It’s called a rice cake, but that’s inaccurate and confusing. Rice cakes are those styrofoam slices of a toilet paper roll sold by the dirty dozen for dieters. Oops, my bad. I mean lifestyle-changers.
The word “dduk” is just too general of a Korean term to be translated simply to “rice cake” in English. Let me say this right now. Dduk is not a rice cake. For one thing, dduk is absolutely nothing like Quaker’s air puffed answer to the Battle of the Bulge. Furthermore, dduk is made of rice flour, not rice, and only in a few forms does it resemble anything like cake. Dduk refers to a whole class of foods that could include cake, made from regular or sweet rice flour and water, shaped, then cooked (usually steamed). It would be similar to a one word English descriptor for “breads, cakes, pasta and other things made of flour.” It's not a rice cake!
*whew* I feel better now that I got that out.
Dduk can be sweet or savory, eaten as is, or cooked into other dishes. Dduk is really more like a rice flour dumpling that comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. Certainly, some of the sweet dduks, which have gotten their fair share of the Delicious spotlight, look like cake because they’re steamed in large pans or trays, then cut into rectangular pieces. But there are plenty of sweet, dessert dduks that are shaped and deep-fried like doughnut holes, or shaped around a sweet filling like a wonton. Sweet dduks are a final product, and are eaten as is. Just as a note, I don't love dessert dduk. It's not that sweet.
Savory dduk is not a final product; it’s an ingredient for other Korean dishes. Dduk is made with plain rice flour and water, formed into a few familiar shapes, then eventually used as an ingredient for other dishes. My very ingenius, lovable Dad thinks he’s gourmet cooking when he adds dduk to ramen. But you know, he adds Spam, too ;) As a savory ingredient, dduk, then, is similar to an Italian pasta. In fact, the technique for making dduk would basically make it a rice gnocchi. Again, it’s not a rice cake.
There are two notable dishes that use dduk. Dduk gook is a soup that uses dduk shaped like small flat ovals. I have never heard the term used anywhere else, but the package of dduk always calls them “ovalettes.” Silly Koreans! Dduk bok-ki is made from plain dduk that’s usually in the shape of long, solid cylinders about the size of my middle finger (I have small hands with pudgy fingers). I’ve seen the ovalettes used as well, but it’s probably only when they’re leftover in the freezer, from making dduk gook the week before.
Dduk bok-ki appears on many Korean restaurants menus, but I’ve always associated it with much more of a street, snack or Korean cafe food. Like kimchee dooboo, it’s great to pick at over many gleeful cheers of “gum-bae!” or to sober up late at night after a glorious bout with soju and some VSOP. Big, fat, spicy carbs work wonders unknown to the makers of Chaser and Alka Seltzer Morning Relief.
It’s easy to make, which automatically qualifies dduk bok-ki for cafe food. It's also why dduk bok-ki made me fat in college, and then subsequently made it onto my do-not-eat list for about five years afterward. Dduk bok-ki is deliciously naughty. It's not that it's bad for you. It's that it tastes so good you end up eating way too much than is necessary. Only recently has dduk bok-ki made its way back into my diet. I mean lifestyle. But only for this brief moment, until after September.
Leftover bulgogi, or even sliced galbee, is the meat of choice in these parts, but in some fancy kitchens, they use sliced Spam. Stirfry the meat and dduk that has been soaked in water to soften and pouf it, with onions, scallions, and maybe some other vegetables. Add a few shots of Korean red pepper paste goh-choo-jahng (more if you’re a devilette like me), soysauce, some water to thin it out if need be, pepper, and a sprinkle of sugar. Just a sprinkle, otherwise you may get sticky sweet results in things that should not be desserts. If you’re fancy, you can garnish with sesame seeds. Yes, fancy.
Dduk Bok-ki, Korean Spicy Rice Dumpling/Cake Stir Fry Recipe
- 1 lb package of dduk (thawed if frozen)
- ½ lb. any thinly sliced beef (the same kind used for bulgogi, and in fact, if you have marinated bulgogi, this is the best)
- any vegetables you want to add like onions, carrots, mushrooms, and bell pepper (i use green onions only)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp gohchoojang (Korean red pepper paste) - more if you're a pyro
- ½-1 tsp gohchoo garoo (Korean red chili pepper powder)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic, super finely minced
- salt/pepper to taste
Remove the thawed dduk from the package and soak in cold water on the countertop for at least an hour, but overnight is best. I have no idea what this does to the dduk, but it's what my Mom does.
Drain the water and cut the dduk into 2-3" pieces. Drop into boiling water and cook until soft all the way through (like pasta), about 5 minutes. Drain.
In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, gohchoojang, gohchoo garoo, sugar, sesame oil and garlic. The "sauce" should have the consistency of ketchup. If it's too thick, add a little bit of water. If it's too thin, too bad.
In a large frying pan or wok over medium heat, stir fry the beef and vegetables in a little bit of cooking oil until cooked through. Add the dduk and the sauce and stir fry just until everything is coated and evenly heated.
Taste, hit with salt and pepper if needed, transfer to a serving plate. If you're fancy, garnish with toasted sesame seeds.