I don’t remember the first time I learned about deokbokki or rabokki. I also don’t remember when I first tried it for myself. Maybe at one of Roy’s favorite spots in Koreatown with a pub-like atmosphere and some dang good twice fried kfc wings or in Hawaii at this hole in the wall Korean restaurant with like 15 seats that will graciously add a slice of kraft cheese over top upon your request (I’ve been to several restaurant that though may have cheese corn on the menu will not also add cheese to any other dishes when asked).
But what I do remember is the very first time I was inspired to make this dish at home and all my fleeting attempts that followed to perfect it. I watch a lot of videos on YouTube with all sorts of content. I’ve been a fan of Simon & Martina (previously Eat Your Kimchi) for quite sometime. Simon & Martina, now living in Japan, previously lived in Korea for 8 years after moving abroad to teach English. They started a YouTube channel to let their family and friends in on their new lives in a foreign country and it took off! Eat Your Kimchi was one of my first introductions to Korean food and culture. On a late and particularly chilly night, I watched Martina’s cooking video on Dakgalbi and knew it was what I needed in my life ASAP. The next day I gathered all the ingredients at our local asian market and made Korean food for the first time. This sparked my interest in Korean dishes and eventually led me to other channels like Seonkyoung Longest, and Maangchi whose recipe I eventually adapted this Rabokki I’m sharing today from.
For those who aren’t familiar with Deokbokki, it’s a dish made up of these cylindrical shaped rice cakes cooked in a spicy red sauce, occasionally with green onions, fish cake, and a hard boiled egg or two. Rabokki is the version of Deokbokki with ramen noodles added to it instead of rice cakes. It’s very simple to put together, a sort of throw everything into one pot and let it all cook kind of deal, but so delicious and addicting. It’s spicy and I imagine that’s why it’s so hard to stop eating, like when you can’t stop shoving spicy cheetos in your face because if you stop your mouth might catch on fire. There’s got to be some science behind why spicy food does this to our tastebuds. I’ve watched my best friend order a level 5 ????? spicy ramen after a concerned look from our waiter and literally cry, sweat, and sniffle through eating the entire bowl whilst saying: “So spicy… but so *sniff* good…”
The good news is that Deokbokki is not level 5 spicy ramen spicy! Well, unless you want it to be. But I do have to be honest and say that even when using the mild level gochujang, there’s a definite spiciness to this dish. And it’s Korean spicy, meaning it lingers. I swear its delicious, but Roy who loves wasabi and Chinese hot mustard does not handle long term spicy very well and will warily eye this when I make it.
Rabokki is made with a red pepper paste called gochujang, the shining star of many Korean dishes. It’s thick and glossy with an intense deep red color to it. You mix the paste with korean red pepper flakes and a little bit of sugar and this creates your sauce which you then add to the broth along with the rest of the rice cakes, veggies, etc. Gochujang comes in all different levels of spice. I’ve tried medium hot in the past but mild is now my go-to as I feel like I can control the spice more when starting with less of it.
The way I enjoy my Rabokki is with a handful of rice cakes, green onion, carrots, fish cake, oodles of instant ramen, and a generous helping of special guest: *parmesan cheese*. The good kind! This without the cheese is yummy on its own but the parmesan takes it to a whole new level and now there’s just something missing for me if I have this dish without the cheese. I used to eat Rabokki with good ol’ American or swiss cheese but didn’t happen to have any on hand once and discovered the beauty that is parmesan and Rabokki. I figured I could grate off some of the wedge of parmesan I had in the fridge. While doing so, a big chunk fell into the noodles and I didn’t care enough to take it out. Upon reheating and mixing the leftovers later, a bite was covered in a bit of parmesan that had completely melted onto the noodles and my life was changed. Plus, the cheese makes the dish a little less spicy too and I have no complaints about that.
Rabokki is a dish that makes me so happy. If you’re not familiar with the ingredients they may seem like a lot of different things to have to add to your pantry but I’ve found ways to use most of them in my everyday cooking. Dried anchovies and kombu are a quick and easy way to make a soup base more flavorful and if you’re ever planning on making other Korean dishes, gochujang and gochugaru Plus, gochujang basically lasts forever and the rice cakes freeze great!
Rabokki with Cheese
Recipe makes 2-4 servings.
4 cups water
6-7 dried anchovies
1 large piece kombu
1/3 cup gochujang (red pepper paste)
1 tbsp Korean red pepper spice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 handful korean rice cakes
3 stalks green onion, chopped into 3 inch pieces
1 large carrot, sliced
2 packages dried instant ramen noodles (save or discard any seasoning packets)
1/2 cup grated good quality parmesan or 2 slices american/swiss cheese
1. Fill a large pot with 4 cups of water. Add the anchovies and kombu. Boil for about 15 minutes before removing the anchovies and kombu. Keep on a low simmer while preparing the other ingredients.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the gochujang, red pepper spice, and brown sugar. Add to the water with the rice cakes and stir until the paste is dissolved. Bring the pot to a boil again.
3. After a few minutes, add the carrots and fish cake. Continue to simmer until the sauce has reduced and the rice cakes and carrots are cooked through. Add in the ramen noodles. You may need to add another 1/2 – 1 cup of water if the sauce is too thick for the noodles to cook. Add the green onions.
4. Rabokki is best served immediately after cooking. Keep it quite warm on the stove and when ready to serve, add the grated parmesan. Let it melt and then mix all the ingredients around again. Serve and enjoy!
Note: If refrigerating leftovers, the rice cakes will become quite hard. I suggest using the microwave when ready to eat again but you will most likely have to cook them for at least several minutes before they soften up again.