Dish of the Month: Soju's Three Cheese Tteokbokki
I had never heard of tteokbokki (pronounced tuk·bow·kee), until I recently began watching the Korean Englishman, a Youtube channel that introduces different people to a variety of Korean foods. A popular type of food they introduce people to is Korean street food. Korean street food includes: mandu (dumplings), corn dogs rolled in sugar and sometimes potatoes, fried chicken, and more! When I first heard about tteokbokki, I knew I had to try it to see what all of the hype was about. Nearly every person who tried it in the Korean Englishman's videos loved this spicy rice cake dish. I was intrigued, I'd never had a Korean rice cake before. Where could I get them in Pittsburgh?
Korean food is not in abundance in Pittsburgh. The only other exposure to Korea food I've experienced was Boonseek, which is a fantastic food truck serving up Korean corn dogs, mandu, kimbap (a seaweed and rice roll), and Korean fried chicken. When I stumbled upon Soju on Instagram I couldn't believe I hadn't tried it before. This cozy spot in Bloomfield has been open for over 4 years. They serve up a variety of Korean dishes such as, beef kimbap, kimchi fried rice, and Korean barbecued meats. I'm not positive, but they may be the only Pittsburgh restaurant where you can get a taste of tteokbokki.
This savory dish's main component is rice cakes, but the spicy sauce it's slathered in is composed of a dried kelp and anchovy stock, gochujang (Korean chili paste), sugar, soy sauce, and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes). Some recipes I found included fish cakes too. It's typically topped with sesame seeds, green onions, and a hard boiled egg. Soju added cheese on top of theirs as well.
The gochujang and gochugaru definitely made the dish spicy, but not oppressively so. I would say I have a medium spice tolerance and I thought this spice was totally manageable. Honestly, I wanted it even a little spicier! The sauce had a slight sweetness to it that balanced the spice nicely.
The rice cakes were delightfully chewy. They had a texture similar to an-al dente pasta a minute or two before it's actually done. The green onions and sesame seeds on top added savory flavors that complemented the sweet and spicy flavors already present. The cheese became the slightest bit melty on top of the steaming tteokbokki. I was in heaven. Cheese makes everything better. To be honest, I didn't eat the egg, but it's a traditional component of this dish.
I devoured every last bite of the tteokbokki and my mom and I agreed that it was our favorite item of the night. I've never had anything like it before. It's cozy and comforting, with some spice, which makes it the perfect winter meal. It's an extremely addictive food and now that I've had it, I'm always craving it. I know I'll be heading back to Soju soon to have some more of this tasty Korean dish.