Friday, May 29, 2009

Tteok Tteok Goose

As posted previously, Justin and I attended the 7th Seoul International Rice Cake Festival a few weekends back. Here are some shots from the exhibition (as opposed to the other post, about people in weird costumes outside the exhibition).

Traditionally, rice cake is made by whacking the dough with a hammer, Mario-style. Justin would tell you (if he weren't in Shanghai, of course) that the blur comes from the fact that his camera flash is broken. I think it's because the camera couldn't handle my hammerin' skillz.

From the rice cake competition:

Namdaemun Gate, rice-cake style:

A rice-cake pond of turtles:

From one of the multiple non-competitive rice cake exhibits: A replica of the rice cakes served to former president G.W. Bush on his visit to Korea (I thin; the signage English was a little hazy. But I assume it's not the originals, as they'd be a) gross and b) eaten by now)

They had replicas of rice cake meals served to many world leaders, but for some reason the only other one I remember is Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines. I have no idea why.

Coworker Meghan and I try our hands at some rice cake-ing:

Here we roll out a different type of rice dough for the flower decorations you see in the final picture:

The almost-finished product, a green-tea flavored rice cake:

Actually, I think the rice cake we made is the best rice cake I've had here. No, seriously! Here's the thing: the more attractive rice cakes look, generally, the blander and more glutinous they are. Check out the Wikipedia entry: those pretty pink ones halfway down the page, labeled kkul tteok? You bite down on them, and they spring right back up. And they really don't have any flavor at all. Sure, they say on the page that they've got honey, or bean, or what have you, but basically, to me, it's like eating flour and water, unless they're rolled in something or filled with something. (We did try one here that tasted like, well, pesto. I think that means it had basil in it?) I think it's part of the general pattern of Korean food, which is 80% spicy, 15% bland, and 5% non-spicy but flavorful.

This cake we made goes in that 5%, with a grainy, banana-bread style texture, and a nice mild green tea flavor. I never saw one like it before today - or at least I didn't realize it was also a rice cake. I would definitely eat it again. (Our pretty decorations, by the way? Of the bland school. But on top of the cake instead of as their own dish, they just added some texture, so it went well).

The strangest thing about the rice cake festival was how little rice cake was actually available for eating. The exhibitors brought booths, but mostly it was for bulk order of $50 corporate gift rice cakes, or rice cake manufacturing equipment. Only about 2 booths gave out free samples, with a further 4 or so selling cheap (1000-2000KRW, about $1) small packets. It was much more for industry display and for education than for interactive eating.

I almost forgot to mention this, but at the end, we sat down by the stage show (of COURSE you have a stage show at a rice cake festival; don't you people know anything about Asia?) just to get off our feet. And the guy was shouting in Korean and everybody started raising their hands, so just to be goofy I put my hand up too. Apparently I was trying to win a little rice cake packet, and I did, because Rule #1 of Korean public events is Call On the Foreigner (see Justin's adventures in martial arts masterdom for further evidence). And then he decided that my name was Julia, and for the next few minutes while we sat there I'd hear him say Julia now and then, and everybody would laugh. So this last part goes out to my brother and sister: I go to the other side of the world, but everybody still laughs at me! What's a girl gotta do?

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