Tteok has a reputation of being traditional food that often appears outdated with the same old taste. But Korean rice cakes can be transformed into delicate desserts that are pleasing to the eye if they are handled in a different way.
Jang Yeo-jin is one such person offering a fresh take. The owner and instructor of Morak Morak Table, a tteok cooking studio in eastern Seoul, has come up with new versions of Korean rice cakes.
“Fusion tteok is making tteok with a new perspective, adding elements of baking,” Jang said. “Through collaboration with baking, tteok can be better in its appearance and taste. There are also people who cannot eat flour but want to enjoy the taste of cake. They can enjoy fusion tteok.”
At first glance, Jang’s works might not look like tteok. She uses various baking tools, techniques and ingredients to reinterpret rice cakes with a new insight.
Tteok decorated with flowers (Morak Morak Table)
In the realm of fusion tteok, flower-decorated rice cakes are the most widely known. A sheet of tteok is adorned with sweetened bean paste flowers on top, similar to buttercream decorations. There is also a reinterpretation of the ordinary songpyeon, half-moon rice cakes traditionally eaten during the Chuseok holiday.
Decorated songpyeon (Morak Morak Table)
Putting a different spin on the traditional food are new-fangled flavors and tteok decorations that are more detailed and delicate than one can imagine. For example, the strawberry Mont Blanc tteok cake features strawberry cream added to the top of a strawberry-flavored sheet of tteok.
Strawberry Mont Blanc tteok (Morak Morak Table)
Simper versions are possible as well. Jeolpyeon, patterned rice cake, goes beyond its usual taste with matcha and chocolate fillings.
Jeolpyeon with matcha and chocolate fillings (Morak Morak Table)
Jang sometimes goes over the top, exercising her creative flair. She once made an edible ornament of flower-shaped tteok using small pieces of jeolpyeon.
A flower ornament made with tteok (Morak Morak Table)
“I actually didn’t start with the purpose of making pretty tteok, but somehow my tteok became prettier and prettier. It’s just about how you place and use a certain ingredient,” she said.
Jang attends one-day baking classes, to infuse new ideas into the making of tteok. She is also learning more about traditional Korean desserts and Japanese traditional sweets, such as wagashi.
In addition, she instructs tteok cooking classes at her studio daily. Her students -- usually women, though there are some men -- are a mix of people who want to learn how to make tteok as a hobby or for professional reasons.
Jang Yeo-jin speaks with The Korea Herald at Morak Morak Table in Gangdong-gu, Seoul. (By Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
“There are people who come a long way for the classes. I always think I should reduce the frequency of my classes in order to make time for writing books, but when people desperately ask me with passion, it’s hard to refuse,” she said.
When starting to learn about making tteok, Jang had felt that recipe books were not very helpful, as they had not enough pictures or specific instructions. She later wrote the books “Easily Making Tteok” and “Flower Tteok Cake.”
Despite her passion for tteok, Jang doesn’t sell any at Morak Morak Table.
“Running a tteok store is very difficult. As tteok has a short expiration date, it is hard to handle. Also, when mass producing, it can be hard to make pretty tteok. I’d rather teach others that it isn’t hard to make tteok and that we can all make it at home,” she said.
By Im Eun-byel (email@example.com