Monday, November 14, 2011

The History of "Toppokki"

The first 떡볶이 can be traced back to the Joseon Dynasty when it was the custom that the most delicious food in a village be transported to Hanyang (Seoul) and given to the king. 떡볶이 was actually first prepared into a bar of gooey rice called 가래떡 and was considered so delicious as to be suitable for the king. However in transporting it to Hanyang, the rice bar became hard and lost its flavor and chewiness, so the king's cook boiled the bar of 가래떡 and added soy sauce as a tasty base. Thus, the first 떡볶이 in a sauce was created.

It wasn't until 1953 that 떡볶이 as we know it today was created. A woman by the name of Ma Bok Rim was preparing jajangmyeon, noodles in a fermented soybean sauce, and accidentally dropped the rice cake bar into the sauce. When she pulled out the rice cake, she didn't want to waste it so ate it and really like the flavor. So from then on, she added 신당동 in a red pepper paste sauce (known now as 떡볶이) to her menu. Ma Bok Rim is a grandmother still living today, manages her own 떡볶이 restaurant, and is still lauded as the inventor of 떡볶이.

In the mid-1970s DJ shows were added to popular 떡볶이 restaurants, a very competitive business strategy for competing with other restaurants and attracting more people in the growing economy where people were enjoying meals out more and more. The music boxes in the restaurants enticed all ages to eat for gustatory satisfaction as well as socialization.

In fact, 떡볶이 is greatly enjoyed today, so much so that a Shindangdong 떡볶이 Town, somewhere near Anam Station in Seoul, thrives with street vendors selling the spicy rice cake bars in red pepper sauce and with indenpendent restaurants latching onto the meteor tail of 떡볶이 success.

With the popularization of 떡볶이 among ordinary folks, it has become a symbol of Korean culture. At present it is most popular among school aged children who feast on it at parks, on field trips and in front of their schools where guaranteed a variety of 떡볶이 shops have huge pans of the rice cakes steaming and ready for hungry children the moment they are let out of schools.

Marketing and Globalization of "Toppokki"

떡볶이 is such a popular food in Korea that the Korean government is now trying to develop it as export material, so a laboratory has been set up in Yongin to develop a sauce that will be internationally marketable. Experiential classes are available there too. Also, the government changed the difficult to pronounce name of 떡볶이 into the more foreigner friendly pronunciation of "Toppokki", which will be the name of the marketed foreign food. And then not surprisingly, to further promote and celebrate the food in Korea the Seoul Toppokki Festival (among the myriads of other festivals springing up in Korea in honor of other cities, foods, and famous sites) has been held in Seoul since 2009.

But this is where things start to get weird from the foreigners' perspective. Even cutesy little rice cake characters have been created and given names. To me this is too much like the Japanese comic book series on Sailormoon, with each comic character of course having a name, but the details going so far as to even give each character a blood type, the blood type having very high value in Japan. In Korea, each style of rice cake is given a character name, is animated and cutesified, all important features of advertising in Korea today ... but unfortunately advertising for the Korean or Asian market, not necessarily for the broader international market. Naming each style of rice cake seems practical, just as each style of pasta in Italy has a name ... but not giving each type of race cake a childish animation with proper name. Reminiscent of the Teletobies?!?! Ah, Korea is definitely in the age of cutesy, etsy and animation.

But this food culture is definitely interesting on many levels! This historical study on a food culture was done by Park Jieun and Yoon Migyeong and really exemplify how food has affected culture - the purpose of the assignment. Well done!

No comments:

Post a Comment