Few actually make tteok (rice cake) at home anymore, but store-bought ones made by the tteok masters still uphold the tradition and spirit
Located at the Gyeongbokgung Intersection, Biwon Tteokjip is not so easy to spot. Inside, packages of tteok are strategically placed like works of art. In 1949, a royal court food artisan handed down the recipe to Hong Gan-nan, the founder of Biwon. After that, Hong let her nephew and current owner of 60 years, Ahn In-chul, runthe place. All of the tteok is made without artificial additives, creating a simple, clean taste. The ssanggaepitteok (bean paste filled rice cake) with its elegant, toned-down colors and gajeunpyeon with steamed jujube, chestnut and pine nut toppings look too pretty to eat. Be sure to take a moment to appreciate their beauty before biting onto them.
A quick Internet search will give you more than 200 results for Nakwon Tteokjip (paradise tteok house). But there is only one Nakwon Tteokjip whose business has been passed down for three generations, with the first owner personally receiving the secret recipes from a court lady. Nakwon has lived up to its reputation by sticking to the very reason we make and eat tteok—to share happiness. Tteok was originally eaten by common folk spreading good news. Nakwon has managed to keep the prices low and the menu familiar. Perhaps that’s why its most popular items are the 1,000 won mugwort chaltteok, rainbow seolgi and honey songpyeon that still make even the head honchos in the
Blue House come back for batch after batch.
The seolgi (steamed rice cake) and yaksik (sweet rice with nuts and jujubes) here both have amazing texture. Unlike some tteok places with almost sticky products, the seolgi at Rice Cake Aesthetics is soft like castella yet maintains its chewiness. In the yaksik, the grains are still firm but soft enough. The nonglutinous rice is delivered from Yangpyeong, while the canola honey and ground pine nuts are shipped all the way from Jeju. Duteobtteok (steamed rice cake coated with honeyed red beans) is popular, but you'd better be quick about getting some, as they sell out quickly.
There’s an old saying, “What looks good, tastes good.” While that’s not always the case, the saying actually applies to the tteok at Haap. One of the best sellers, castella injeolmi (bean flour tteok), sustains its chewiness for two to three days, unlike those from other places that go stale after a day. The freshness is the result of layering air, water and tteok, a method the chef figured out after three years of experimenting. Jeungpyeon (steamed fermented rice cake) and juak (rice pancake) also went through crucial transformations. Jeungpyeon doesn’t usually have any fillings because it goes bad so quickly. However, by paying extra care to the temperature of the steam, Haap found a way to cook variations with fig and jujube.
Tucked away in the quiet alleys of Seocho-dong, Gaon already has a decade of experience tucked under its belt with its owner Kim Myeong-sook. Kim has won the Presidential Prize at the Korea Food & Tourism Expo and the Gold Prize at the Korea International Cooking Contest. The place is 100% ajumma-certified, and the ladies in this neighborhood are notorious for being fastidious when it comes to pyebaek and ibaji tteok (the Korean traditions of preparing special food gifts from the bride to the groom). Gaon scores a 10 out of 10 in all three categories of authenticity, aesthetics and taste. Made only in small batches, all of the tteok sells out daily. The red bean and peas tteok is Gaon’s number one seller.
There have been versions of tteok with a Western spin—tteok cake for example. But what on earth could LA chapsaltteok (sticky rice cake) possibly be? Turns out, the recipe comes from firstgeneration Korean Americans. Although glutinous rice flour was considered a rare find abroad, people found a way to get it and they mixed it with nuts to make the original LA chapsaltteok. Banh focuses on making tteok that people can eat every day, especially for those who lead busy lives in the city. Another signature product at Banh is Seoul chapsaltteok. The only three ingredients used in these snow-white, chewy moons are 97% glutinous rice flower, salt and purified water. Perfect for using in toppokki or toasted injeolmi, Seoul chapsaltteok along with other items are available online only