A popular street food in Seoul, South Korea is “baked cheese,” aka cheese tteok-kocchi (literally meaning "cheese and rice cake skewers"). I was introduced to them through YouTube star and cookbook author Maangchi, who griddles together garaetteok (cylindrical rice cakes) and similarly shaped mozzarella cheese sticks, then drizzles them with sweetened condensed milk. I decided to try my hand at making this street food at home—and I failed miserably.
Even with moderate heat and following Maangchi’s instructions carefully, everything melted together in a sad goopy mess. Instead of giving up, I leaned into the failure, and who doesn't love to experiment with cheese and rice cakes? I let the mozzarella coat all of the rice cakes and fried them together without skewers in a pan, resulting in a dish that more so resembles another Korean street-food classic, tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes, which are typically made with gochujang and various toppings).
Upon first making this dish, I immediately tasted the flavors and textures of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, with a crisp, carby exterior and a melty cheese inside. You really can't go wrong with a combination like that. When frying the garaetteok and cheese, I use ghee to achieve a higher smoke point (meaning, more crispy cheesiness without burning) with an infusion of buttery flavor, but you can also use butter if you watch the heat, or a neutral oil instead. Without the butter, though, it won’t taste as much like grilled cheese. And, come on, what’s the fun in that? —Alyse Whitney
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Cook time 10 minutes
- Serves 4 as a snack, 2 as a meal
garaetteok (cylindrical Korean rice cakes), thawed if frozen
ghee, unsalted butter, or neutral oil, such as canola
shredded low-moisture mozzarella, preferably whole-milk
Sweetened condensed milk, for drizzling (optional but encouraged)
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Stir in a handful of salt to season the water, then add the thawed rice cakes. If you're pressed for time and have frozen rice cakes, you can soak them in cold water for about 10 minutes to thaw before boiling. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes, until the rice cakes float to the top of the water. Drain the rice cakes in a colander and rinse with warm water so they remain hot but aren't sticky.
- Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and melt the ghee. (If you don’t have ghee, you can use butter, but watch the heat to make sure it doesn't burn. Neutral oil, such as canola, will work as well, but it will not impart the same grilled cheese sandwich flavor that ghee or butter will.)
- Once the pan is heated, add the rice cakes in an even layer. Immediately sprinkle the cheese over the top of all the rice cakes, distributing evenly. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, until the cheesy edges start to brown.
- Carefully lift up one section of cheesy rice cakes to check if they're golden brown. Break the rice cake pancake into sections (quarters are easiest) and flip each over. Cook on the second side for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown.
- Divide into portions based on how many are eating, drizzle with the milk, and enjoy immediately.