Bread in Seoul
Sourdough loaf from Paul & Paulina
In a country with a Tous les Jours in every gaggle of shops, and a Paris Baguette on every corner it’s no secret that bread and pastries are generally adored in Korea. These ubiquitous franchises serve up a version of bread, beautiful shiny perfection, mass produced, and often slightly stale. So, I set out so find some interesting bread, heavy and real, with flavour and holes, and pastries made with real butter. Here is what I found:
Hidden down the backalleys of Sangsu, this warren-like bakery is best visited early to ensure options are still in stock. An open kitchen produces trays of perfect meringues, canelé, pastries and tarts, generously offered for tasting. The bread variety is limited and expensive but done extremely well. Brioche, ciabatta, baguette flavored breads and country-style sourdough, my favourite, are available.
Chocolate croissant from publique. ~3,000won
Americano-style pre-made coffee is available, and they’ll slice up your purchases so you can eat at one of the tables outside, with a kitchen view, or in the small front dining room. Publique is my favourite bakery in Seoul, if only they made good coffee (and had wi-fi) I’d be spending my afternoons here eating almond croissants or brownies and taking home packages of sliced sourdough.
Canelé: 1,500 won each, croissants: 2,500 – 3,500 each, sliced sourdough: (~4,500 won for 100g, 4 or 5 slices).
Open until late. Closed Sundays.
Publique on google maps
Paul and Paulina
Paul & Paulina serve up a flaky croissant so buttery I imagine it would drag me back to Paris had I ever visited, and a salty pretzel that would put me in the same situation in Berlin. Both are often available, fresh and warm, on their overly generous free tasting plates, much more affordable than the 3,000won+ that pastries here command. The display case is packed with intense sticker shock, only understandable when you consider the quality and price of butter here – both high.
A legion of white clad bakers crowd the open kitchen, all with their hands in some kind of dough. Production continues throughout the short opening hours, with your purchases often still warm from the oven. There is no coffee or seating available in this small shopfront, and although the service is pleasant, I can’t help getting a ‘soup nazi’ feeling here, mostly from the line of people waiting for to finish your transaction. The products available are all deftly executed, but the offering, or maybe it’s the ambience, feels run-of-the-mill. There are no novel creations here. That said, the cranberry studded scone managed to just take me back in time with memories of childhood tea parties, a piece of nostalgia unexpected in this foreign land.
Step inside this stylised bakery and into a different, flour dusted, world. Le Alaska place is bread central, you’ll forget for a second that you’re in Korea (people drinking coffee through thin straws will bring you back to reality soon enough). Shelves of pastries, the usual pain au chocolate and croissants, as well as novel creations, glazed nut filled baskets and chocolate covered delights. Buns filled with chocolate custard and red bean, green tea and red bean bread, baguettes, sourdough loaves both plain and flavoured are all on display and priced from 2,500 won up.
A large dining area has views into a glass walled kitchen, where people sit and drink expensive drinks (6,500 won for a cappuccino ~$5.60AU). We step outside with our purchases and devour the many layered, impossibly light croissant in the street. I almost went right back inside and bought another.
Even though this was the only bakery in which I was reprimanded for taking photos, Le Alaska would be my bakery of choice if I lived locally. Traditional and interesting breads and pastries sit side by side, all carefully made and maybe priced on the higher side of affordable, but well worth it.
October Artisan Boulangerie
All the usual suspects are available at this brightly lit Hapjeong bakery. Step in, to the left is a large table laden with artisan sourdough bread, shaped into rounds, loaves, baguettes, flavoured with walnuts, dried fruit, grains and spices, pastries and mushroom, herb or olive topped focaccia. Seating is to the right, coffee and other drinks are available. I find the sourdough loaves here to be overly dense and feel a bit too ‘homemade’ for my liking, like when your brother’s girlfriend’s hobby is making bread. The ciabatta and other non-sourdough rolls are much better, as are the pastries.
The staff at October are incredibly helpful, if you speak Korean. On one late Saturday night vist (yes, this is what I do for fun) we were steered away from the one lone baguette as it was a bit old and were generously given advice about all matter bread, and many freebies (they’re closed on Sundays). October also has olive oil, balsamic vinegar and butter for sale. Anchor butter from New Zealand! Real butter is hard to come by here, but 12,000won is a little steep for 454g. If you’re in Korea and in the market for this butter, you’re better off to buy it from ehome bakery for 6,500won.
Open until late. Closed Sundays.
Pastries: 2,500 – 4,000 won. Bread: 1,000 – ~6,000 won.
October Artisan Boulangerie on google maps
Situated on a busy Hongdae corner, this European bakery stocks baguettes, canelé, pastries, rye bread, Korean-style doughnuts and an array of unfamiliar creations. Elaborate cakes and tarts, beautifully decorated are on display behind glass in this large outmoded shop. One brightly-lit side is devoted to glass topped tables, pushed close together, decorated with fake flowers and paper napkins, feeling institutional. The bread and pastries here lack a certain something but are passable, better than what is generally available but not as good as the other options on the list. Richmont is a middling bakery best visited when the other local options are closed or out of stock.
Bread decoration at Le Alaska, Garosu-gil.
While I bagged bakery franchises earlier, I have to admit they’re not all bad. At the flagship Shinsegae, one of Korea’s top three department stores, in Myeongdong there is an enviable underground food emporium. Difficult to find items like wine and cheese, limes and mint, imported oils and vinegars are all available here. A bakery here, there are two but it’s obvious which one has the good bread (hint, it’s the one that doesn’t have fake sausages wrapped in pastry on display), sells sourdough and a baguette so good that it gave me my first hope that good bread does in fact exist in Korea.
High quality handmade bread and pastries are available in Seoul and this certain style of bakery seems to be gaining popularity. It’s understandably expensive and forward planning is often required as the best bakeries have short opening hours and are in distant locations. This search for great bread in Korea won’t end as this post is published, bakery recommendations are appreciated.
I’m also researching a post on Korean-style bread, look out for it.