Korean cakes rice to the occasion
Authentic Korean rice cakes, catered by Auntie Kim's, are now hot items at community events and home parties
By Geoffrey Eu, 26 November 2005
The Business Times
SAY 'duk' to the average Singapore diner and he's likely to assume that you're (a) referring to food of the feathered variety, (b) issuing a warning signal to dodge unidentified flying objects or (c) having a little trouble pronouncing your monosyllables.
Korean delicacy: Mrs Kim, who is confident of a positive response to Hankook Rice Cake House, says the traditional duk can be a meal, a dessert or a snack
Anyone familiar with the Korean culinary lexicon, however, will know that duk (spelled in a variety of ways and pronounced as a cross between 'duck' and 'doc') is actually the generic term for traditional rice cakes, a favoured item as essential as kimchi in the Korean kitchen. Traditionally, it was only served at special celebrations such as birthdays and festivals, but these days it is much more widely available and is popular snack food in every Korean household.
In Korea, there are different types of duk, with ingredients, shapes and tastes varying from region to region. Specific cakes are served at specific occasions. Duk is made mainly from rice or glutinous rice that has been ground up, steamed, turned into dough and stuffed with a variety of sweet fillings before being transformed into dumplings or bread-like cakes. The taste and texture is similar, perhaps, to certain types of nonya kueh or mochi, the equally chewy Japanese version of glutinous rice cakes.
Duk - in the form of rolls or oval-shaped discs - is also the main ingredient in savoury dishes such as dukboki (similar to the Chinese chee cheong fun where the rice rolls are slathered with a fiery red sweet and spicy sauce) and duk gook (rice cakes and dumplings in beef broth). For the purposes of this article though, duk refers to the sweet rice cakes.
Koreans (and your taste buds) will tell you that duk is best consumed on the same day it is made. Until recently, however, the only way to have fresh duk in Singapore was if it was home made - but that was before the Hankook Rice Cake House opened for business several weeks ago on a side street off Upper Thomson Road.
The store, opened by the owners of Auntie Kim's Korean restaurant around the corner from it, features a variety of duk daily. Restaurant owner Kim Myeong Ae says she decided to start a duk shop to serve the roughly 7,000-strong Korean community in Singapore as well as to introduce an integral part of the Korean diet to interested locals.
As with Auntie Kim's and Ahan Thai - a nearby Thai restaurant also recently opened by Kim (who used to live in Thailand and who speaks fluent Thai) and her Singaporean business partner David Lee - Hankook Rice Cake House caters to neighbourhood residents and a niche market. News of the cake shop has spread through the Korean community here and the cakes are now regular items at events and home parties catered by Auntie Kim's.
'It is quite difficult to find authentic Korean food in Singapore,' says Mrs Kim, who has recruited chefs and bakers from Korea to staff her establishments. Based on initial local reaction to the cakes, she says she's confident of a positive response. 'Singaporeans - especially vegetarians - seem to like them,' she says. 'We don't use milk, eggs, butter or preservatives.'
She adds: 'Duk can be a meal, a dessert or a snack. We use the best ingredients and there's nothing unhealthy in there - to me, it is all-natural, I know for sure what's in there and I won't feel guilty eating it.'
Depending on the type of duk, prices at Hankook range between $10 and $18 per kilo. The store, when fully operational, will offer perhaps seven or eight varieties a day, depending on the orders she receives.
The cakes may include kul duk (a small, chewy dumpling filled with a sugar-sesame liquid), in jeol mi (similar in look and texture to Turkish delight, only this is made from glutinous rice, with a dusting of soy bean powder) or ba ran duk, literally 'wind-blown duk', a crescent-shaped dumpling filled with red-bean paste and air, sealed in like a balloon.
Mrs Kim confirms that duk should be eaten on the same day, although, of course, it is also possible to refrigerate or freeze leftovers for future consumption. She stresses that while the Korean community has already discovered the cake shop, it can only handle smallish orders at present. Says her Singaporean partner David Lee: 'When we looked at the market, we knew there would be a demand - it's an authentic taste of home.'
Hankook Rice Cake House
9 Thomson Ridge. Tel: 6456-3456.
Auntie Kim's Korean Restaurant
265 Upper Thomson Road.