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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Now members of the city's Korean community can eat their chewy bite-sized rice cakes and enjoy them too.

Until now, Los Angeles County health officials had required bakeries selling the steamed cakes, called duk or thuk, to refrigerate them, a move some say ruins the taste.

``The people didn't buy it,'' said Young Hui Lee, owner of Seoul Kitchen. ``They think, 'How come it's so hard? Maybe it's a day old.'''

Gov. Gray Davis agreed, saying eating a refrigerated rice cake is ``like eating a hockey puck.''

He put an end to that Friday in Koreatown, when he signed into a law a bill allowing the cakes to be served at room temperature if they are dated and carry a label warning that they should be eaten within 24 hours.

The cakes are made by soaking rice in water for several hours, then grinding it into a paste and rolling it into balls, which are steamed.

The balls, often filled with red beans, fruit or nuts, are mainly served as a dessert snack and are popular at birthdays and other celebrations.

County health officials say they were only enforcing the law when they cracked down in July, telling bakery owners to refrigerate the cakes.

``In terms of our procedure, we were doing what we're supposed to, which is preventive public health,'' said Terrance Powell, the county's chief environmental health specialist.

Assemblywoman Carol Liu, who sponsored the bill to change the law, disagreed. ``It would have been a disgrace to allow a thoughtless regulation to rob Korean-Americans in Los Angeles of this tradition,'' she said.