Friday, July 22, 2011

Korean Food: Ddeok

Let's be frank:  ddeok is weird.  Also hard to pronounce.  The closest you can get in English is "dock."  The favored translation is "rice cake" and, I think, somewhat misleading.  It's not something a typical English-speaker would consider cake-like or recognize as being a rice product.  Still, that's what the locals insist on calling it.  (Can't teach them anything.)

The classic ddeok dish is ddeokbokki, which is what you see here with an added egg and noodles.  Normally there's just the red sauce (often painfully spicy), ddeok sticks (the tubular white things) and odeng (the flat stuff--it's a kind of fish cake).  An ubiquitous street food.

If I had to pick one word to describe ddeok, I'd go with chewy.   Two words?  Chewy, insipid.  All the flavor of ddeokbokki comes from the sauce.  Ddeok itself tastes like nothing. 

It's traditional in Korea for new hires to buy ddeok for everyone after they receive their first paycheck.  I don't know if this occurs outside education but it's definitely the rule at my school.  This semester there were several new teachers and I received a ridiculous amount of first-paycheck ddeok.  Two, three times a week I'd return to my desk after a class and find a little gift-wrapped box of glutinous blandness waiting for me.

Slab of nut-impregnated ddeok dusted with crushed red beans.  Flavorless but chewy.  I received 4 of these.

Three sticks of random ddeok (the yellow one was extra weird) and three ...  I don't know what to call the round things.  They're full of sweet liquid.  When fresh, their shells are supple and the liquid oozes out when you bite down.  After a few days they turn leathery and explode like grenades instead.

The white things are ddeok mixed with some other kind of grain.  Like a muffin but flavorless and spongy, quite vile really.  The green things were also spongy but not homogenous.  Under the green shell was a somewhat tasty pinky-purple paste. 

A potato-like ddeok thing and three flavorless, nutty sticks.

It's like a ddeok bun stuffed with red bean paste.  Actually worth eating.

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