Rice cakes from the moon
September 12, 2019 5:00 AM   Subscribe

In Korean folklore, there is a rabbit on the moon pounding rice with mortar and pestle in order to make rice cakes. Deriving its name from this legend, 달방앗간 (dalbangatgan), or Moon Rice Mill, shows how to make traditional Korean rice cakes (떡, tteok), as well as modernized variations.

Five-colored jeolpyeon
Yakgwa (traditional fried cookie)
White rice cake

And to celebrate Chuseok, also referred to as Korean Thanksgiving, songpyeon recipes:

Songpyeon with sesame filling
Songpyeon with bean filling

Note 1: Most Korean 떡 varieties are made with wet-milled rice flour made from regular rice, not glutinous rice.

Note 2: Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This year Chuseok falls on Sep. 13, with the holiday observed Sep. 12 -14 in Korea. Families celebrate with traditional foods, in particular the half moon-shaped songpyeon.
posted by needled (16 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Hmmm. I've had mochi, but never tteok. I suppose they're at least largely similar despite mochi being made with glutinous rice?
posted by sotonohito at 8:28 AM on September 12, 2019

Man, that dalbangatgan channel has some hypnotic videos, and I love her descriptions. Thanks for posting this!
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:46 AM on September 12, 2019

I lived in S. Korea for many years as an ESL teacher. I loved songpyeon. Now I want some. I wonder if our local Korean restaurant has any....

At one of the schools I taught at, the preschoolers sat around in a circle and made songpyeon. It was so cute. Also seeing them in their traditional clothing was beautiful.

If I had the money, I'd love to go back to visit for a month.
posted by kathrynm at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2019

The moon rabbit in the first link gave me an unexpected smile and giggle.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had mochi, but never tteok. I suppose they're at least largely similar

They're similar in manufacturing process/shape. In taste/consistency/mouthfeel? Not so much.

떡 has a snap to it, a density, a sturdiness. We stir-fry 떡 and deep-fry it on skewers. We boil it with radish and beef and leeks. If you did any of that to mochi it would dissolve or balloon, it would turn into a sweet sludge, the consistency of, not to put a fine point on it, jizz.

My favorite 떡 is the kind you get in 떡볶기 (tteokbokki; "rice cakes stir-fried in sauce"), ideally the kind of 떡볶기 that you get in middle school in the early 90s from a little old lady sitting by a cart on the sidewalk in fall, after a long day of being bullied by other kids and slapped around by teachers for something that somebody else did. There you are, trudging home. There are welts on the backs of your thighs. There is a rip in your school uniform. You can barely breathe. Then there's a violent smell. It punches you the way you wish you could punch your bullies, your teachers, your city, your nation. It is composed of layers of: steam garlic chili pepper flakes gochujang malt syrup sugar fish cake mushroom beef cabbage. This is a smell with muscle. A smell that works out. It is a smell that could pull St. Simeon the Stylite off of his column, pull Merlin out from under his rock, pull the mythical Bear Woman, ancestress of all Koreans, out of the hole where she sat, eating nothing but mugworts and garlic for a hundred days in order to take human form. A time-traveling, Hitler-killing smell. And it is emanating from this enormous gold-colored pot sitting on a butane burner. It is filled with 떡볶기, the slim cylindrical rice cakes floating in a vibrant orange lava of spicy sauce. You are filled with wonder and desire. How much for a serving, you ask the little old lady. 500 won, she says, which is something less than 5 dollars, and is the denomination of the last remaining coin in the pocket of your bloodstained and ripped uniform pants. You give her the coin. And she ladles you a bowl of life.
posted by what does it eat, light? at 9:29 AM on September 12, 2019 [32 favorites]

^oops, 500 won is not 5 dollars, sorry. 50 cents is what i meant to say.
posted by what does it eat, light? at 9:44 AM on September 12, 2019

I love this.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2019

what does it eat, light? mochi comes in a couple of forms. There is the kind you will have for desserts like a mochi ice cream, daifuku, kibi dango, etc, which is soft and sweet. But there is also the kind which is really just dried up pounded rice. It is hard, not sweet, and you can roast it or put it in a soup, where depending on how long it is in the soup may end up turning into a sludge but a very thick, sticky one, that in my experience isn't a whole lot like jizz.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:54 PM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am totally obsessed with tteokbokki. I've made it a few times at home, but it's never as good as what I can get from Korean restaurants.
posted by blurker at 12:58 PM on September 12, 2019

Yeah, tteokbokki is amazing.
That kind of tteok reminds me of the Japanese mochi you'd have at New Years (in ozoni), which is a little different than the dessert mochi (like daifuku mochi).

The rabbit in the moon pounding something is something shared among various East Asian cultures (China, Japan, Korea, etc). What exactly he/she is pounding has different across time and culture.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:09 PM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maangchi's recipe for tteokbokki is very good. (I confess I often cheat and use Ajinomoto instant dashi instead of anchovies and kelp.)
posted by Lexica at 4:32 PM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a bit surprised the discussion has turned to tteokbokki instead of some of the tteok in dalbangatgan's channel. It's as if I'd made a post about Italian dessert breads such as panettone and pandoro and then come back to discover that the comments were mostly about sandwich bread. Perhaps I should have included some more background information about tteok in general, but I wanted the post to be about dalbangatgan's creations, which I found to be charming and novel, making me rethink my preconceptions of Korean desserts and tteok in particular.

That said, the tteuk used for tteokbokki and jeolpyeon involve the same process, only differing in how they're shaped. This basic tteok made of wet-milled rice flour, water, and salt, is referred to as garae-tteok. Allowed to dry slightly and sliced, it's used for tteok-guk (rice cake soup) traditionally eaten on New Year's. Shaped into smaller cylinders, it's the tteok used for tteokbokki. Colored with natural food colorings such as mugwort powder, and shaped by hand using tteok stamps, it's jeolpyeon. dalbangatgan's five-colored jeolpyeon linked above adds some sweetness by sprinkling sugar on the cotton cloth used to wrap the rice flour for steaming.

As for tteokbokki, the street food version so vividly described by what does it eat, light? is a relatively modern invention, dating to the immediate post-Korean War period. The traditional tteokbokki dating back to the Chosun period is gungjung tteokbokki (궁중떡볶이) which includes ingredients such as beef and mushrooms and is flavored with soy sauce, with no gochujang or gochugaru used at all. As indicated by the name, this dish was part of the royal cuisine eaten in the palace, as well as households of the nobility. I am betraying my age here, but growing up, if tteokbokki was made at home, it was this gungjung tteokbokki. The spicy red kind remained strictly a street food item, and news items warning about its suspect ingredients were not unusual - e.g. heavy use of red food coloring and MSG. Also the cheaper street food tteokbokki will likely use tteok made with a mixture of rice and wheat flour, or wheat flour entirely, which begs the question of can it be still called tteok at that point. (Lexica, you're not too far off using instant dashi, as this is probably what a lot of street vendors were doing.)

As for the texture difference between mochi and tteok made with non-glutinous rice, it depends on the kind of tteok. The white rice cake linked above, or baekseolgi, has a cake-like texture and so these days is used as the basis of cakes decorated to look like western wheat flour cakes. Then there's jeungpyeon, which involves leavening rice dough with rice liquor still containing live yeast, and going through repeated rises similar to bread-making (linked recipe adds yeast, as makgeolli with live yeast is not easy to find outside of Korea). This results in a tteok with a spongy texture.
posted by needled at 5:56 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Here's dalbangatgan's version of jeungpyon or fermented rice cake:
posted by needled at 5:59 AM on September 13, 2019

Not to be confused with the music of Rabbit in the Moon.
posted by el io at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Damn, it's been years since I've had 송편! This post really brings me back; thanks!
posted by tickingclock at 1:12 PM on September 13, 2019

If you can read Korean, these are instructions on making 송편 using dry milled rice flour, which may be easier to find than wet milled rice flour if living outside of Korea:

How to make songpyeon with ingredients that can be found in U.S. grocery stores
posted by needled at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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