On May 8 and 9, the Institute of Traditional Korean Food converted the massive aT Center in Seoul into Rice Cake Central for the 7th International Tteok (Rice Cake) Fair. While a sea of chefs competed to make the best tteok dish, hoards of kids made sweet red bean-filled tteok and watched rice pounding demonstrations. Down one side of the hall, companies for tteok manufacturing equipment put their gleaming wares on display; on the other side, vendors gave out fresh samples of tteok and sold their products. Hands-on activities included learning how to make tteok and tasting different rice wines. For the non-interactive part, there were displays featuring tteok-related relics, examples of rice cakes from around the world, and plates of tteok that had been served to dignitaries from other countries who had visited Korea. And if you wanted to rest your legs, there was always something happening on the main stage, from traditional Korean dancing and musical performances to cooking demonstrations.
But the purposes of the fair wasn't just to say, "Hey, aren't rice cakes great?" From the fair's opening speeches to ending remarks, the message was clear: "We want to globalize rice cakes!" (The underlying understanding being because, yes, they're great.) For the first time, the fair reached out to foreigners to take part in the tteok competition, which already included students, amateurs, professionals, and teams of friends and families. The fair also invited chef Rachel Yang of Seattle's Joule to demonstrate how to cook with tteok in non-traditional ways.
If I could shove real tteok through the screen I would, but what I can offer is photos of the festivities that took place on May 8. Here's a visual overview of the fair, with a gallery of my favorite tteok from the fair to come soon.
Rows of contestants work hard on their tteok dishes, hopefully while not getting distracted by the constant stream of onlookers...or the chef working a foot away from them.
Looks like this cake is almost ready!
40 foreign competitors brought different influences to the fair, making dishes like rice krispies treat tteok, mocha-flavored tteok with peppermint ganache, and chai tteok.
Judges take a final look at contestants dishes. Dishes are scored on taste, color, presentation, originality, and—my favorite—"potential for global marketability." (Hey, it's important when you're spreading rice cakes to the rest of the world.)
Audience during the opening ceremony.
Because excessively huge food is always fun to have, a really long rice cake (the world's largest, or at least one of the world's largest) was on stage for a ceremonial cutting.
And it's cut!
Baby chunks of the giant rice cake were handed out throughout the day. Here's my chunk. This kind of cakey tteok is dense and a bit chewy with a very mild sweet flavor.
My favorite section of the fair for the name alone: Experience Zone for International People.
Sections for rice cakes from around the world and rice wine tasting.
Now you know what kind of tteok was given to Tony Blair.
Some tools used to stamp designs into tteok.
A huge section displaying different kinds of tteok and tteok contest winners from years past.
Participants in the tteok making class learn how to roll roses out of rice flour dough.
A woman is showed how to make coin-shaped pieces of tteok.
This girl is seconds away from thwacking the hell out of that mound of pounded rice.
Rachel Yang demonstrates how to make three dishes: rice cake moussaka with eggplant caviar, rice cake with oxtail ragout, and cistrus gratin. We'll post the recipes soon!
A sweet bean paste-filled mugwort-flavored tteok sample. The texture is chewy like taffy with more substance, but not as elastic.
More fresh samples of tteok from dough that was just pounded in the same stall.
If you stand too close, you'll get sprinkled by flecks of tteok juice.
Because you can't eat sweet tteok all day (at least, I can't), some vendors sold savory dishes: grilled tteok, kimchi pancake, and tteokbokki. Grilled tteok is my favorite for giving a slightly crispy edge to the chewy rice logs.
Loads of steamers for all your tteok steaming needs.
A box of assorted sweet treats made out of rice, including fried tteok and puffed rice squares.
Monetary prizes were given out to first to fourth place winners, the grand prize being ₩2,000,000 ($1,598).
The fair ended with everyone joining hands and happily trotting throughout the hall in a long line.