My Mom’s Simple Swap Makes Tteokbokki Foolproof

Say goodbye to mediocre leftovers and overcooked rice cakes.

December 10, 2021
By: Joy Cho


Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

I’ve loved tteokbokki, the iconic Korean street food, for as long as I can remember. Chewy rice cakes doused in a flame-red, gochujang-based sauce along with a medley of sliced fish cakes, onion, green cabbage and hard-boiled eggs — what’s not to love? The mix-in options, too, are endless: ramen noodles, dumplings, fried seaweed rolls, even melted cheese. I’ve always assumed that the namesake ingredient (tteok means rice cake in Korean) was the reason why I gravitated so strongly towards this dish, but a serendipitous swap one evening — largely driven by necessity — proved otherwise.

When I was back home visiting my parents recently, I requested tteokbokki for dinner — a common occurrence, only this time, we happened to be out of rice cakes and didn’t have time to swing by the grocery store. Not one to be deterred, my mom opted to replace the rice cakes with udon noodles, which we always kept in surplus in our freezer. The resulting dish was essentially a homemade version of packaged udon-bul-bokki, and though the concept isn’t new, I was smitten. The thick, doughy noodles were just chewy enough and a delightful vehicle for the flavorful, spicy-sweet tteokbokki sauce. Everyone at the table wiped their bowls clean that night.

Upon further reflection, I realized that “tteokbokki udon” was not only a delicious twist on a classic food, but it also had several logistical benefits. Every time I’ve attempted to make tteokbokki at home, for example, I never fail to end up with overcooked rice cakes (a far cry from the glossy, chewy standard I see at restaurants). With udon, the process is basically foolproof: the noodles only need to boil for about a minute — you heard that right — and are immediately tossed with the sauce after draining. Tteokbokki udon is also significantly easier to make ahead or reheat as leftovers by warming up the sauce and cooking the noodles to order, as opposed to rice cakes that harden the day after the dish is made. And because udon is so versatile, I know I’ll always have blocks of noodles on hand for one purpose or another.

My Mom’s Tteokbokki Udon is an easy meal that offers all the goodness of tteokbokki without much of the hassle. It takes half an hour to make from start to finish. The bold, finger-licking sauce requires just five ingredients, and udon mimics the chewy, pleasantly starchy quality of rice cakes without the need for soaking or thawing (or another trip to the store). As in classic tteokbokki, green cabbage, onion and sliced fish cakes are cooked into the sauce, but you can also add hard-boiled eggs for more heft. As an avid rice cake consumer, I can confidently say that tteokbokki udon fully satisfies the craving for my favorite comfort food — but unlike traditional tteokbokki, this is a dish I’m fully confident in my ability to make with consistent success. That means tteokbokki is now an “anytime” meal, which to me, is the ultimate game-changer.

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