New way with tteok doesn’t always work

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New way with tteok doesn’t always work

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Even “gourmet” vanilla ice cream needs something extra once in a while, be it pieces of edible flower or tofu added as a main ingredient. A fresh, modern twist can attract newfound interest and add an edge to a classic menu.
One dessert that has stuck with Koreans through thick and thin is tteok, or Korean rice cakes, which have accompanied countless celebrations in Korea.
The best-known rice cake shop in Seoul is “Nagwon Tteokgip” inside the Nagwon Center in northern Seoul. The shop opened in 1940 and its recipes have been passed down through three generations of family members.
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A second store was opened last year with the same name on the main street of Insa-dong, to cater to younger customers’ tastes. The store looks like a take-out sandwich and cake shop but the desserts in the window are all actually tteok, crafted to look like delicately decorated cakes and cookies.
I bought assorted rice cake balls, or gyeondan, for 3,000 won ($3), wormwood tteok, mujigae tteok (a rainbow colored steamed rice cake) and pumpkin tteok ― each piece costing 1,000 won. gyeondan were a new take on the glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste. Usually, these balls are covered with bean, sesame and potato powder but here they were covered with fruit and vanilla powder as well. Although the tteok was chewy and retained the wholesome clean flavor of glutinous rice, the “modernized” versions were an awkward balance of yin and yang, like seeing a middle-aged man in a red convertible whistling at women on the street. The more traditional wormwood tteok was my favorite, as the fragrant wormwood taste was intact.
Overall, the shop’s approach was fresh but some versions needed more thought and consideration before their mis-match.


by Cho Jae-eun

“Nakwon Tteokjip” is located in Insa-dong, northern Seoul. The nearest subway stop is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 1. Individual tteok squares range from 1,000 won to 1,500 won and sets range from 3,000 won to 50,000 won. For more information call (02) 733-9009.
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