What is garaetteok?
Pronounced “gah-ree-dok”, garaetteok (가래떡) are soft Korean rice cakes, made from steamed rice flour that’s kneaded or pounded, rolled, and cut into 2 to 4-inch long cylinders. These rice cakes can then be used as the basis for several other dishes.
What does garaetteok mean?
Tteok (떡) is the Korean word for rice cake, and refers to both the glutinous and non-glutinous forms. Garaetteok is made with non-glutinous rice flour (maepssal-garu), while baram-tteok (for example) is made with glutinous rice flour (chapssal-garu).
Tteok is such an essential part of Korean cuisine that there are shops where you can have your rice ground for you, and made into rice cakes, ready to take home and cook.
There’s even a museum dedicated to tteok in the Jongno district of Seoul. Naturally, you can also buy many of Korea’s 200+ varieties of tteok there, too, in the adjacent Jilsiru Café.
Garae is a bit more of a mystery, however. According to some sources, before cutting, these long cylindrical rice cakes are reminiscent of the ropes used to pull a garae, which is a long-handled agricultural spade.
A recent addition to the Korean festive calendar is Pepero Day, held on November 11th. For almost 40 years, Koreans have exchanged pepero (cookie sticks dipped in chocolate) as tokens of their affection for each other. In Ingsa-Dong (Seoul) though, locals there have a different celebration… Garaetteok Day.
This seems to have come about as part of efforts by Nonghyup (the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation) to promote the consumption of Korean-grown rice. Record-breaking and brightly-colored garaetteok are made by local communities – some reaching hundreds of feet long!
What is rice flour?
Wet-milled rice flour (seupsik ssal-garu, 습식 쌀가루) is made by soaking rinsed short-grain rice for several hours. After soaking, the rice is then ground into a fine powder.
The general term for rice flour is ssal-garu (쌀가루); glutinous rice flour is called chapssal-garu (찹쌀가루), and the non-glutinous variety (which is used in this recipe) is maepssal-garu (멥쌀가루).
As mentioned before, Koreans often take their rice to a local mill or shop to have it ground for them. Some, of course, grind their own using a food processor or blender… or they buy it frozen from stores.
In Korean grocery stores, it is available in the frozen section and can be foundunder the name of naengdong maepssalgaru (냉동 멥쌀가루), which simply means “frozen rice flour” (sometimes called “rice powder”).
Instructions for making homemade rice flour can be found in the recipe below.
What is the difference between wet and dry rice flour?
Dry rice flour is generally what can be found on the shelves of supermarkets and Asian stores. It has a consistency not unlike cornstarch, and can be plain or glutinous. Almost all of the moisture has been removed, leaving a fine texture. In Korean, dry-milled rice flour is called geonsik ssal-garu (건식 쌀가루).
Wet-milled rice flour still retains its moisture, and as such does not require as much liquid to be added to it when using in a dish such as this garaetteok. It needs to be kept refrigerated if using within a day or two, or frozen if it needs to be kept longer. It has a soft and fluffy texture, and will form a lump if squeezed together.
Which type of rice is best to use for garaetteok?
Short grain Japonica rice features prominently in Korean cooking. A popular brand of Korean short grain rice (maepssal, 멥쌀) is Arirang, but it can be replaced by Japanese sushi rice (e.g. Nishiki or Tamanashiki brands).
Don’t be tempted to use Chinese rice, which is usually medium-grain, Thai hom-mali or jasmine (long-grain) or Indian basmati (also long-grain) – none of these will work for garaetteok.
While pudding rice, the type used to make traditional rice pudding desserts, such as sutlijaš, may be a short-grained variety, it’s far starchier than Korean or Japanese varieties, and won’t work as well.
Similarly, Arborio or carnaroli (as used for risotto), or bomba (paella rice) will all have more starch than sushi rice. At a push, they could be used but more boiling water will need to be added, and the steamed dough will have to be pounded for longer.
Glutinous rice (aka sweet or sticky rice) is not suitable for making garaetteok.
Other rice dishes from around the world
- Mhalbiya – a Tunisian dessert, flavored with geranium and vanilla, topped with pistachios and dates.
- Rizogalo – a sweet Greek rice pudding, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon.
- Risalamande – a creamy Danish Christmas dessert with almonds, and topped with sour cherries in syrup.
- Khao niaow ma muang – the famous Thai dessert known as mango sticky rice.
- Sikhye – a classic Korean rice drink, often served as a dessert.
- Spanakorizo - a Greek-style pilaf made with spinach.
- Arroz de grelos – a Portuguese risotto-like dish, flavored with rapini and garlic.
- Risotto – the classic Italian rice dish.
- Biryani – an Indian savory mixed rice dish, which can be either vegetarian or contain meat or seafood.
- Kimchi-bokkeum-bap – Korean kimchi fried rice.
- Jollof – a West African dish of reddish-orange rice, cooked with vegetables and meat.
- Paella – this classic Spanish fare may be made with meat or seafood, or be entirely vegetarian.
Tips for making garaetteok
- Don’t be tempted to use the packs of rice flour you find on shelves in stores. It will be too dry, and doesn’t work well for garaetteok.
- Frozen rice flour from Asian stores will work, however.
- If you use frozen rice flour, keep it in the fridge for 24 hours to thoroughly defrost.
- When making your own raw rice flour, if you don’t have a high-speed blender or food processor, you may need to grind the rice, sieve the flour, then re-grind in order to get it fine enough.
- Do ensure the rice is thoroughly sieved to remove any lumps or sharp pieces of unground rice grains.
- If you’re pushed for time, you could microwave the rice flour dough for 2 to 4 minutes at 75% power, stopping halfway through the cooking time to mix it up. Be aware though, that it’s very easy to overcook the dough, and end up with a dry and crumbly mess.
- The amount of boiling water needed for this recipe can vary according to the moistness of the rice flour. Naturally, the drier the flour, the more boiling water will need to need to be added.
Other recipes with garaetteok
While they are great on their own when simply grilled or dry-roasted, and then dipped in honey, condensed milk, or soy sauce, garaetteok are used to make Korean street food favorite, tteokbokki (떡볶이), and rice cake soup.
For tteokbokki, garaetteok are fried whole in a thick spicy gochujang sauce, and may be served as a dry dish, or as a thin stew to which hard boiled eggs and eomuk (어묵, fish cakes) are sometimes added.
Thinly sliced, garaetteok is a key ingredient for tteokguk (떡국), a deliciously warming and hearty soup, traditionally eaten at Seollal (설날 – the first day of the lunar new year). Other ingredients for tteokguk are beef (or sometimes pork, chicken, game, or seafood), strips of omelette, spring onion, seaweed, and soy sauce-flavored broth. Mandu (dumplings) are sometimes added.
Garaetteok are also used for tteok-gochi (떡꼬치) – pan-roasted rice cake skewers coated in a spicy tomato sauce, gungjung-tteokbokki (궁중떡볶이 – royal court tteokbokki) – rice cakes cooked with thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a non-spicy soy sauce, and the ultimate in Korean comfort food – rice cake and ramen stew, ra-bokki (라볶이).
However you eat your garaetteok, 많이 드세요 (maany deuseyo) … that’s “have a great meal” in Korean!
- 1 cup white short grain rice e.g. sushi rice
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- A little sesame oil
- Food processor
- Wooden pestle
- Wash the rice with plenty of cold water, until the water runs clear.
- Place in a large bowl, and add enough water to come about an inch (3 cm) above the level of the rice. Soak overnight or at least 8 hours.
- Drain the soaked rice, then grind in a food processor until obtaining a soft and fluffy powder.
Sift the ground rice through a sieve; if large particles remain, grind again. Then sift again.
- Boil some water.
- Place the rice flour and ½ teaspoon salt into a bowl, and mix together.
- Gradually add ¾ cup (200 ml) boiling water while mixing with a wooden spoon, to make a firm dough.
- Line a steamer with some non-stick baking parchment or a dim-sum liner, spread the dough out over it, and cover with a lid.
- Place the steamer over a pan of boiling water, and steam the dough for around 30 minutes.
- Spread a little sesame oil over a large cutting board, and carefully tip the dough out onto the board.
- Knead the dough by hand for a minute, and then start to pound it, using a large wooden pestle.
- Continue to pound for around 5 minutes, until the dough is pliable and smooth.
- Knead the dough again, for a few minutes, until it's soft enough to roll.
- Divide into 4 equal parts, and roll into long sausage shapes, around ½ inch (1 cm) in diameter, and then cut into 2 to 4 inch-pieces (5 to 10 cm pieces), ideal for tteokbokki.
- Pour a little sesame oil into the palm, and rub the hands together, then gently roll each cylinder between the palms to coat it in a little oil. This is to stop the garaetteok sticking to each other.
- If the garaetteok are not eaten straight away, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature to slightly dry out, to use for tteokbokki, tteokguk, etc.
- Garaetteok will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so, or up to three months in the freezer.
If making tteokguk, diagonally slice each cylinder into "coins". These can be stored in the fridge or freezer as before.