One of the elements I love about many Asian cuisines—Korean food, in particular—is the emphasis on texture as a vital component in every dish. Korean dishes are about more than just the way they look, taste, or smell; they ideally need to be interesting to chew, too. Hence the popularity of foods such as chewy raw sea squirt—served hwe-style in Houston at Dadami—and the dense rice cakes called tteok.
Thanks in part to chef Chris Shepherd's popular "Korean-braised goat and dumplings" dish served at Underbelly, more and more Houstonians are becoming acquainted with the chewy, slightly crispy rice cakes. There's something oddly compelling about working your way through the noodles one at a time; the variety of textures offered in just one bite is a novelty at first, and becomes somewhat addictive over time.
The variety of tteok used at Underbelly—as well as new Korean fusion restaurant Nara—is the cylindrical garaetteok, made by pounding steamed, well-salted rice flour into a paste before shaping it into long tubes. They're cut into smaller cylinders much the same way as gnocchi, then boiled and/or toasted before eating.
At the Yori Yori food stand inside 99 Ranch Market, you can get a plate of simply prepared rice cakes tossed in spicy gochujang sauce and topped with a scatter of black sesame seeds. Unlike Underbelly, which tops its "dumplings" with braised goat, or Nara's addition of fatty shreds of oxtail meat, these rice cakes are entirely vegetarian—and they're only $5.99
And while Yori Yori is a bit expensive overall—a bowl of kimchi bibimbap runs a staggering $15—considering its proximity to the more affordable restaurants in Koreatown, just north of 99 Ranch Market, it's still less than the $16 you'll pay at Nara or the $14 you'll pay at Underbelly. Plus, these rice cakes come with a complimentary cup of miso soup. Just be sure to bring cash; Yori York has a $20 credit/debit card minimum.