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  • Maddie LaBerge

This Trader Joe's vegan meal brings a heat that lingers

Want to turn up the heat? Try the Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki Korean Spicy Stir-Fried Rice Cakes.

I am actively making a big effort to eat at home most of the time. Normally, I try to cook something from Hello Fresh but some of those recipes can take over an hour to cook, despite what the recipe says. Sometimes, I just desperately want to eat something in less than ten minutes, with little to no prep needed on my end.

This is where Trader Joe's comes in. If I am not legitimately cooking a meal, it is pretty much a guarantee that I am heating up a frozen Trader Joe's meal. I have favorites that are mainstays in my freezer, the Hatch Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese, Vegetable Fried Rice and Trader Joe's Thai Vegetable Gyoza are a necessity during every grocery trip.

On my last trip to TJ's, I was browsing the frozen aisles and came across the colorful bag of Tteok Bok Ki, Korean spicy stir-fried rice cakes. For just $3.99, I tossed it into the cart looking forward to trying it out.

If you're not familiar with the flavor or history behind it, the Trader Joe's website says that it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to call tteok bok ki (pronounced tuk-bow-kee) food fit for royalty.

"The first historical records of this savory and satisfying rice cake dish come from a 19th century Korean cookbook, where it’s cited as an example of court cuisine. Originally served in soy sauce, tteok bok ki took on its modern-day red hue and sweet, peppery flavor profile via one chef ’s introduction of gochujang sauce in the mid-20th century, and has since become a darling of Korean BBQ connoisseurs and street food aficionados the world over. And now, this rich, spicy delicacy of rather royal origins has found a new domain: The freezer aisle at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s." via Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe’s Tteok Bok Ki comes with a portion of bite-sized vegan rice cakes and a packet of fiery, gochujang-spice sauce, both separately packaged within the bag. Because Trader Joe's literally gets me they always put instructions for traditional methods of preparing the dish, alongside microwave and air fryer instructions.

Since it was my first time cooking Tteok Bok Ki, I went for the traditional method to try and get the most ~authentic~ experience. I followed the instructions of boiling the rice cakes in a small amount of water, adding in the sauce and letting it simmer until it got thick. There was an option to make the rice cakes more crispy by toasting them on a skillet or in the air fryer, before mixing in the sauce, which I wish I had in hindsight.

The rice cakes have a chewy, mochi-esque texture juxtaposed by a flaming sauce that simmers on the tongue, long after consumption. Typically, I can handle a decent amount of heat, but this dish had a delayed and lingering heat that proved to be challenging for my taste buds, with an intense and uncomfortable spiciness that persisted long after each bite. The first six to eight bites were delightful, but as I continued eating, the simmering heat grew into a fiery rage.

I paired it with the Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice, which I cooked on the stove top, in the leftover sauce from the Tteok Bok Ki. Between the rice cakes, shrimp, and lingering heat, I wasn't crazy about the texture or flavor of it all together.

Online, Trader Joe's recommends topping Tteok Bok Ki off with a fried egg, which I wish I had done. The yolk may have been able to relieve some of the heat and thinned the thicker, congealed gochujang-spice sauce.

I probably won't be buying Tteok Bok Ki from Trader Joe's again, but it did give me an opportunity to use green onion from my garden! It was the first time I harvested from the plant, and added a nice crunch throughout the meal.

As for the Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice, it was ridiculously easy to heat up and took less than 10 minutes from opening the package to opening my mouth for the first bite. I will definitely be adding this to my cart in the future to pair with something new.


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