Korean restaurants are not found in abundance in Pittsburgh; the only exposure to Korean food I’ve experienced so far was Boonseek, which is a fantastic food truck serving up Korean corn dogs, mandu (dumplings), kimbap (a seaweed and rice roll), and Korean fried chicken. When I stumbled upon Soju on Instagram, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried it before.
This cozy spot in Garfield has been open for over four years and serves up a variety of Korean dishes including beef kimbap, kimchi fried rice, and Korean barbecued meats. I had never heard of tteokbokki (pronounced tuk·bow·kee), until I went to Soju. When I asked the waiter about this new-to-me dish, he said it was a popular type of Korean street food made with rice cakes. I was intrigued, as I’d never had a Korean rice cake before.
This savory dish’s main component is rice cakes, but the spicy sauce it’s slathered in is composed of a dried kelp and anchovy stock, gochujang (Korean chili paste), sugar, soy sauce, and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes). Some recipes I found included fish cakes, too. It’s typically topped with sesame seeds, green onions, and a hard-boiled egg. Soju added cheese on top of theirs as well.
The gochujang and gochugaru definitely made the dish spicy, but not oppressively so. I have a medium spice tolerance and I thought this spice was totally manageable. Honestly, I wanted it even a little spicier! The sauce had a slight sweetness to it that balanced the spice nicely and was truly the star of this dish with its complex array of flavors.
The rice cakes were delightfully chewy. They had a texture similar to an al dente pasta a minute or two before it’s actually done. The green onions and sesame seeds on top added savory flavors that complemented the sweet and spicy flavors already present. The cheese became the slightest bit melty on top of the steaming tteokbokki. I was in heaven; cheese makes everything better.
I devoured every last bite of the tteokbokki, and my dining partner and I agreed that it was our favorite item of the night. It’s cozy and comforting with some spice, which makes it the perfect meal. It’s an extremely addictive food and now that I’ve had it, I’m always craving it. I know I’ll be heading back to Soju soon to have some more of this tasty Korean dish.