Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Not Quite Right"

I picked the title of this post from the quote some of us westerners sometimes use about South Korea that it is "the land of not quite right".

What do I mean by that? Well, mainly that things aren't done here like they are back home. For example, often you will order a ham and cheese sandwich in a restaurant and get served a ham, cheese and jam sandwich. One time at the restaurant chain "Bear Mountain" I ordered chicken quesadillas and they were served with sweetened whipped cream [like you might use as a dessert topping] of course I didn't expect this or realize it until I had spread it over my meal and thus ruined the entire thing. I have learned that even when things look right and are presented in the way you are used they still might not be correct.

I have been thinking about this in regards to food lately. Maybe because I have a terrible cold and have had for weeks now - nothing smells or tastes good to me. This got me thinking about the fact that in Korea nothing smells good. You can walk by a fried chicken shop or a bakery and smell nothing. I'm not sure if it is the pollution or what. But, it sure is different from back home. When I lived in Moncton, New Brunswick and attended Moncton High School there was a bakery about 6 blocks away and the smell used to waft in - especially in the fall and spring when the windows were open. The odour used to practically drive us to distraction. I can't speak for anyone else, but I was rendered like one of Pablov's dogs with my salvating. It was the most fragrant and delicious smell imaginable.

This got me thinking about the fact that Korean people say they don't like sweets. What I am wondering is if that is true. Is it that Korean people don't like sweets or that they don't like that they make here and call "sweets" cause quite frankly I don't like them either. They look like real cakes and are decorated beautifully but they are mostly puffed air and sometimes some sweetened cream. I have never had a cake here [not even for someone's birthday] that actually tasted like a cake. They don't use icing sugar or frostening on cakes or cinnamin buns. The cake is always a light sponge-like cake. I've never had a confetti cake or a cherry loaf or even a real chocolate cake. I'm not sure if it is because it is difficult to find the necessary ingredients [real cocoa powder is very hard to find] and from the taste of the "chocolate cakes" I've tried from bakeries they used cocoa mix [cocoa that has been cut with sugar and milk powder and is ready to make a cup of hot cocoa] or if they just don't know the difference.

A picture of a normal Korean bakery and the delicious "looking cakes". If only they tasted even 25% as good as they look....

Apparently, I am not the only one to dislike Korean bakeries. Last weekend I went to visit my friend "Ray" in Ulsan. And, I picked up a copy of the November issue of the "Ulsan Pear" an English magazine about living in Ulsan. In it there was an article about "Stohrer Bakery". The article by Jim Saunders starts like this, "Bakeries in Korea seem to be a rather hit-and-miss affair. A casual glance around your local Paris Baguette or equivalent reveals a lacklustre number of tasty looking goods on offer that also seem to contain a strange mix of fillings (sweet potato anyone?). And when an unsuspecting pastery that looks really good spills bean paste into your mouth it can rather darken the day."

The article goes on to take about a bakery in Ulsan called the "Stohrer Bakery" owned and operated by Mr. Son Su Dae who gained experience in Japan and France. It continues to say that although expensive the quality is great and it does seem to attract a upper class clientele. This piqued my interest. And, adds to my hypothesis that Koreans would actually like "Western food" if it were actually prepared and served correctly here.

I convinced "Ray" to join me on my quest to find this bakery. Truthfully, it didn't take much persuading. "Ray" and a few of his friends had tried to find the bakery a few weeks before without success and I think "Ray" was just curious to see how I would go about trying to find it since I have only been to Ulsan a handful of times and had always managed to get lost while there. But, knowing my persistence he knew it would be interesting to watch. The fact that the bakery was difficult to find just made me more determined than ever to find it. That's just the kind of girl I am. I guess you could say I like a challenge. Whenever, life gets hard and frustrating here in Korea I just pretend I am on "The Amazing Race" and that this is a "roadblock" [a task that only one player can perform before the team can move on].

A picture of the tarts in the Stohrer Bakery. They were delicious. I bought a plum one.

Needless, to say we found the bakery and as promised it was quite expensive and the quality was great! I couldn't be more pleased. I should confess that I used the phone number of the bakery and recruited a Korean University Student to call and get me directions. And, later I talked to a Korean guy and showed him the directions and got him to point me in the right direction.

It was an interesting quest and the bakery treats were a delicious reward.

The most delicious treat at the bakery were the chocolates. They were very expensive at 1,300 won [over $1.30 Canadian] a piece but they were exceptional! Yummm... My mouth waters just thinking about them.

**One note of interest: When the University Student called the bakery to get directions she told the person at the bakery that "Two foreigners were trying to find the bakery" and that she was calling for us to get directions. I've noticed that whenever I ask a Korean to help me they always say "wae-guk-in"["foreigner"] and somehow that is a pertinent part of the equation. I'm not sure why this is and why it matters.

A funny picture I took the other night of a lady taking her dog into the bakery with her. It's even funnier if you think about the fact that Korea is a country where men still eat dog meat especially in the summer to help improve their "stamina".


  1. I must say your opinion on Korean Bakeries is correct. It may just be the fact that we are use to overpowering sweet. I have been married to a Korean for almost 30 years and have found I like the deserts even though they are not really as sweet as I was used to. There is a Korean Bakery where I go here in Dallas/Ft Worth that is pretty good as their rolls with bean are really good. When my wife wants something sweet though it is always american sweets she goes to. It is interesting that you were able to pick that up. I think there is a diference in the Korean interpitation of sweet and the rest of us. Keep up the good blogging!

  2. I agree...Korean bakeries are a shock to us westerners!!!

    Liek the texan above said: different perceptions of sweet I guess. :)

    As for smells...I find that Korea has a large slate of smells, both good and bad. I quite enjoy the smell of street food in the fall evenings as I love the smell of many of the Korean soups being cooked. Kimchi..well as good as it tastes it will never smell good!
    I also love the smell at the open air market near my appartment.

    Different people different noses I guess!

    Keep up the blogging and the sun will shine soon enough...for that cold..hit the spa it works wonder.

  3. Perhaps it's a good thing that Korean cakes don't taste so good to you - think of your figure!!!!

  4. Sounds like you're getting home sick for western pastry.
    I've lived in China and Taiwan and I've found the bread similar there -I think it's just different tastes and ingredients. I will say I miss nice savoury bread I and I feel the loaves of bread here are too sweet.

    Even though I'm usually discouraged walking into a bakery I sometimes find things I get used to -there are these honey triangle pastries which I love for breaky, and I found a local place that did make delicious cookies.

  5. Hope you are feeling better Ann!

    Did you try the Sauna?

    Anyway...about bakeries...I still remmember buying bread my first week in Busan (back in 1997!!!) and upon getting home finding that my crusty white bread that was destined to become a tuna sandwhich was stuffed with beans!!!

    Such is life eh?


  6. hello =)
    I was searching around Google and I found this site
    and I figured it was quite interesting!
    I myself am a Korean, but I live in Australia
    I've never experienced the korean lifestyle
    but I've heard about the bakeries over there by my mum.
    My mum sometimes craves for the sweetness of bread they have in korea.
    I've tried the bread over there and whwen I ate too much I kind of felt really sick
    Can't help the cultures are different eh?

  7. I think that your blog has a completely ethnocentric point of view. Being half korean half white I must say that reading your blog has thoroughly upset me. I have lived both in Korea and the United States and have a very large sweet tooth. Asian people take a more delicate approach to dessert. They do not see the need in putting pounds of sugar into something in order to eat it. (and people wonder why Asians are slender while Westerners continue to grow more obese.) You cannot walk into a Korean bakery and expect to find a carrot cake or a German chocolate cake. They do not make their breads/desserts to cater to foreigners, they make them to cater to their fellow countrymen. Speaking of carrot cake, why is a sweet potato cake so strange? They are both vegetables. I don't know how much longer you have to live in Korea but please, for the rest of your stay there please don't think of things in terms of "back home" they did things like this. You are in a completely different continent with a completely different culture. Korea is not the "land of not quite right". I'm sorry if I seem upset but I have a lot of love for my heritage and hate it when people try to put Koreans down because things are different.