Tteokbokki, also spelt ddeokbokki (and many other variations), is a Korean dish of simmered rice cakes. There are many versions, including the rather luxurious, non-spicy “royal tteokbokki”, which can have almost as many other ingredients (vegetables and beef or seafood) as rice cakes (tteok).
At the other end of the scale is the more familiar street-food version, which has lots of rice cakes swimming in a spicy sauce, sometimes with a few small pieces of onion or fish cake. Its vendors tend to set up along streets with lots of bars and nightclubs, because tteokbokki is great for tempering the effects of alcohol.
Tteokbokki with quail’s eggs instead of meat or seafood makes a delicious, hearty vegetarian meal. The most difficult part of this dish is peeling the hard-boiled quail’s eggs – the shells have a maddening tendency to stick. If you can’t be bothered, or want a vegan version, omit the eggs and substitute deep-fried gluten puffs (cut in half) or sliced deep-fried tofu.
Rice cakes are often sold in the refrigerated section of supermarkets. Buy the cylinder-shaped tteok, not the sliced ones. You might need to make a trip to the Korean market to find some of the ingredients for this dish – not just the rice cakes, but also zucchini (the Korean type is smoother and more tender than Italian zucchini), gochujang (chilli paste) and gochugaru (chilli flakes).
Yuksu bags or dashi bags look like tea bags, and make an instant broth. Be sure to buy a vegetarian version, which is made with vegetables and/or mushrooms. They are sold in the Korean or Japanese sections of supermarkets.
Vegetarians or vegans should check with the vendor when buying the banchan to serve with the rice cakes – some include shellfish or fish sauce.