Trader Joe’s “Tteok Bok Ki” KOREAN SPICY RICE CAKES


“This dish, a mainstay of Korean street food, begins with cylinders of tender, chewy rice cakes (think mochi or gnocchi) cooked in a spicy-umami, savory and sweet sauce….”

I confess when I saw these for the first time in the frozen Asian food section at Trader Joe’s recently I got pretty excited. Because Tteok Bok Ki is a Korean dish that I am pretty crazy about and have eaten plenty of. In case you’re not familiar with it already, Korean “Tteok Bok Ki” (pronounced Tok Boke Kee) is a hugely popular typically Korean dish, comprised of consisting of soft, super chewy rice cakes in a tube shape that are cooked in an addictive spicy, sweet red sauce of Gochugang (Korean red pepper paste), brown sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds plus other seasonings and it has lots of Umami. So of course I had to try Trader Joe’s version, which says “Product of Korea” on the package. Having now tried it while I can’t say of course that it’s the best I ever had still it’s fairly good and tasty enough to recommend you give it a try. We had it for dinner and really enjoyed it, especially as I fixed it up a bit with a few ingredients (see below). Inside the package are two bags, one containing white rice cakes and bag of sauce which the instructions tell you to thin with a cup of water. I made them in the “Traditional Preparation” style written on the package. I don’t see the point of making the “crispy” style as they will be covered with sauce and not crispy after that.

TIPS: I found that the recommended 1 cup of water they state seems like too much. The sauce came out a little thin and this sauce should be pretty thick, to really coat the rice cakes. So the next time I make these I’ll reduce the water to 3/4 or even 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce. You can always add a few tablespoons of water if too thick. Also be sure to stir quite a bit as it cooks, as this also thickens the sauce from starch released by the rice cakes.

Another TIP: To make it more authentic I added a some things and suggest you should too. At the very least add a few hard boiled eggs which is the way it’s typically served in Korea. Add the eggs into the sauce so they cook for about 5 minutes in the sauce to get a bit imbued with it (cut them in half when you serve). Also, in Korea the dish might have thin “fish cakes” in it. If you have an H-Mart near you, you can get these type of thin fish cakes or other add-ins. As I didn’t have any, I improvised with something I had in the fridge which was some TJ “Baked Tofu”. That kind of worked for texture and another element plus additional protein. I sliced the tofu thinly in the style of those aforementioned fish cakes. I also threw in a bit of fresh cilantro (Pak Chi) and that worked well too for flavor and color. I gave them a little drizzle of Sesame Oil just before serving. Chopped scallions are very typical as well so add some. If you happen to have a box of Gochugang in the fridge, adding in a tablespoon or two during cooking couldn’t hurt for maximum authentic Korean flavors.

The final dish turned out quite tasty and made a nice dinner for two of us along with some good Kimchi – or just make a salad. It was not very spicy. If you add a few things (even just a few hard boiled eggs and chopped scallions) it turns this basic package from a side dish into a lunch or dinner. The TJ package goes for only $3.79 (1 lb). If you get Tteok Bok Ki in a Korean restaurant it could easily cost triple that price, though of course the one you get at a restaurant is likely be better. However if you fix this up a wee bit this can turn out pretty decent. So given how convenient this frozen TJ version is, I will surely buy this again (update: we have already) It’s a real treat of Korean textures and flavors. In future I may get those fish cakes at H-Mart which are optional but will really make this into a more authentic Tteok Bok Ki. I love that Trader Joe’s is carrying more and more Korean foods. Now if Trader Joe’s could only improve their source of the mediocre meh KIMCHI they carry (sigh, its better than nothing). H-Mart has great Kimchi. Just sayin’!

AS-IS the package is GLUTEN FREE and VEGAN.

Optional TJ list for shopping: eggs, cilantro, scallions, toasted sesame oil, baked tofu…

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/tteok-bok-ki-071551

Trader Joe’s KIMCHI


Trader Joe’s KIMCHI (Spicy Fermented Napa Cabbage) Ingredients: Napa Cabbage, Radish, Onion, Red Pepper Powder, Salt, Garlic, Vinegar, Lactic Acid (“Made in Korea”)

Rated “meh” (5/10)

We know eating fermented food is good for you, right? So we should eat foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and of course kimchi on a daily basis for their probiotic benefits. Kimchi is one of the best of these fermented foods. It’s really good for your system. I happen to love good kimchi…. Meaning kimchi that any Korean tasting it, would say it’s good. As someone who has Korean in-laws, happens to love and have eaten a ton of Korean food, I have had the chance to eat a good deal of all kinds of excellent varieties of Kimchi, in restaurants and in homes, and they have schooled me in what is good kimchi, from just OK. So I have to tell you Trader Joe’s Kimchi is just OK. No where near great but it is kimchi and it’s better than no kimchi.

Kimchi is tricky to make and sell commercially. It’s a very specific Korean taste and preparation and let’s face it, the really best stuff is made at home by your Korean “Umma” (mother) if you have one. For commercially made Kimchi to be good, they must get everything right in manufacturing it in bulk, plus it’s a tricky food to distribute as it keeps fermenting. It can even build up pressure as it sits on the shelves. We once bought a jar of a really expensive brand at Whole Foods called Mother In Laws Kimchi that practically exploded when we opened it up like a shook up Coke and made a huge mess all over our kitchen! I didn’t even think that brand was that good. Historically Trader Joe’s has tried their hand with Kimchi a few times and in different packages. Over the last few years, I would notice a Kimchi at TJ’s… then it would seem to vanish for a while..? Either they discontinued it for a spell or maybe they were finding other vendors, and changing the packaging, or all of the above. Before TJ’s current version sold in this red plastic jar, they carried kimchi in a soft plastic bag (see link) and also in a glass jar.

I have never been impressed with TJ’s Kimchi usually saying “its OK”. My short review of this TJ’s latest kimchi attempt remains that: “it’s OK”. Its better than nothing. Having some kimchi is always better than no Kimchi. If you can’t find kimchi from a Korean grocery somewhere where you live for example. This TJ one is not even close to ones that you would find at a Korean supermarket, like H-MART (wow, see how many kinds H-MART has?!) So on the plus side this latest Trader Joe’s Spicy Fermented Napa Cabbage Kimchi does have a tangy kimchi fermented taste (from lactic acid, which interestingly is listed on the label as an ingredient?) It doesn’t list any fish products which many Korean kimchi has for umami (oyster sauce or squid…). So this is a VEGETARIAN KIMCHI.

I don’t find it “spicy though I imagine this is a highly personal opinion. One thing about this kimchi though. By the time we get it, to me it’s already what I would call a bit on the what I would call “old-ish kimchi” meaning kimchi we’ve had in the fridge for a few weeks. So to me, the TJ kimchi tastes like kimchi that’s been around maybe 3 or 4 weeks? As kimchi ages it gets more fermented, and the taste gets more sour and the cabbage starts to get softer. In our household when it gets like this we use say this is good kimchi for cooking, say “Soon Du Bu” (kimchi tofu stew). Let’s face it, this kimchi shipped all the way from Korea and then it had to be distributed by truck I assume all over the US.

I am glad TJ’s is at least trying by selling Kimchi and Korean foods in general like the new TTeok Bok Ki. And JapChae (both are not bad). So to sum up if you can’t get a better Kimchi anywhere else this TJ kimchi will have to do, its “not bad” and it is good for cooking. Make some Kimchi Fried rice with this!

This is about $4.50 for a 10 oz. jar. Maybe eventually TJ’s will find a terrific Korean kimchi vendor. Definitely try cooking something with this Kimchi. Try making kimchi fried rice, which is yummy, especially with a fried egg on top.

https://www.thekitchn.com/trader-joes-has-kimchi-here-are-6-ways-to-use-it-183085

Eat some kimchi with your Pot Stickers. That is a great combo with a little rice.

or Stir Fried Pork with Kimchi –

(recipe here: https://uncutrecipes.com/EN-Recipes-Japanese/Buta-Kimchi.html)

You could make a Kimchi Jigae (stew) with pork, tofu, and kimchi.

Tip: you can use TJ’s pork tenderloin

https://food52.com/recipes/80922-what-to-do-with-old-sour-kimchi-kimchi-fried-rice

DIY KIMCHI – EASY HOMEMADE KIMCHI RECIPE

DIY Kimchi! No, seriously! There are easy kimchi versions that are not terribly to hard to make. If you buy a few ingredients at a Korean grocer (like Kochugaru, Korean ground red pepper) you can make your own cabbage kimchi and I bet the result will be better than TJ’s kimchi not too mention you will feel like a star when you impress people casually tossing out “You like it? I made this kimchi myself”. Aaron & Claire on YouTube have a great “easy kimchi” recipe using regular cabbage (it’s a kind of “summer kimchi”). I made it and my (Korean-Japanese) wife who has always said the TJ kimchi is no good told me the cabbage kimchi I made based on Aaron& Claire’s recipe was the most amazing kimchi she had in the U.S. It’s great one day later and will be improve more and more, tasting pretty amazing in a week or two as it ferments in the fridge. Seriously, if you want good kimchi, you will be surprised that you can make really good stuff on you own! Thanks Aaron & Claire for a super recipe.

You can find toasted Sesame Oil at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find Korean GOCHUJANG (red chili paste) easily where you live, you can at least find it on AMAZON :

https://amzn.to/3lf7IYg

It’s a must have ingredient to do any Korean cooking. As well as Korean Red Pepper Flakes (Gochugaru) – needed for making kimchi

https://amzn.to/2UYxh5p

Good luck! Kamnisamnida! (thank you)

Trader Joe’s Kimchi Fried Rice


 

TJ’s Kimchi Fried Rice

Disclaimer: I only tried this at the Sample Station. In fact I confess the Sample Station is the locus where I usually gravitate to almost immediately after I enter Trader Joe’s. I check out if they have something interesting to taste that day, and of course to grab myself a little cup of free coffee. Don’t you? Truly the Coffee Station is one of the best things about Trader Joe’s, isn’t it? Every supermarket should copy them; going shopping would be much more fun.


Kimchi Fried Rice is a fairly new item and TJ’s seemed to be promoting it quite a bit. Recently it was the product “on sample” 2 or 3 times that I had been to TJ’s of late. What I found funny was they had a sign next to the samples: Its said something like, “Warning: Spicy! Try at your own risk! If you can’t take spicy food, be careful!” Then I tasted it and my first thought was “Huh? This is spicy?”. Seriously to me it was about as spicy as baby food (I can take the heat). I started discussing this disconnect of the “WARNING” sign with the TJ employee who was in charge of the Sample Station at the time. He was of the same opinion – the Kimchi Fried Rice is not spicy at all! He cracked me up when he told me however how many people actually complained “Jeez this is so spicy” after they tasted the Kimchi Fried Rice on sample. So many that they put up the “warning, spicy” sign!

So here is what I thought after tasting the Kimchi Fried Rice. My wife is Korean-Japanese. So I knows me some Kimchi Fried Rice (the authentic Korean kind). I adore it. I can even cook a decent version myself. So if I compare that taste to this stuff, I just have to say this is a pretty bland, insipid version. The two times I tried it was soft and fairly mushy, plus it had barely any kimchi taste; To me, its flavor profile was just weak, which I attribute to an industrial production of such a “homey” dish. For one, truly Kimchi Fried Rice needs real garlic flavor, as well as Kimchi. This barely even had any garlic nor Kimchi flavor for me. The real thing is a fantastic dish, and this? Frankly to my tastes perhaps it would be suitable for babies (ok maybe Korean babies). Now having said that – Trader Joe’s does have a decent “ethnic” fried rice. TJ’s JAPANESE FRIED RICE is actually pretty good. In my years,  I’ve eaten tons of both Kimchi fried rice and Japanese fried rice and know what these should taste like, and I can cook decent versions of both.

So, sorry Trader Joe’s but in my opinion your KIMCHI FRIED RICE is a big miss!

If you try it, also try the JAPANESE FRIED RICE next time and see which you prefer. Pretty much same as TJ’s another new “Korean” addition, Trader Joe’s Kimchi, which I found such a poor product I actually “returned” it! Perhaps those who don’t live in a city where you can buy real kimchi sold at a Korean market, might think “so this is kimchi, tasty”.  Actually if you had real Kimchi you would know this stuff is not even close to being as tasty as a real Korean-made kimchi – for example this brand (Tobagi) of Napa cabbage kimchi I get at H-MART supermarket on 32nd Street (Manhattan’s Korea Town). If you A/B taste tested this prepared kimchi vs. the Trader Joe’s version? It would be almost a joke, its just no comparison! Anyone who’s been to a Korean restaurant will know the real taste of kimchi. At $1.99 (10 oz) you can try TJ’s version and see for yourself. Let me know what you think.

RANT

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean...

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean cuisine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TJ’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks


nori

RAVE

Wow, are these good. “Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack” are sheets made from edible seaweed, and are similar to, but slightly different from Japanese nori (seaweed dried into sheets). These are “yaki-nori” (roasted nori sheets). These are from Korea. Korean ‘nori’ have sesame oil which gives the sheets a wonderful aroma and nutty taste and airy texture. They are more delicate and not as dense structurally as Japanese nori sheets, and these can break apart very easily. So these are harder to roll stuff up in, the way you would do with sushi for example. But I do find the Korean kind tastier and in fact TJ’s “Roasted Seaweed Snacks” are delicious. Yes you can eat them as “snacks” as named, just pop them in your mouth. Eaten like this, a package will vanish FAST! They are addictive. However they are good any way you would employ nori. I have made sushi hand-rolls with them (very carefully so they don’t fall apart). You should try this; they’re terrific.

A pack of these goes for 99 cents (and yes I’ve seen better prices for similar ones at Korean supermarkets but you might not have one of those near you) Its still not a bad deal at all as they give you a good number of these small square sheets, which weigh almost nothing.

Now I have read this is a “polarizing Trader Joe’s product” meaning you either love it or hate it. Huh? Who hates these? Personally I love these and would say if you haven’t tried them, pick up a pack and check them out. They are a “healthy snack”. As with so many TJ items, you may be instantly hooked and grab them every time you see them (and no I don’t get paid for this folks, or get free samples. I wish!) My local TJ’s is actually putting them right by the Checkout line… next to the chocolates! That must mean something: checkout line item.

Do as the Japanese do: Try making thin strips of them to sprinkle on rice. Take 2 or 3 sheets. Using a scissors cut them into strips as thin as you can. Sprinkle strips on top of…. well almost anything. They will add interesting flavors to: rice, salads, fish, chicken, meats…experiment! Try wrapping some food in them too, instead of bread or a taco (maybe two together for added strength?) I love them with “Spicy Tuna” and some sushi style rice. Put a sheet in your hand, top with some rice and top that with some Spicy Tuna. Gently fold into a tube and pop that tasty morsel into you mouth. Yum Yum Yum!

I found a very good post about them on this blog; take a look.

If you are want more information including the Nutrional Info, I found TJ’s product description for them online (PDF) – turns out I was right about guessing Korean origin.

Here’s what TJ’s has to say:

THE ROASTED SEAWEED SNACK STORY

It all started under the sea with an edible red algae (genus Porphyra), which is now commonly known as nori. Around the 8th century, evidence of nori surfaced in Japan as a type of culinary paste. It wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1868) that sheets of nori were invented through a method of paper-making. Skip forward a few hundred years, and nori becomes a sensation across the globe—for sushi, snacking and seasoning. So Trader Joe’s knows, it’s now or nori. Our Roasted Seaweed Snack features nori from Korea that is roasted with a touch of oil (sesame & canola) and sea salt, then cut into strips. That’s it. It’s light, crunchy, ocean-salty and nuanced with an intriguing nutty flavor. It’s so good, it proves hard to keep in stock. Especially at 99¢ for a package.

UPDATE!

PS – I found this and had to add it…. this is hysterical!

“Korean flavored nori is increasingly popular in Japan, also as a topping for white rice. You could also eat flavored nori just on its own, but you should resist the urge to do it when in polite company: eating flavored nori as a snack is considered fairly vulgar (which doesn’t mean people don’t do it!)”

 see mid page about flavored nori ; original post:    http://kanakoskitchen.com/whatyouneed/seaweed/