more water if needed.
  4. To serve, transfer to a large serving bowl or individual dishes and garnish with the green onions, black pepper and a healthy drizzle of sesame oil.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, February 6th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

42 Responses to “Tteokbokki – Spicy Korean Rice Cake Stew”

  1. February 6, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    Fantastic recipe! I will need to give this a try. As a participant of the Meatless Monday’s initiative at my office, we’re always sharing a vegetarian recipe. Today’s is a Moroccan Vegetable Tagine. Drop by and take a look when you get a chance. Bon Appetit! link to miratelinc.com

  2. February 6, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    It looks very delicious… I am very into eating Korean foods….. this recipe is on my list tonight! =)

  3. February 6, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Loooooove this dish!! It was one of my favorite snacks while growing up in Korea. =)

    My mom uses anchovies and kelp together instead of plain water for a more flavorful dish. Thank you for posting!!

    • February 6, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      No anchovies for me, but kelp or kombu would make a ton of sense.

  4. February 6, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    At first glance, I thought those were water chestnuts. They sound fantastic! I love coming to your site and being able to find vegetarian recipes from around the world.

  5. February 6, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    This really looks and sounds wonderful. Time to go grocery shopping for me. I’m definitely going to give it a go. I’m ashamed to say I’ve cooked very little Korean food in spite of travelling there in the past. Great food in Korea – even if a little challenging as a vegetarian at times.

    • February 7, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

      I’ve just grown to love Korean food. Every new dish I try is my new favorite thing. For years, the only Korean food I ate was bibimbap b/c I could reliably get it vegetarian, but now that I’m feeling comfortable cooking this cuisine at home, it has opened a world of possibilities.

  6. jkim
    February 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    it’s cool you do veg korean with normally non veg dishes. i’m the only person i know who does that and they look really good too though in my fam we put garlic in most everything including this dish. potato and sweet potato chunks are also good in this. i like your kimchichigae recipe! up until now i thought the only people who put miso (dwanjiang) in their kimcheechigae were women on my mom’s side of the family. soy bean sprouts insted of tofu is very nice it that dish. it was my favourite part growing up.

  7. Ellie P.
    February 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Perfect timing! Just this weekend I was enviously eyeing my omnivorous companion’s pork and rice cake soup at a Korean restaurant where we had lunch. I look forward to making this soon–it looks amazing.

  8. Hanna
    February 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    This is a great snack in the cold weather outside. One of my favorite combinations is a serving of tteokbokki and fried sweet potato. Starch on starch, indeed!

    • February 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

      Looks like you and jkim above both vote for the sweet potato… I’ll have to give that a try next time.

      • Hanna
        February 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

        I should clarify. In Korea, it’s common to find street stands that serve tteokbokki and various fried things (sweet potato slices included). I’ll order a serving of both and dip a fried item into the tteokbokki sauce before taking a bite. Great contrast of flavors and textures.

        • February 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

          The inventiveness of street food never ceases to amaze me!

  9. February 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    I’m really getting into Korean food lately– like many people, kimchi was my gateway drug. This looks beautiful, can’t wait to give it a try!

  10. February 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    I am bookmarking the page…There are times when I crave for korean dishes. Looks so delicious!

  11. Donna
    February 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Michael, can you or anyone recommend a gluten-free kochujang? All i’ve found at my local asian grocery has had wheat in it :(

    • February 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

      Unfortunately no… I’m not gluten-free so I haven’t had occasion to look. Anyone else? Well, ok, I did some googling and came up with this substitute: link to gfvegheads.wordpress.com that sounds reasonable.

      • Donna
        February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

        thank you so much for the link!! :D

  12. janvier25
    February 9, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Wow, what timing: I came to the site to look for a shiitake mushroom recipe and you have one that also uses the brown tteok, eggplants and miso I bought this week for which I had no particular plan – thanks!

    • February 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Clearly it was meant to be! Let me know how it turns out.

      • janvier25
        February 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

        Sadly, it didn’t turn out well, but it wasn’t the fault of the recipe – I couldn’t eat it until 3 hours after it was ready, so the noodles were gummy. I also threw in cabbage and cooked kabocha. Didn’t have kochujang, so used miso and habanero, which worked fine. I’d double all the seasonings next time (except the habanero, that was perfect).

        If you use fresh noodles as I did, you need to have everything go in at once, by the way, since they take less than 5 minutes to cook.

        • February 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

          Oooh, yeah, I can’t imagine this would be good three hours later! Better luck next time.

  13. goody-goody
    February 10, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    This was dinner last night. Really, really, really good! Thanks!

    • February 10, 2012 at 10:33 am #

      Awesome! Always exciting to hear when folks take on some of the recipes that might be a little more unusual in terms of ingredients.

  14. February 11, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    YUM my mom used to make something very similar, with more Chinese ingredients. This sounds so comforting :)

    • February 11, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

      Tell me more, what goes in the Chinese version?

  15. February 13, 2012 at 3:30 am #

    Thanks for including which ingredients have gluten in them.

    My girlfriend isn’t vegan by any means but she needs to avoid gluten whenever possible and this looks absolute scrumptious – take it from a carnivore ;)

  16. February 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Great Recipes!!!!! I am starting up a blog that mainly focus on positive factors of vegetarianism.
    link to wwwvegetarianlifestylecom.blogspot.com , I am trying to network with people that have an interest on vegetarianism, you are welcome to my blog =) And im also trying your great recipes.

  17. MK
    February 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Do the rice cakes need to be thawed before using in this recipe?

    • February 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      I didn’t find it to be necessary, but I have seen some folks who thaw them in warm water for a few minutes.

  18. John
    February 27, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    Excellent. I used generic supermarket mushrooms because in RI, supermarkets don’t have fresh Shiitakes, and half a regular eggplant, plus about 1/3lb of Kabocha squash left over from one of Michael’s other recent recipes, and multiplied everything 1.5x. Everyone loved the stew, but also said “you could go with half as many rice-cakes and twice as much veggie.” I also recommend serving this in a shallow bowl, because the rice-cakes tend to sink, and that means that in a deep bowl, you eat veggies for a while, and then LOTS of rice for a while, which isn’t ideal. The only other thing I’d do to simplify is go ahead and add all the items in step 1 to the water when you first put it on the stove — no need to wait for it to boil, and it’s easier to add stuff to a cool pot than a steaming one. And if you do a 1.5x recipe, you’re gonna either need a HUGE skillet or do what I did and use a 3qt saucepan.

    • February 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      Very cool. So did you have any trouble finding the rice cakes? Did you use the ovals or cylinders? The squash sounds like a nice variation. Several folks recommended roasted sweet potatoes so that is headed in a somewhat similar flavor direction.

      • John
        February 28, 2012 at 5:24 am #

        The little Asian store (really a Korean store with a lesser collection from several other nations) between work and home has the rice cakes in the refrigerator section…both cylinders and ovals. I went with the ovals. My main problem was finding kochujang, which I expected would be refrigerated, but wasn’t.

        BTW, one more hint: it’s probably worth separating the individual cakes from one another before putting them in the stew — I found it pretty difficult once they were in there. Dunno if that’d work with the frozen ones, though.

  19. Sharon
    April 12, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Hi- My bag of rice cakes says it needs to be soaked overnight before use? Looks to be a similar product as what you have pictured. Do you think that it is necessary or will I have a gummy mess?

    • April 12, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      I’m skeptical. Why don’t you try doing a small amount with just a short soak and see how they turn out, and if that doesn’t work well, try following their directions. Let me know, it would be interesting to know if that is a legitimate requirement for some brands.

  20. May 3, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I am seriously obsessed with this stew. I added kim chi to mine (link to veggiewithacause.blogspot.com), and turned it into a pumped up kim chi stew. The flavors you have combined are just so spot on, mouth watering, and craveable!

  21. Marcia
    August 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    This was delicious! We’ve been to Korea several times…the recipe was reminiscent of Seoul street-food tteokbokki…but MUCH better. Thank you for including so many Korean recipes in your collection!

  22. September 14, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    One of my favorites! Your version looks awesome! :) I’ve never had it with eggplant before though.

    For umami, I use kelp and dry anchovies in my broth – it makes a huge difference in flavor. That’s how the streetcart ladies in Korea make it!

    • September 16, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      I don’t eat fish, so no anchovies for me, but I could use the kelp and I could put some dried shiitakes in the broth to pump up the umami.

  23. no gluten
    January 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    You mention the need to pay attention to gluten found in kochujang and soy sauce for those who are intolerant. But every single commercially available brand of tteokbokki I’ve ever come across lists wheat as the first ingredient. They’re more like “rice cakes” rather than actual rice cakes. And with so many sources of potential gluten, it’s almost outright deceptive to call this recipe gluten free.

    • January 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Interesting. I didn’t know that tteok ever had anything but rice in them, but apparently some do have wheat. Here’s an example of brand that is just rice, water & salt: link to farm3.static.flickr.com . Anyhow, I’ll update the recipe to mention that you should look at the tteok too.

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