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. 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, 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. 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. Without the butter, though, it won’t taste as much like grilled cheese. And what’s the fun in that? —Alyse Whitney
4 as a snack, 2 as a meal
ghee (or neutral oil, like canola)
garaetteok (cylindrical Korean rice cakes), thawed if frozen
shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese, preferably whole milk (plus more cheese to taste)
Sweetened condensed milk, for drizzling (optional but encouraged)
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of kosher salt to season the water and then add the thawed rice cakes. If you are pressed for time and have frozen rice cakes, you can soak them in cold water for 10 minutes to thaw before boiling. Boil for 3–4 minutes, or until the rice cakes float to the top of the water. Drain rice cakes in a colander and rinse with warm water so they remain hot but are not sticky.
Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add ghee and let melt completely. (If you don’t have ghee, you can use butter but watch the heat to make sure it does not 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 to the pan in one even layer. Immediately sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top of all the rice cakes, distributing evenly. Let it cook for 5 minutes undisturbed. You’ll know it’s ready when the cheesy edges start to brown.
Carefully lift up one section of cheesy rice cakes to check if they are golden brown. Break the rice cake pancake into sections (quarters is easiest) and flip each part over. Let it cook on the second side for another 3–4 minutes, or until it is also golden brown.
Divide into portions based on how many are eating, drizzle with sweetened condensed milk, and enjoy immediately.