Korean Traditional Tteok toward GlobalizationIt is obvious that the number of foreign tourists who visit Korea is increasing every year. We can know this just by looking at the Han-ok(a traditional Korean-style house) Village closely. Although there are many differences between Koreans and foreigners, like skin color, pupil color, language and culture, the exclamation when they meet the Korean traditional cultures is the same. Foreigners say ‘beautiful’ when they wear hanboks(Korean traditional clothes) and take a look at their reflections. Also, they say things like ‘wow’ and ‘great’ when they experience the Han-ok Village and Korean traditional musical instruments. It may be familiar to Koreans now. But the highest praises, like exclamations of ‘amazing!’ or ‘fantastic!’ are aroused owing to the Korean food culture. It is already well-known that foreigners have admiration when they taste Kimchi or Bulgogi. These can be called ‘foods of the world’. Not only Kimchi and Bulgogi, but also many Korean traditional foods like Bibimbab, Galbi and Samgyetang join the race of globalization. In addition, there is a food which is warming up for the race. That is the traditional ‘Tteok’.
-The history of ‘Tteok’
Koreans have eaten Tteok since before the period of the Three States. There was not enough rice, so people ate tteok, which was made with other grains. In the period of united Silla, cultivation of rice was developed with the stability of society. At that time, the Tteok generally came to be made with rice. During the Koryo Dynasty periods, the Tteok culture developed more with Buddhism, which avoided meats and encouraged vegetables and tea. Also, the cooking and assortment of Tteok were diversified with economic growth. During the Joseon Dynasty period, the Tteok culture developed more and more. There were many additional ingredients like fruits, flowers and medicinal herbs. These produced the various Tteok styles with assorted colors, shapes, and tastes. Also, the Tteok became an emblem of ceremonies and parties after the Joseon Dynasty period.
- The merits of Tteok
Tteok is made with rice, not flour, so people who have weak stomachs can afford to eat it. In addition, there are many cereals included like glutinous rice, soybean flour, red-bean, chestnut, jujube and pine nuts, which contain fiber and vitamins. Thanks to lots of ingredients, it can also have visual charm.
-The kinds of Tteok
There are four kinds of Tteok. First is the steamed Tteok, made in an earthenware steamer. Baekseolgi and flavored glutinous rice(약식) are good examples. Second is the pounded Tteok. If you hit the steamed Tteok in a mortar or on a pounding board while it is hot, it will become pounded Tteok. The Garaetteok, sticks of rounded rice cake, and Injeolmi, rice cakes covered with bean flour, are examples. Third is kneaded Tteok. You can make the kneaded Tteok by kneading dough with your hands. This category includes, for instance, Songpyeon, a rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles, and Gyeongdan, a dumpling coated with bean paste. The last kind is sautéed Tteok, which is sautéed with the oil. Hwajeon, a flower-shaped rice cake, Bukkumi, fried-flower cookies, and Jeonbyeong, Korean pancakes are examples.
- The Times for Tteok
There are two big festival times in Korea. One is Seolnal, the Lunar New Year´s Day. Another is Chuseok, the harvest festival on the 15th of August by the lunar calendar. As expected, Tteok is a symbol of these big festival days which can’t be left out. On Seolnal, we eat Garaetteok. It means, ‘Let’s start the new year with a clean and grave mind.’ Also, Koreans feast on Tteok-guk, rice cake soup, over Seolnal. In Korean customs, ‘If you eat Tteok-guk, you will grow a year older.’ Due to this, some people are reluctant to eat Tteok-guk, especially unmarried women and bachelors.
On Chuseok, Koreans eat Songpyeon and Injeolmi with gratitude to the gods of heaven and earth and their ancestors, who gave the grains on that year. On Chuseok, Koreans eat Tteok that contains lots of grains and herbs, in contrast with the Tteok eaten during Seolnal. Besides these, there is Dano, which takes place on the fifth of May according to the lunar calendar. Dano is the start of summer with hot weather, so Koreans eat Tteok with herbs, like mugwort, and Injeolmi, with the hope of their family’s health and peace. Additionally, on Dongji, the winter solstice, Koreans eat red-bean gruel. Over the years, red-bean has been the symbol of the repulsion of evil spirits and misfortunes. Therefore, Koreans eat red-bean gruel to protect themselves from evil spirits in the next year.
- Rice cake changing for globalization
Just through its taste, shape and nutrition, Tteok is great enough to be a global food. Even so, our traditional Tteok is dressing up its looks to become more cosmopolitan. If we hear the word ‘Tteok’, it usually brings white color to our minds, although some may be reminded of the color green because of the Tteok made of artemisia (mugwort or wormwood) paste. However, these days, various colorful Tteoks are made using natural food colors. There are lots of natural food colors from cactus, black rice green tea, including Rubus coreanus Miquel(복분자) and Schisandra chinensis Baillon(오미자) or from pumpkin flour, the uses of which have been handed down. These various colors help Tteok to look better and elicit good responses from children and foreigners. The proverb ‘What looks good tastes good’ must have been born to use in these situations.
Tteok is changing not only its colors but also its shapes for globalization. Most people usually bring the shape of Tteok to mind as long and thin, or as half-moon shaped like Songpyeon. But these days, Tteok is formed into various interesting shapes like hearts, stars, shells and even people’s faces. Also, there is Jo-rang-e-tteok(조랭이떡), which seems like a bottle gourd. Its shape has been handed down in the Gaesung region. Actually, the traditional shapes of Tteok can easily disappear because of their character of localization. But instead, the popularization of local Tteok is helping them to remain in existence.
While the traditional Tteoks are decorated for globalization like this, something completely transforms their character. The best example is Tteok Cake. At first glance, it seems like just a cake, but its inside is not. There are various grain powders in lieu of fresh cream, and messages like ‘Happy birthday to you!’ are written in natural colors using plants instead of chocolate. Petals of the azalea or flowers made with tteok, which are edible, are decorated on the cake in lieu of jelly and almond. Of course, there are also Tteok cakes which have coffee, green tea and fruits, which are more easily accessible to Western people. Now Tteok Cake is second to none at all points, including shape, taste and health compared with Western cake. Without distinction of age or sex, Tteok is preferred to everyone already. And many fusion Tteoks are going forward to the world.
We can see not only these large scale instances, but in some cases, many Tteok foods are also gaining the world's attention which we can easily eat from our surroundings. That includes tteokbokki(a broiled dish of sliced rice cake with red hot pepper paste, fish cake, boiled egg or instant noodle). To Koreans, tteokbokki is a really intimate food from an early age for a light meal(간식) or as street food(길거리음식), but not to foreigners. We can know this by looking at Japan closely. A few months ago, tteokbokki was introduced as a Korean snack stall’s food on a popular Japanese show. At first, everyone was astonished because of the awful red stuff. But after tasting tteokbokki, they said just ‘oishi’ and ‘umai’, meaning ‘delicious’, with wide eyes and surprise. Actually, spicy foods are unfamiliar to most of the Japanese, but tteokbokki was an exception. Its spicy but attractive flavor might be enough to captivate the Japanese. More generally, it may be enough to attract cosmopolitans. Also, various Tteok foods are decorating the world’s food culture; Tteokssam – roast meat wrapped in Tteok, Tteok-pizza, which uses Tteok instead of flour pizza dough, and so on.
- Efforts for the globalization of Tteok
Korean traditional foods are introduced with Tteok by lots of Korean food research organizations. Above all, the Institute of Traditional Korean Foods(한국 전통 음식 연구소) takes an active part in public relations. The organization is taking the lead role in introducing Korean traditional foods with Tteok to other world leaders who visit Korea. In 2002, they served pumpkin pyeon-tteok(호박편떡), Peaked-hat-tteok(고깔떡), and leaf-tteok(잎새떡) to George Bush, and he admired it owing to its marvelous and pretty looks. In the same year, they introduced Ume-flower-tteok(매화떡) and Pot-so-roll(팥소롤) to Japanese ex-prime minister Koizumi Junichiro. There was an after-talk at which these Tteok became the comfortable topic of conversation. After conversation spread, Ume-flower-tteok has especially become a popular souvenir to Japanese people. The Institute of Traditional Korean Foods is offering the Korean traditional foods not only to the world’s celebrities, but to the world’s tourists. In particular, through the Tteok museum, they offer the experience and opportunity of making and tasting Tteok. Also, they are managing the Tteok-café. Tteok-café is changing youth’s café culture with traditional tea and Tteok instead of Western coffee and cake. At the same time, Tteok-café is helping many foreign tourists to try Tteok easily. The speed of popularization of the Tteok-café is really fast, so you can expect that the globalization of Tteok will be fast and that our Tteok will be a world food. Japanese university student Tachibana Kenta said that he fell in love with Tteok. He also said, “Korea has various types of traditional Tteok, in contrast with Japanese ‘Mochi’. The shape and color are also gorgeous and lovely. Actually, my Korean friend introduced tteokbokki and she taught me how to make it. I want to introduce it to my Japanese friends.” About the question of the possibility of Tteok’s globalization, he answered, “Of course. This chewy and sweet Tteok can attract cosmopolitans like me.”
Korean traditional Tteok is now ready to join the race of food’s globalization with everyone’s likes and praises. But the public relations are limited to foreign tourists who already visited Korea. But if the many efforts of the traditional foods research organization are added with Korean citizens’ efforts, the globalization of Tteok can be achieved faster. There’s not far to go.
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