Tteok (rice cake) is an integral element of Korean cuisine. The attractive designs and patterns imprinted onto tteok are a reflection of the Korean sense of aesthetics. The implement used to decorate the surface of tteok is commonly known as tteoksal, which was first used during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). It works like a stamp or seal to press designs on the pliable surface of tteok.
Although it may appear to be nothing more than a simple kitchen utensil, the tteoksal embodies a deeper significance. In particular, for Koreans of long ago, a brief glance at a tteoksal was enough to give them an impression of its household and family. As such, the designs of tteoksal served as a kind of family symbol. Particular tteoksal designs would be used for various family events and occasions.
For example, a fish and banana-plant pattern would decorate the tteok for an infant 100-day celebration, whereas a design depicting two lovebirds, to symbolize marital bliss, or a couple of bats, a symbol of good fortune, was applied to the tteok for a wedding ceremony. Animal forms, such as a carp or turtle, symbols of longevity, were used on the tteok for a 60th birthday celebration. Tteok for Buddhist events featured designs of lotus, man (Ø³), and other Buddhist symbols.
Along with taking heed of the saying, piece of tteok should not only taste good but look good as well,Ó Koreans also took the time and effort to give special meaning to each serving of tteok. Accordingly, tteoksal is another example of the refined elegance of Korea traditional food culture.