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.
Soak the rice cakes in a bowl of warm water until you can separate them into individual pieces, then drain in a colander.
Put the quail’s eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold them in one layer, with a little room to “swim”. Add water to cover the eggs by 2cm (⅞in), then place the pan over a medium flame. Bring to a boil, then turn off the flame, cover the pan with the lid and leave for one minute. While the eggs are cooking, prepare a large bowl of ice water.
When the eggs are cooked, drain them and rinse with cold running water, then put the eggs in the ice water until thoroughly chilled. Crack the shells all over, then peel the eggs. If the shell sticks, put the egg back in the cold water while working on other eggs.
Trim off and discard the root ends of the leeks, then cut them on the diagonal into 3cm (1¼in) pieces. Trim off the woody stems of the enoki mushrooms, then separate them into small clumps. Slice the shiitake mushrooms about 5mm (¼in) thick. Halve the zucchini lengthways, then slice on the diagonal about 3mm (⅛in) thick. Cut the banana chilli into thin rounds and the spring onions into 3cm (1¼ in) lengths. Finely mince the garlic.
Put the yuksu or dashi bag in a heatproof cup and add 450ml (1¾cup ) of boiling water. Leave to soak for a few minutes, then remove the bag and squeeze it to extract as much flavour as possible.
Pour the liquid into a skillet, add the gochujang (chilli paste) and stir until dissolved. Bring to a simmer over a medium flame, then add the gochugaru (chilli flakes), soy sauce, corn syrup, sugar, salt and garlic. Heat until simmering, then add the rice cakes and leeks. Simmer until the rice cakes start to soften (about three minutes).
Add the shiitake mushrooms and zucchini and simmer until the zucchini pieces start to soften, then add the enoki mushrooms and banana chilli. Simmer until the sauce lightly coats the rice cakes. Stir in the quail’s eggs and spring onion and simmer for a minute.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Transfer to a large dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving with banchan.