Tteokbokki, or topokki, one of the most popular street foods in Korea, is made with boiled tteok (rice cakes) mixed in a spicy red chili pepper paste. Tteokbokki is sold by street vendors, known as pojangmacha, all across Seoul and Korea. Tteokbokki is quite possibly the best representation of Korean street food.
The exact origin of tteokbokki is debatable. It can be traced back to the late Joseon dynasty. Tteok, the main ingredient of the dish, was produced as far back as the Three Kingdoms period around 2,000 years ago.
Prior to the Korean War, the dish was known tteok jjim. This traditional dish was made using garaetteok (cylindrical rice cakes), beef, a variety of vegetables, and soy sauce. This savory, not spicy, dish was often served and eaten at the royal palace.
The tteokbokki enjoyed today became popular only after the Korean War. This version of the dish is much spicer as it uses gochujang (fermented spicy chilli pepper paste). Other ingredients often added include fish cakes, eggs, sundae (Korean blood sausage), mandu (Korean dumplings), ramyeon (ramen) noodles, and even cheese.
Today, demand of tteokbokki is higher than ever. The dish has spread from street vendors to many restaurants and businesses across Korea. The Korean government hopes that in the near future the popularity of the dish will spread internationally.
One of the most popular places in Seoul to try tteokbokki is at Tongin Market.