Category Archives: Korean Cakes(떡)

Korean Cakes(떡)

Korean Cakes

Korean traditional cakes have long been shared among neighbors and friends on many occasions of happiness and sorrow. The cake shape, content, and color vary from one region to another. When neighbors gather to share traditional cakes they extend their warmth and kindred spirit to others in the community. Korea people have always made rice cakes when they had tragic or happy moments in their lives. It was usually a considered good or delicious thing, and that is why rice cakes have been so closely related to all walks of life. So it is hard to understand Korean people’s lives without understanding the symbolic meaning of rice cakes.

kaksaek kyeongdan (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) honin injeolmi mujigae-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)

                           gaksaek gyeongdan                  honin injulmi                     honin injulmi


The meaning of deok began from everyday lives of in the process of making boiled rice and porridge. Various grind stones and stone mortars used for refining grains have been found dating from the 7th and 8th centuries B.C., showing that people had already begun farming before then. Rice steamers began appearing during the Bronze Age. These steamers had several holes at the bottom on each side, from which it can be inferred that they were used for steaming grains.

The etymology of the word, deok (rice cake) can be traced in Chinese characterers. Prior to the Han Dynasty (China), it was written as the Chinese character bu. As wheat flour had not been introduced to China at the time, deok was made mainly from rice, millet, foxtail, and beans. Similar use of the word deok can be found in Zhu La (translated as Zhu’s Decorums, a pre-Han Dynasty story). It was written as jiu li fen xi (which literally means to make powder and steam). In Sung Ho Sa Seol (the book of Sung-Ho of Korea’s Chosun Dynasty’s literature), it was written that deok was pounded and kneaded together to be steamed. At this time, deok was made from rice or wheat flour. Different Chinese characters were used to differentiate the ingredients used. In common usage, however, deok came to stand alone, without the qualifying Chinese characters.

dodom-deok    dodom kyongdan

                                                 duteop-p’yeon                    duteop-kyongdan

Related Customs

   Deok and Related Customs

1) Expelling Evil Spirits Traditional Korean toilets had two large footstools with a big and deep hole in between. It was shaped such that children sometimes fell into the hole and injured themselves. People believed that the toilet ghost was hungry and wanted a child to eat. When such an incident happened, people brought in an exorcist who performed an exorcism. They also made a special rice cake called dung deok (excrement rice cake) that they shared with neighbours for the purpose of expelling bad luck for the child.

Kyju390  got julp'yeon  Kyju392

                            seokyi-byong                      got julp’yeon                     seoktan-byong 

2) Fortune Telling In the past, villagers forecast the future by looking at the shapes of the boiled rice cakes. All the people in a village brought rice and shared it. They powdered it and put one sheet of paper written with each one’s name under their own share. Then it was boiled. Usually, all the rice cakes were boiled well, but sometimes the consistency varied. People with a well-boiled rice cake were believed to have good fortune, while those whose rice cakes did not cook well were believed to have bad fortune. When rice cakes were not boiled well, it was the custom to not to eat them. Instead, they dumped the rice cakes in the middle of 3-way street, believing they could avoid bad luck that way.

Deokjum (fortune rice cake) was used for fortune-telling. Fortunes were predicted through the shape of the deok after it was steamed. songp’yeon (rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles) also served for the same purpose. Villagers believed an unborn child’s appearance could be predicted from the shape of songp’yeon. If the fillings are cooked, the unborn child would be a boy, otherwise a girl.


Deok in Various Occasions

Since deok has become a favorite recipe for the Korea palate, it is included at many auspicious occasions. Recipes related to children include huin muri (white rice cake), susupot deok (red bean rice cake), and songp’yeon (rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles). Each variety of deok signifies different meanings: Huinmuri (purity), songp’yeon (coolness, believed to drive away evil spirits). When a child is at boarding school and finishes reading a text, aCh’aekryae (Text Completion Party) is held and the occasion is celebrated with deok. For wedding ceremonies and 60th and 61st birthday parties, hosts prepare injul mi (square rice cakes coated with bean flour), kaksackpyun (rice cake with different colors), and julpyun.


Steamed rice grains are first ground and steamed on a cauldron.
Pounded glutinous rice is pounded finely and it becomes sticky after steaming. It is then stuffed with bean flour.
Shaped powered glutinous rice or millet is first kneaded and shaped, then it is steamed and stuffed with red beans, sesame seeds, or soybean flour (k’onggomul).
Pan-fried after kneading and shaping, it is pan-fried with oil.
kweikwang-kwajindalae gotjeonbindae-deokkukhwa gotjeontoran-byong
Others Yakshik- made with steamed glutinous rice with a mixture of chestnut, jujube, and gingili. Flavors such as gingili, soy bean sauce, sugar, and cinnamon powder are added. Jongp’yeon- made with a mixture of rice powder and wine. The dough is fermented then put into foil to be steamed.

   Hamgyeong Province

Hamgyeong is mainly a mountainous region and only has poor farming of minor cereals. For example, in the southern region, the ratio of cultivation is barely above 10%. The region’sdeok is made mainly from Indian millet. Other common types include injulmidal-deok,ogorang-deokchapsal gubigujul-deokgomyeong-deokgojang-deokkamja-deok(made from potatoes), yunkamja-deokkaran-deokk’ong-deokmaemiju-deokchajo injulmi, and gulir julp’yeon (made from oats).

chajo injulmi (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) memil juak (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) gojang-deok

                                 chajo injulmi                      memil juak                       gojang-deok   

   P’yeongyang Province

P’yeongan Province is mostly mountainous except for the western side. Rice fields account for only 20% of the land in the west, while the rest are dry fields. Considering the small proportion of rice fields, production is relatively good. The wide ranges across the West Sea and Chungchung river in North P’yeongyang Province are well known for their good irrigation facilities. The region’s deok tend to be very large and funny-looking, representing its people who are continental and full of enterprising spirits. Common types include songki julp’yeongolmi-deokgojang-deokbong-deokmujigae-deok (rainbow), kamja-deok,siru-deok (steamed), nidoraemichalbuchiminottigangnaneui golmu-deok (made from corn), nokdu (made with mung beans), and jijim (pan fried).

 notti (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)  mujigae-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)  golmi-deok

                                       notti                          mujigae-deok                   golmi-deok 

   songki julp'yeonchogae songp'yeon

                                                    songki julp’yeon               chogae songp’yeon

   Hwanghae Provinces

Hwanghae Province was well known for granary with numerous fertile plains. Rice form Jaeryong and Yunbaek was famous for its quality and was even supplied as Royal rice. Other than rice, non-glutinous millet, Chinese millet, wheat, beans, and red beans were produced here. With the production of various crops, different kinds of deok were well developed. Reflecting the region’s hospitality, deok were served in large quantities and huge portions. Common type include ojangi-deokchapsal-deok (from hulled millet), kun songp’yeonyunhan (coast) injulmihonin (wedding) julp’yeondakal (egg) bumbuk,janchi (party) mesiru-deokmuseolki-deokjulp’yeonwukijapkok buchiki (pan fried cereals), chang-deokgulmul (honey water) kyeongdandakal-deok, and sujebi-deok.

ojangi-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) honin injulmi ojangi-deok

                             ojangi-deok                           honin injulmi                       ojangi-deok   

kun songp'yeon chang-deok susupot deok

                                kun songp’yeon                   chang-deok                  susupot deok

   Cheju Island

Although Cheju Island has a fair amount of rainfall, irrigation water is scarce. Because of its poor soil quality, the island has few fertile rice fields. This caused the widespread planting of dry-field rice called samdo (Mountain Rice) or yukdo (land rice). Also, from the dry fields, foxtail, barley, buck wheat, beans, red beans, mung beans, sesame, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are produced. As minor cereals are more abundant than rice, deok are usually made from minor cereals and such dry field crops as sweet potato, potato, foxtail, and buckwheat. However, for ancestor-memorial rites, the main ingredients for deok is rice. Deok made from potato starch has particular taste and bing-deok (stuffed with radishes, rolled and pan-fried) is also tasty. Common types include julp’yeondodom-deokchim-deokchajobssal-deok (made from hulled millet), jobssalsyru-deok (steamed), ohmaeki-deokdolrae-deoksok-deokkamjae-deoksangae-deokchochim-deokkamjaechim-deokpanchakggeon-deokchunggwaeuggikbaeksuruchossalsuru, and eunchulmi.

ohmaeki-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) injulmi (eunchulmi) (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)

                                                   ohmaeki-deok              injulmi (eunchulmi)

   Cholla Provinces

Cholla province embraces Honam Plain, the biggest granary in Korea and has plenty of herbs such as San Su Yu, Tangui, Omija and a motherwort. The region also produces wild edible greens such as day lily and bracket and mushrooms. Affluent region traditionally houses the rich and their tasty, abundant and Deok are well passed down to the present. Common types include kamgoji-deokkamdanjacheon-hu kyungdanhaenam kyungdangot (Flower) songpyunbibi-deokmosi-deokmosa-songpyeonhobak(pumpkin) mesiriputhobak-deokbokryong-deoksuri-chuisongpi-deokbori-deok,gochi-deokchaljoki-deok, and juak.

 bokryong-deok gochi-deok got (Flower) songp'yeon

                           bokryong-deok                    gochi-deok                     got (flower) songp’yeon

bongchi-deok got (Flower) songp'yeon (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) chaljoki-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)

                                 bongchi-deok         got (Flower) songp’yeon        chaljoki-deok 

   Kangwon Province

Kangwon provinces to the contrary consists main ?. Dry field crops such as potato, corn, bean, and wild as a result, Deok made of various dry-field crops potato and wild edible are well in this region. As such minor cereals and wild arrowroot, corn, and buck, whear are the main ingredients, tastes are native and service. Common types include kamja-songp’yeon,chaloksusu (Cron) siru-Deokmemil (buckwheat), chong-deokkamja buchimkurum-deokdotori-songp’yeonhobak siru-deok.

  gurum-deok chal bukumi got julp'yeon

                                   gurum-deok                   chal bukumi                    got julp’yeon   

  mulhobak-deok kaksaek kyongdan

                                                      mulhobak-deok            kaksaek kyongdan

   Ch’ungch’ong Provinces

Ch’ungch’ong Provinces are abundant in such crops as rice and barley. That makes the region the home of various deok with many ingreslients. shoimeri-deok (cow head) is especially well known. Pumpkin are used not only for the pumpkin porridge and hobak-gulhanji (pumpkin honey pot), but also the deok makings. Common types includeshoimeri-deokgotsan-deokgon-deokyak-p’yeonmak-p’yeonhobak-deokchang-deokkamja-deokkamja-songp’yeon.

 got injulmi hobak-deok kongseolgi

                                    got injulmi                      hobak-deok                    kongseolgi 

  potso injulmi Yakshik

                                                      potso injulmi                        Yakshik

   Kyongsang Procinve

Mairi agricultural produces of Kyung Sang Province are rice, barky, bean, sweet potato corn, and potato, not to mention fruits such as chestnut jujube, apple, persimmon, and pear, consequently the region’s Deok uses these ingredients in addition to arrowroot, China grass, Chungmirae and vine leaf from the mountain regions. “Deok” using these local specialties are well known as the region’s delicacies. Common types include bup’yeonkamtanzasongju seokkisongpyun gulp’yeonmisi yip (China grass leaf) songp’yeonkamsa-songp’yeon(potato), keo-chang songp’yeonssuk kul rae,manggae-deokmilyang kyeongdan,kongkomul-deokchanochihobak beom-beok.

kamtanza (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) kongkomul-deok (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) bupyun

                                kamtanza                      kongkomul-deok                   bupyun

  ssuk kul rae eunhaeng juak jugeok-deok

                                   ssuk kul rae                    eunhaeng juak                  jugeok-deok

  ssuk beomuri got julp'yeon jat guri

                             ssuk beomuri                     got julp’yeon                              jat guri   

   Kyunggi Province

Southern Han River flower into the West sea through Kyunggi Province. On the way it creates fertile plaints such as Kyunggi Kimpo and Pyung Taek plains where top quality crops are produced. Rice and Indian millets are especially famous and naturally, in this region Deok using those ingredients are popular in addition, Deok using mugwort from the field and oyster from the West Sea are also made ? Deok has a delicate flavor served in fait amount with one exception which is rather luxurious. Common types include baep’y-deok,kae-song kyeongdankae-song ja haksusubyungkojissukkaen-deokssaek-deok,yoju shin byungkaksaek kyeongdankaesong cho raeng yissuk-bomury, andmilbeombeok-deok.

  kaesong juak (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization) kaksaek kyeongdan (picture provided by Kyongju Tourism Organization)

                                                 kaesong juak                  kaksaek kyeongdan

kaesong juak        kaesong cho raeng yi

                                                       kaesong juak        kaesong cho raeng yi


All Koreas go through several rituals in their lives. These rituals have standardized ceremonies, and each ceremony is always accompanied with special types of food. Rice cakes have been representative foods to be dedicated to ancestors and god.


This is the day to celebrate the 21st (3 times 7) day of new baby’s birth. Relatives and family members get together, celebrating the birth of a baby and praising the mother’s labor. The foods used for this celebration include miyeok guk (sea-weed soup) and baekseolgi(steamed rice cake). The baekseolgi has the symbolic meaning of holiness, separating a mother and a baby from the mundane world. So people share rice cakes only with their own family members, not with neighbors and friends.


   Baek-il (100th day of baby’s birth)

This is the day to give congratulations for 100 days after a baby’s birth. The number 100 has an inherent meaning of maturity and perfection, signifying a baby passes through perfection period safely as a human being. People bring presents and congratulatory statements and wish for the baby’s health and blessing.
The several different types of rice cakes are prepared, including baekseolgi (steamed rice cake), bulkunp’at gomul (red bean rice cake), ch’alsusu gyongdan, and osaek songp’yeon(5-color moon rice cake). Baekseolgi has the symbolic meaning of holiness, bulkunp’at gomul for expelling evil spirits, and ch’alsusu gyongdan for returning a baby which is secured in a holy world to the worldly place on that day. The 5-color moon rice cake is made with 5 pretty colors, signifying the harmony of nature. Unlike the rice cakes of Samchil-Il, the rice cakes for Baek-il are shared with neighbors from the belief of a baby’s longevity and blessings.

   Tol (One Year Birthday)

The rice cakes for this day are the same as for Baek-il. With these rice cakes and other foods, the parents put rice, thread, book, paper, pencil, and a bow and arrow (or in the case of girl, they put scissors, needle, and ruler) on a table then let the baby pick up one of the items, predicting the child’s future. The parents then feed the baby ch’alsusu gyongdan in the belief that it prevents the baby from falling down.

   Ch’aekryae (Text Completion Party)

This ritual has disappeared these days. In the past, when a child went to a Korean traditional type of school (seodang) and finished studying a book, the mother usually brought rice cakes and other foods that she prepared to celebrate. The teacher and other students shared the foods together. The rice cake used on this occasion was a small sized osaek songp’yeon.

   Honryae (Wedding Ceremony)

The wedding ceremony is a very important ceremony to tie a new husband and wife as a married couple. The rice cake used for the wedding ceremony is bongchae deok, prepared by the bride’s family. Its major ingredients are 7 jujubes, red beans, and sticky rice. Each material has a symbolic meaning: sticky rice signifies the couple’s inseparable love, 7 jujubes represents a hope for 7 sons, and red beans are for dispelling evil spirits. Other rice cakes used at wedding ceremonies include moon rice cake and 2-color rice cakes. Moon rice cakes symbolize the moon shining over each one’s life. The 2-color rice cake represents 2 chickens, meaning a couple.

   Hwaegap (60th Birthday)

The 6oth birthday has a very special meaning. In the 12-year, 5-cycle lunar calendar,the 60th year indicates a full completion of the 60 combinations, meaning that the person has returned to the original year of birth. Relatives (usually led by the wife of the eldest son) prepare a big birthday table. Rice cakes are is indispensable item of the birthday table.

   Jaeryae (Ancestor Offering)

Every year, family members worship their ancestors on the days of their death. Rice cakes must be prepared for this ceremony. Musokhaenguiwha deokui p’ungsok (Exorcisms) Musokhaengui is an exorcism executed by a shaman to expel ghosts and evils, wish for fortunes, and give blessings. Rice cake plays an important role to appease ghosts.Chungp’yeonkyemyeondeokgeomyeondeok, and geop’ip’at p’yeon are used in this ceremony.

Cheolshikkwadeok (Special Holidays)

These days were created by cycles of nature and traditional life styles. They include agricultural ceremonies, shamanist rituals, and historical events. On these holidays, people celebrate with special foods, especially rice cakes.

Seolnal (Lunar New Year)

Among the many popular New Years dishes, Korean’s favorite is deok-guk (white rice cake soup). The reason to eat this relates to New Year’s Day. The first day of a year is supposed to be holy and clean like the white color of rice cakes. According to tradition, you can only get one year older by eating deok-guk. This is why people sometimes ask how many dishes of deok-guk you have ever had in your life (a way of asking a person’s age).

   Chunghwa-cheol (1st Day of 2nd Lunar Month)

People made moon rice cakes and ate one for each year of their age, especially for slaves. This ritual originated to motivate slaves at the time of starting farming.

   Samchit-nal (3rd Day of 3rd Lunar Month)

This day originated from seasonal enjoyment. People ate chindallae hwacheol (azalea pan rice cake) made from azaleas. It was a type of seasonal food to eat outside and enjoy nature in the Spring.

   Ch’op’a-il (8th Day of 4th Lunar Month)

This day is Buddha’s Birthday. During this time of the year, roses blooming and new buds sprout on a zelkova trees, so people began making siru-deok (steamed rice cake) using these ingredients.

   Tano (5th Day of 5th Lunar Month)

Dates with the same number for the month and day (especially odd numbers) were believed to be good days to celebrate life and cheerfulness based on Yin-Yang philosophy. On this day, women washed their hair with changpo water and colored their hair pin red to expel evil spirits. People ate surich’wei cheolp’yeon on this day, made of regular rice power mixed with surich’wei.

   Yudo (15th Day of 6th Lunar Month)

Early in the morning on this day, people prepared noodles, rice cakes, and fruits to worship their ancestors. In farming communities, people also had a ceremony to wish for a good harvest. The rice cakes prepared for the ceremony included sanghwabyeong (made with flour mixed with alcohol) and milcheonbyeong (made with flour and wrapped with fried vegetables).

   Ch’useok (15th Day of 8th Lunar Month – Harvest Moon Festival)

Also called Hangawei Chungch’ujeol, Korea’s version of Thanksgiving in the country’s 2nd biggest holiday, lasting 3 days. This time of the year is near harvest time, and this day was used for giving thanks by providing alcohol and diverse foods. The representative food was songp’yeon (moon rice cake). Pines needles are used to preserve it and give it a very special flavor.

   Dongji (Winter Solstace)

This night is the longest night of the year. People celebrated this date because the days became shorter in Fall, but began getting longer again from today. People believed that Sun got its life back on this date. People mostly ate rice and p’atjuk (adzuki-bean porridge). People sprinkled it on their front doors, hoping to expel ominous spirits and ghosts. Although there is no special rice cake associated with this date, many people made saealshim (small dumplings in red-bean gruel) which was made with powdered sticky rice and boiled to make it round. Then it was put in rice and adzuki-bean porridge.

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Korean Cakes(떡), Korean Desserts


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