Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Korea has a lot of '빵집', or bakeries - so many in fact that one franchise owner recently felt motivated to go to extraordinary lengths to fight back against a rival located nearby.

It wasn't 'rat bread' that finally gave me my first bout of food poisoning in Korea, but it was bread-related. Korean Mother brought home a bag of various products from a nearby shop. When she does this it usually sets of a frenzy of bread-eating for a couple of days, not particularly because of some desperate desire to eat more Westernised food on my part, but more because she buys so much of it that it's very easy for some of it to go to waste otherwise.

I find the products available in Korean bakeries a constant source of interest - they regularly change and are always inventive. In England, no-one would think to bake peas into an otherwise sickly sweet cream cake, or put tomatoes on top of a birthday cake, but in their apparent never-ending battle to push the boundaries of something new, these are just some of the surprising innovations brought to you by the local bread and pastry researchers here.

The problem with Korean Mother bringing bakery products home with her, aside from the sheer quantity, is the identification issue. Namely, that the products are often placed in anonymous bags which renders the contents on the product contained within a mystery. Usually though, it's fair to bet that anything which seems to be savoury and have contents will have some variation of vegetables, crab and darker mystery-meat.

So when I decided to heat up one of those doughy products with its mystery contents, I thought little of it. But I became sick shortly afterwards, which was surprising because if anything I'd overcooked it due to lingering at my trading desk for a little too long while the microwave was on. That's just the way it goes sometimes, I figured.

What I'd forgotten about in the subsequent fog of illness which enveloped me was that after eating it I'd followed it with half of some sweet bread, which I'd also heated up - though not so much. When I returned to complete the second half of the latter product the morning after I got better, I discovered - with the advantage of daylight - that mixed in with the sweet bean paste and slightly sugary coating were small bits of meat, which I'd merely heated up to room temperature the night I became ill.

Sometimes my struggles with the contents of our fridge and food cupboards come down to my failure to understand the Korean language, but getting food poisoning from a bread-based product has made me realise that there are some things in Korea which are always going to exist to challenge me... although I should also know better by now than to eat my food in the dark here.


Talking to myself said...

Another good post, and how unlucky. Back home I would normally be someone who eats a lot of bread but here, well I just don't like most of the stuff that's out there (with honourable exceptions to the rye bread you can buy at Costco and the bagels in Homeplus). No matter how much I try I do not like it!

I keep telling my wife how I think she will be eating more bread and sandwiches when we move to England and she always tells me "I don't like bread!!", which I find odd because she hasn't really tried the good stuff.

I still find it weird when Koreans change food to make it fit into what Koreans like because it completely changes it from what makes it good in the first place! I doubt the bakeries in France that Koreans train in teach them to make sweet white bread

Mike said...

I can understand why you don't like the bread here because it's an acquired taste I think. Probably the bread is like a lot of the pizza here - it's fit to match the tastes of the local population, as you say, to the point at which it sometimes bears only a passing resemblance to what we think of as the original product. I live with it but I do miss garlic bread - since all Korean garlic bread seems to have an impossibly high sugar content.

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