Our 5 Favorite Jeuksuk Tteokbokki Spots
Every week we pick 5 spots to grab a specific food. We’re not trying to say they’re the best 5, because we’re not looking to start fights – but these are definitely top spots to try. Stay tuned each week to see if the food you’re craving is featured.
There’s probably no street food dish that is as universally loved in Korea as tteokbokki [떡볶이]. The deceptively simple combination of chewy rice cakes with spicy, sweet sauce and maybe a fishcake or hard boiled egg here and there is uniquely comforting, and it’s there when you need it. Lunch, snack, dinner, late night drunk food, whatever you want – if there’s not a red tent with an ahjumma or ahjussi peddling it somewhere in the vicinity, you’re not in Seoul.
Unfortunately, there are occasions in life when eating off a plate wrapped in a plastic bag in front of a pojangmacha [포장마차] won’t do. Stupid, right? But even so, there’s no need to compromise on having tteokbokki in a sit-down environment. Jeuksuk tteokbokki [즉석떡볶이] refers to tteokbokki that’s made in front of you on a butane burner, so you can actually sit down, talk with friends, do business, or whatever it is people would want to do while simultaneously enjoying freshly prepared tteokbokki.
This style of tteokbokki tends to be lighter and have more ingredients than the standard stuff, and often restaurants will get more creative with sauces and add-ons. We’ve put together a list of 5 excellent jeuksuk tteokbokki spots that either change the game through clever innovation, or by nearly perfecting the OG.
남도분식 – 경복궁
Nam Do Bunsik basically takes humble Korean favorites and fucks around with them, concocting creative variations that are impressively well executed. What’s really gotten them fame on Korean SNS sites, however, is arguably their specialty: ‘o sook tteok’ [오숙떡]. A casserole pan full of raw cabbage, scallions, onions, and long cylindrical tteok arrives at the hotplate on your table, swimming in broth and topped with a red concentrate that will become the sauce. Lying on this bed of raw tteokbokki components is a whole raw squid body (the ‘o’ in ‘o sook tteok’). A waiter begins the cooking process, and will check in periodically to move things around or cut things up when the time is ready. If you come hungry (you should), this is a 10-ish minute exercise in self-deprivation that is well worth the eventual payoff. Finally, once everything is fully cooked, a waiter will come over and cut open the squid, which, spoiler alert, is filled with rigatoni pasta that is in turn filled with mozzarella cheese. What!!
Other options on the small menu include fried squid ssam and creative variations on kimbap, including one that’s deep-fried and covered in cheese. As with any tteokbokki, the sauce on the o sook tteok is wasted if it doesn’t get used with this stuff.
또보겠지 – 홍대
Ddo Bogetji’s name means “we’ll see you again,” a bold assertion genuinely backed up by the quality of their tteokbokki. In contrast to some other places, their style is pretty traditional; tteok, egg, odeng, noodles, cabbage, and a mountain of perilla leaves [껫잎], generally a signifier that this is some old school business. While this is a pretty basic setup, the sauce is on point and everything is really fresh, so it all comes together as an impressively quality tteokbokki. Nonetheless, if you’re not impressed by standard offerings, there’s a pretty hefty selection of add-ons like shrimp [새우], mandu [만두, sujebi [수제비], etc. to give your rice cakes more character. Ddo Bogetji also serves trendier stuff, like garlic fries [갈릭감튀] that are basically battered frozen fries topped with gobs of garlic flavored cheese wiz-esque mayonnaise. Between us, stick with the tteokbokki.
애플하우스 – 구반포
Apple House is easily the most low-key spot on this list. It’s one of those places that’s clearly been there for a while, run by some ahjummas who are insane cooks, and doesn’t change for trends. But despite this place being no-frills, it’s often more packed than the hipper spots. Once you arrive, you get an old school order form where you mark off what you want. When you finally get seated, your order arrives; assuming you got the jeuksuk tteokbokki, you’ll receive a pan full of tteok, ramen noodles, actual noodles, cabbage, leeks, scallions, and a rich orange-red broth. Drizzled on top are the ingredients that turn the broth into tteokbokki sauce, except they’re not mixed, so you get to watch as gochujang, oil, soy sauce, and some other flavorful ingredients meld together. The add-ons are as traditional as everything else on the menu, with classics like odeng [오뎅], soondae [순대], and boiled egg [계란]. Their odeng tang [오뎅탕] is a really nice accompaniment to the spice of the tteokbokki (which isn’t crazy, but still), and if you don’t get the muchimgoon mandu [무침군만두] , which are fried in dark red sweet and sticky hot sauce, you’re messing up fam.
김사또 – 성수역
Even if you’re sitting down to eat it, tteokbokki can often feel like a snack rather than a meal. Think about it – other than the occasional odeng or egg, how often is there any kind of protein in a tteokbokki? Kim Satto offers two varieties on the classic that are both a little more substantial, one with oosamgyup [우삼겹] (thinly sliced beef) and one with mussels [홍합]. Both are dank. Topped with perilla leaves [껫잎] and several rolls of shaved brisket, the oosamgyup variety boils down to create a dish that’s half traditional tteokbokki, half spicy hotpot. The mussel variety is exactly the same but, of course, with mussels instead of oosamgyup, and is basically the filthy delicious lovechild of tteokbokki and jjampong [짬퐁]. The sauce itself is pretty standard, but is really enhanced both by the mountain of perilla leaves (doin’ it right y’all!) and the meat or shellfish that are then cooked in it. I don’t know if it’s a Hongdae area thing or a contemporary jeuksuk tteokbokki place thing, but Kim Satto has the exact same garlic fries that Ddo Bogetji does. Look, if you’re curious or it’s the kind of thing you fuck with, go for it. I come and stay for the tteokbokki.
Cat Kitchen is a franchise, though the quality of the food and the interior make it seem like you’re eating in an aggressively cute cat-obsessed grandma’s dining room. Their selections are a little different in a number of ways. As far as sauces, you can choose between their house sauce, which is a sweet-spicy classic tteokbokki sauce, or jjajang sauce [짜장], or half and half (ban-ban) [반반]. The standard toppings make this spot unique as well – rather than the typical mound of cabbage and leeks, the predominant vegetable here is bean sprouts, topped with slices of Korean pumpkin, some cabbage (there has to be some), and dried baby shrimp. Add-ons are the same as everywhere else, and the tteokbokki is just as delicious without them as it is with (the house sauce is really good with cheese, though). This place makes me laugh because the clientele is almost always either female or guys who got dragged in by their girlfriends, but truthfully whether you’re into the cutesy cat theme or not, the tteokbokki is worth going for regardless.
Because tteokbokki is so beloved in Korea, there’s no doubt we missed a bunch of places. 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 classic bingsoos.
Photo credits: Author, @somagee, @jina0314k, @penguinlovesbread, @ho.oo.on