CHANGE IN TASTE

Tteok (Korea rice cakes) with beans in Ochang, South Korea.

If you asked me to eat a giant block of rice a few years ago I would’ve been like hell no, except I wouldn’t have actually said hell because I don’t swear. And I didn't just swear because swearing in writing is like swearing in songs. It doesn’t count.

I couldn’t figure out why my Korean friends and colleagues loved rice cakes so much. I’ve been told it’s a texture thing. Some are big, condensed and spongy. Others are small, sweet and glutinous. Many are colorful and covered in a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and beans.

I've learned tteok is much more than just a rice cake. It’s a huge part of Korean history. Rice cakes in some way, shape, or form have been an important aspect of Korean culture for many years.

It’s customary to give tteok for a variety of reasons. Because of this, I’ve slowly taken a liking to the brighter, sweeter, and stickier ones covered in all kinds of goodness. I’ve even gotten into the habit of snatching a bunch from school functions to save as a snack for later.

Nurungji (scorched rice) in South Korea.
Nurungji (scorched rice) in South Korea. 

Nurungji (Korean burnt rice) topped with cheese and red pepper.
Nurungji topped with cheese and red pepper.
The other day I caught myself gorging on a relatively tasteless brick of rice while waiting to board Seoul Metro. It was literally a heavy square of nothing but delicious rice. And that’s when it hit me. I’ve had a change in taste since arriving in Korea nearly two years ago.

Burnt rice is how I’d describe nurungji. It’s a popular Korean snack made from scorched rice. It can be served at the end of a more traditional meal, as there’s usually a layer of burnt rice in the pot. It can also be purchased and eaten as a crispy snack, which is what I prefer. Many Koreans enjoy adding it to hot water to make soup as well.

Much like my relationship with rice cakes, at first I wanted nothing to do with nurungji. Why would I eat something that’s burned? My Korean colleagues didn’t mind. It meant more for them.

Now I can’t get enough. Nurungji is completely addicting, delightfully crunchy, and just the right amount of burn to leave you all hot and bothered. There's something about the crunchiness of it. I keep eating until every crisp has been chomped. And I just discovered about three minutes ago that it tastes amazing with cheese.

Excuse me while I experiment with more ways to incorporate nurungji into every meal. I also need to make it to the store to buy more rice cakes for my evening snack. Hell yes!

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OFFICIAL SITE OF KOREA TOURISM: More Than Just a Rice Cake: Tteok Museum

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