This post starts with a warning: I have no Korean food experience. I didn’t inherit this recipe or get it from a friend who knows what they’re doing. I don’t even know how to spell it right. So if you want an authentic dduk bok gi recipe, this isn’t it. But what it is, is DELICIOUS.
I first had dduk bok gi when I was 15. My friend was an army brat who lived in Korea and she raved about the spicy Korean street food. She and I made a getaway to Las Vegas – unbeknownst to our parents – where we found something that was unheard of in conservative Utah.
Ok, lots of things. But the one thing that made us run down the Las Vegas strip screaming was the moment we spotted a questionable-looking Korean restaurant (it was the 90s – everything in Vegas was questionable).
We ordered dduk bok gi (tteokbokki, ddukbokkie, dduk bok ki, ddeokbokkie… I don’t know, I’ve been told they’re all right) off the menu after convincing the chef that we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
I had one bite and it was like a new room in the house of my mind opened up. Heat, sweet, spice, savory, umami, nuttiness… it all rocketed around in my mouth, transported by the chewy rice cake.
It sounds like hyperbole, but it literally changed my life. I had no idea something could taste like that. It made me what to know what else was out there. It’s not wrong to say that day was the beginning of my desire to learn about other cultures and their food.
I literally obsessed over the flavor. My friend and I went to an Asian market to try and re-create it at home. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done. I also started ordering the stuff off the menu that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before: chicken feet, beef tongue, tripe… I wanted to know what else the world of flavor had to offer.
Fast forward, and I’ve spoken to Korean restaurant owners, Asian market workers, friends, and the internet and over the years I’ve perfected the flavor that I remember from that first bite in Vegas.
I go for the hot, hot stuff. If you prefer something milder, use a mild gochujang and leave out the pepper flakes. If you don’t like some heat, though, don’t eat dduk bok gi.
I prefer this brand of extra spicy gochujang:
Don’t be afraid to change things up. If you don’t like fish cakes, use something else – spam, Vienna hot dogs, or nothing at all. I had a version with squid in it that was amazing. I also like thinly sliced carrot rounds. Leave out the cabbage if that isn’t your jam. The garlic and sesame oil is optional. Make it your own.
This version is a re-creation of the stuff that chef in Vegas whipped up for me and my friend in the 90s. I only wish I could go back and thank him for changing my life.
Dduk Bok Gi ingredients:
- 1 pound rice cakes
- 8 ounces fish cake
- 1 tin anchovies or 6 dried anchovies
- 3 cups water
- 1 onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup cabbage, sliced thin
- 6 TB gochujang
- 3 TB sugar
- 2 TB hot flakes
- 1 TB sesame seed, plus more for garnish
- 1 TB soy sauce
- 1 TB chopped garlic
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Wild garlic or scallions for garnish
How to Make Dduk Bok Gi
As incredible as the flavors are, this recipe is dead easy to make. It takes about 45 minutes, but the prep is simple and you’re mostly drinking a cold beer while you wait for everything to simmer. Here’s how:
Soak the rice cakes for 30 minutes to soften and defrost them.
Combine the water and anchovies. Boil for about 10 minutes until completely dissolved.
Add everything else, mix well, and boil for 20 minutes.
Top with sesame seeds and chopped wild garlic or scallions as garnish.