They’re spicy, they’re sticky, they’re a little bit sweet – and they’re set to become the next big thing in food. We’re talking tteokbokki (pronounced tok-bo-kee). These simmered Korean rice cakes are set to go mainstream in 2024, according to a new Mintel report. Described as “chewy, comforting and versatile”, they have established core comfort food status in South Korea.

The delicacy is “commonly served bathed in a spicy gochujang-based sauce with accompaniments such as fishcake and boiled eggs”, explains Ayisha Koyenikan, associate director of Mintel Food & Drink.

In South Korea, that hit of heat has proven a crowd-pleaser. Given the UK’s love of spicy cuisine, it could hold an equal appeal here. And for those palates that are less accustomed to spice, there are some easy adjustments at hand. For example, Koreans are increasingly using rose sauce in their tteokbokki, which tempers the heat of the gochujang.

How to use tteokbokki in other dishes

What’s more, the cakes can be served in a number of ways. That versatility means Mintel can foresee the rice cakes assuming a number of different guises. These could include microwaveable pots, fusion with instant noodles, or even scratch meal kits. Some Korean stores are even selling ready meals that mash up tteokbokki with Italian cuisine (see the Samyang Buldak Carbo Hot Chicken Flavour Carbonara Topokki).

Other than being tasty, there are plenty of reasons why the delicacy could hit the mark in the UK. Crucially, awareness of Korean culture is growing – as seen in the popularity of K pop and TV shows like Squid Game (so popular that London was the location of this year’s most dystopian game show, Squid Game: The Challenge).

Korean food may not be as ubiquitous as Chinese and Indian on these shores, but it is fast broadening its fanbase. According to Mintel, 23% of UK consumers ate Korean food at home in the three months to March 2023, and the majority of European consumers are “intrigued by and open to the idea”.

The US offers a glimpse as to how things could play out. There, Korean food is more mainstream and ttteokbokki are making their way into retail innovation.

Early UK adopters of tteokbokki trend

For now, retail products are far lower on the ground in the UK. An early adopter is O’Food’s Gnocchi Bokki, spotted at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair. That the brand referenced gnocchi in its sell – a savvy way to draw in unfamiliar consumers – shows there is a long way to go before tteokbokki is a recognised concept.

Yet foodservice is looking to speed up that recognition. Wagamama – which has played a pivotal role in pushing Japanese cuisine into the mainstream – has launched a new Korean menu. Mintel points out that menu includes tteokbokki, as well as gochujang rice bowls and vegan K-dogs. 

That the #tteokbokki hashtag on TikTok had 2.9 billion views at the time of writing suggests it won’t take much of a push to get this trend going. Here’s to rice cakes – but not as you know them.