Korea's Most Traditional Snack is Also One of its Best
Pretty much any western dessert can be found, one way or another, in Seoul these days. While macarons, dainty cupcakes, and fluffy cheesecakes hold the public eye as this year’s trendy sweets (there are others, but you know), one traditional snack will never lose the love and national pride it holds. I’m talking, of course, about tteok [떡].
Tteok is incredibly Korean. Sure, there are rice cakes in Chinese cuisine, but they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as Korean tteok. Sweet tteok, the focus of this week’s pick 5, is probably most commonly associated with Japanese mochi, though the two are nowhere near the same. Good tteok is chewy, fresh, and tastes nutty and rice-y. The varieties and additions to this modestly delicious base tend to be just as Korean – nuts, berries, injeolmi [인절미], and dried fruit.
If you’re craving a chocolate bar, tteok isn’t gonna cut it. If you want a snack that’s understatedly tasty, delicately sweet, and texturally just…dope, hit your local tteok shop. If you don’t have one in your deck, or wanna try a new one, these are our five favorites.
1. Gong Ju Tteok - Apgujeong
공주떡 – 압구정
Gong Ju specializes in slabs of tteok, flavored with classic ingredients like pumpkin [호박], mugwort root [쑥], or their most famous, black sesame injeolmi [흑개인절미]. Their tteok is super fresh, and completely loaded with beans, nuts, and dried dates, making for a ton of interplaying textures and flavors in each bite. You can also get a bunch of different types, including their black sesame injeolmi flavor, as little hunks without anything mixed in and stuffed in a box. As a huge fan of black sesame, this is legit one of my favorite snacks. One pack of tteok will run you somewhere around 5g’s – more than worth it.
2. Daesung Tteokbang Atgan - Naebang
대성떡방앗간 – 내방동
I’m putting this place in because, to me, it exemplifies an old school, no frills tteok spot, in that it’s not really a spot and more of a window. Daesung is a small tteok factory, that will sell you dessert tteok out front just ‘cause. You can also buy their plain, sliced tteok if you’re making tteokbokki or something like that, but as a snack I recommend their ggul tteok [꿀떡]– the tteok itself is either plain or mugwort root, and filled with warm honey and sugar.
The truth is, you could find plenty of small, basically unnamed windows like this all around Seoul, though they are steadily vanishing. If you’re looking for an extremely lowkey, basic spot to find tteok but aren’t having any luck, Daesung is a great spot to start.
3. DamKkot – Soraemaeul
담꽃 – 서래마을
We wrote a little bit about Damkkot for our pat bingsoo pick 5, but the slightly upscale traditional dessert shop’s true specialty is tteok. They have a number of sit-down options, like a tri color baked tteok served with honey and nuts. The three colored tteok rolls are given a crispy exterior and warm, chewy inside, complemented by the crunchy and sweet dipping sides. But, if you’re not looking to do all that, stop in to grab some pre-wrapped tteok options – in addition to the traditional stuff, they do some innovative tteok varieties that are absolutely bomb – a bean, berry, and nut tteok cake is somewhere between a muffin, granola bar, and traditional tteok slab. Their tteok brownie is insane … chewy, rich, and chocolaty.
4. Garyewon – Sinchon
가례원 – 신촌
Garyewon is pretty well known in Seoul, but not because it’s anything crazy or innovative. This low key spot churns out massive rectangles of fresh tteok, topped with beans, chesnuts [밤], dried dates [대추], or shredded tteok, and sliced into manageable slabs. Their mugwort root tteok [쑥떡]is especially good, more with a fresher taste and a more vibrant green color than other spots, and their kong tteok [콩떡] is coated in a rich, crumbly exterior of fresh pounded sweet beans. I’m also a fan of their yungyang chal tteok [영양찰떡], which isn’t technically tteok, but rather sweet sticky rice with a bunch of delicious shit in it. Still counts.
5. Uiryong Mangae Tteok – Namsan
의령만개떡 - 남산
Uiryong is not only extremely traditional because it’s been around since 1956, but because the kind of tteok they make is about as old school as it gets. Mangae tteok [만개떡] is steamed between two mangae leaves, and can be plain, or filled with red bean. When you hit this spot, it can be intimidating – it’s basically a giant factory filled with leaves and steamers. But, order a box to go, and you’ll be glad you took the plunge. What you’ll get is a box full of leaves, sandwiching small morcels of fresh, slightly earthy, lightly sweet tteok. For a purist, old school tteok experience, this is pretty much where you gotta go.
Honorable mention: the Tteok Museum
If tteok is something you’re really into (if not, then why the fuck not), you should check out this museum. It’s a small, 2 story building that costs a couple of won, but is less touristy than you’d think because not a lot of people go there. Basically, Each floor is a medium sized room with glass cases displaying models of the myriad types of tteok, their history, purpose, as well as the tools used to make them. This is a really cool spot to learn about Korean culinary history, and of course, when you’re finished, the first floor is a café that sells a bunch of really attractive looking tteok. This is a pretty cool thing to do if you’re a food nerd and have a free afternoon, native Seoulite or tourist.
Yum, tteok! Let us know your favorite spots, or how you feel about the ones we listed. For another list like this, check out last week’s installment, where we looked at tteokbokki, which is kind of related.
Photo credits: Author, @suyeon418, @shuft99, @ddumbbang, @sunkyu6213 @booktok