🥖Bread is the staple food of the Western world. It is the most simple meal. Available anywhere and everywhere. Versatile and diverse. Bread can be sweet, savory, whole, sliced, toasted, sandwiched, baked into puddings, mushed into dumplings (German “Semmelknödel”), the crispy shell of fried chicken or cutlets, the crumbs of Hansel and Gretel’s trail before they get lost in the woods… [I shall stop here.] Yet, bread can be powerful on its own.
Good bread does not need any toppings, no butter, jam or other enhancements. It is flavorful, nourishing and a pleasure to eat on its own, while consisting of only a few ingredients:
Flour, water, salt and the right baking method.
Having grown up in 🇩🇪Germany, where breads such as sourdough bread, whole grain bread, rye bread, have a long tradition, I think I can claim that I know what bread is.
But in 🇰🇷Korea, bread (빵 ppang)* is not bread. 🥖=/= 🥖
🍞 Bread is no entire meal.
Bread is a snack.
Although they have eaten bready foods, such as pizza or bread, some Koreans insist that they haven’t had any food (밥 bap – food, meal) during the entire day unless they have eaten rice (밥 bap – cooked rice).** 🤯
Korean bakery products often
👀 look beautiful,
👃 smell irresistible and
👅 taste addictive.
But I wouldn’t call them “bread”. Maybe “cake” fits better. 🍰 Or “pastry”. 🥐 Because their bakery goods are almost always sweet. 🍩 Even the white toast, pizza breads and garlic bread contain added sugar. 😵
Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed by contemporary Korean baking! Not just is there cake aka “bread” flavored with curious local ingredients such as green tea 🍵 (aka matcha 💚), sweet potato 🍠 or sweet pumpkin 🎃. Any average modern bakery offers cakes and pastries which are skillfully crafted and aesthetically pleasing! 🤩 [Common German cakes and pastries appear rough and unrefined by comparison!] Modern Korean desserts, overall, are colorful, look extravagant and appear mouth-watering to anyone with a sweet tooth. 🤤
Anyways, my point is: “Korean bread” is not bread, it’s more like dessert.
Beside the sweetness, there is another major difference regarding the ingredients of bread: The basic types of bread such as baguette or white bread contain eggs 🥚, butter or other dairy products. 🥛 So in general, bread or other bakery products at a regular bakery or cafe are not vegan. 🚫🌱 On top of that, lard or shortening 🐖🐄 are oftentimes added to bakery products as well and are thus not vegetarian… 😱
If you need vegan bread, be aware of the fact that usually even plain toast and baguette contain animal-derived substances. 🥖🍞
Look out for bread that is labeled with key words such as “no butter” (무버터 mubeoteo) 🚫🧈 or “no milk” (무우유 mu-uyu) 🚫🥛, or ask specifically for bread that contains no ingredients of animal origin. In most cases, bread that is vegan is also non-sweetened (무설탕 museoltang) 🚫🍬 and is advertised as “healthy bread” (건강빵 geon-gang-ppang). 🌱🥖 [Calling them “healthy” is a marketing strategy, because they are different from the other sugary “breads” aka cakes and pastries.] Searching specifically for sourdough bread (사워도우 sawodo-u) is another way of pin-pointing bread that is most likely plant based.
In bakeries, cafes, convenience stores or food stalls, finding a sandwich 🥪 or a salad 🥗 that doesn’t contain ham🐖, mayonnaise🥚, egg🍳 or cheese🧀 will be difficult! [It seems that one of the basic ingredients in every Korean sandwiches is ham… 😵] Unfortunately, asking for custom-made orders is possible only rarely, since most of the products in cafes and bakery chains are pre-made. 😔 By the way, even low quality cheeses🧀 available in Korea may contain pig lard🐖, which means that many sandwiches, salads and pizzas🍕 cannot be considered to be 100% vegan, vegetarian, kosher or halal…
Last but not least, another huge difference between Korean and Western bread culture is the time of bread. 🕗 If you walk into a Korean bakery in the morning hoping to get freshly baked bread for breakfast, you fill probably end up being disappointed. There will presumably be leftovers from the previous day at a cheaper price, as well as types of fried dough, such as donuts and croquettes. 🍩 I understand that preparing and baking bread takes considerable time and, unlike Western countries, many South Korean bakeries schedule their baked goods to be ready by noon or later in the afternoon. 🕜 Just be aware of this as you plan your day. And if you need bread for breakfast, maybe buying it in advance is an idea. 😉
After all, it seems that regular Western-style food is not what you may be used from your home country. Whatever reasons you may have – religious, health-wise, ethical, etc. – if it is important for you to avoid consuming certain things, then I recommend checking the labels (which hopefully exist) of each product individually. If you want to know how to understand Korean food labels more easily, check out this article here – it contains some advice! 🧐📝
Alternatively, look out for all vegan bakeries or vegan cafes, of which a few exist in Seoul.*** I will gradually post and share their location as I visit them. 💚 In the meantime, check out this Instagram page. That’s where reviews will be uploaded first and at regular intervals!
Additional notes by the author:
*) The Korean word 빵 ppang is derived from the Portuguese word for bread: “pão” .
**) I wonder whether people say this as a joke (because of the pun), or whether they actually believe in this “logic”… 😶❓
***) Ironically, vegan restaurants and vegan cafes tend to be more expensive than regular ones. They are also distributed randomly within the city, so exploring them requires money and time to travel to the various locations.