Since I enjoy Korean rice cakes so much, I decided to visit the Tteok Museum. The Institute of Korean Food has exhibits on two floors. We considered taking the school's cooking classes, but I don't envision myself making time-consuming foods like tteok.The first floor displayed utensils used to prepare rice cakes. Some of these tools were commonplace in kitchens as recently as 20 years ago!
One version of rice cake involves pounding the steamed rice in a mortar:Other methods of preparation include steaming, frying, and boiling. Rice cakes were never baked since Koreans lacked ovens. The rice blobs are formed into different shapes. Round, flat, and acorn shapes are common. An imprint or decoration might be pressed on the flattened surface. The rice cake below is the same size as a standard birthday cake!As the name suggests, rice is the primary ingredient, but other grains may also be used. The cake often has a flavored center or mix-ins, including beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, flowers, dye and herbs. Rice cakes are usually mildly sweet, but may also be part of a savory soup. The texture is gummy and sticky, somewhere between gnochi and a marshmellow. Some rice cakes are denser than others. Historically, only aristocrats could afford rice cakes. As tools advanced, commoners also began to eat them. Rice cakes became an important part of ceremonies and holidays. For example, children throw a large party to honor a parent's hoegamnye or 60th birthday. They must set a sumptuous table of food called mansang, which means "a table to gaze at." I did not believe it until I saw a historical picture of mansang. Wouldn't it be too tempting to pull a cake from the center row?Another important ceremony is ancestor worhip. Living family members offer foods or other items, called jesu, based on custom and finances. The offerings may be made at the burial site or elsewhere.
A specific rice cake is associated with each season and most holidays. Instead of listing them here, I will post about them as time passes. With Lunar New Year on January 26, 2009, you can expect a post soon!