Bread is called ‘ppang’ (빵) in Korean, derived from the French word “pain”. Until the past few decades, bread was considered more of a snack than something that constitutes a meal, so bakeries simply called ‘ppang jip’ (빵집, bread house) would carry everything from bread loaves, rolls, cakes, pastries, and puddings. There is still no differentiation between boulangeries and patisseries but the French flair is still acknowledged with many bakeries carrying French or Frenchified names.
From the independent artisan bakery to the current trend of bakery café, there are various kinds of bakeries to choose from, but the most ubiquitous bakery you’d find in Korea are the bakery chains which can be found in every neighborhood. Here’s an introduction to the most well-known bakery chain brands:
Shilla Myunggua (신라명과)
Shilla Myunggua started as the bakery division of the Shilla Hotel in 1970 and separated in 1980. They started to collaborate with the French fine grocer Hediard in the 1990s and opened a cake specialty store in 2003. They are known to bake “old style” breads and pastries that have been popular for generations: soboro (소보로) bread, bean paste doughnuts, castella sponge cake, cream bread. Their mocha cakes and special order cakes for parties are also quite famous. Discounts are available for communication company card holders depending on store.
Paris Croissant (파리 크라상)
The first Paris Croissant store opened in 1986 and was a huge success; along with its sister brand Paris Baguette, the bakery rapidly opened new stores around the country and now it’s almost impossible to walk around in Seoul without stumbling on to either one every kilometer or so.
Among the two, Paris Croissant is a teeny bit more upscale with larger stores. The Paris Croissant café bakery is more than a regular bakery; it resembles a restaurant-café with an impressive bakery and pastry section. The café sells casual Italian cuisine such as soups and salads, pasta, pizza, risotto, and even steak. Of course, dessert is on the menu as well.
They have a wide selection of cakes and tarts, sandwiches, brunch sets, and regular breads, doughnuts, pastries, cookies, and candies. A variety of coffee, tea, fruit juice, and bingsu (빙수) are available. A nod to their resto-café concept, their savory pastries are bestsellers. They also provide order-made cake services and party catering, which must be reserved in advance.
The bakery has a “Happy Point” card to accumulate purchase points – the card can be made and used at Paris Croissant, Paris Baguette, Pascucci, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts – while SKT or LGT cards will give you discounts.
Paris Baguette (파리바게뜨)
A sister brand of Paris Croissant, this bakery café is probably the most-easy-to-spot-anywhere-in-Korea bakery. First opened in 1988 (2 years after Paris Croissant), the bakery quickly overcame its sister brand and opened its 700th store 10 years later in 1998, and currently has stores overseas.
The café offers light brunch dishes such as salads, pancakes, and sandwiches, while the bakery section is filled with a variety of breads, cakes, snacks and cookies. The store also sells brand souvenirs such as mugs, umbrellas, coasters, tumblers, and even a teddy bear, all in the bakery’s signature blue color.
Crown Bakery (크라운 베이커리)
A sister company to Crown Confectionery, Crown Bakery was established in 1988 and became initially famous for their fresh whipped cream cakes topped with candied fruit. True to their origins, the bakery offers an incredibly wide range of cakes – even ice cream cakes – and has immensely expanded their repertoire since then. Various breads, pastries, doughnuts, bagels, sandwiches and mini pizzas are available. Their rice baguettes are quite popular as well as their cookie gift sets, and they have just newly introduced makkeolli bread (막걸리빵) which is baked using makkeolli yeast.
The bakery offers cake delivery services and has a point card, with discounts offered for many affiliated company cards.
Tous les Jours (뚜레쥬르)
Meaning “everyday” in French, Tous les Jours was established in 1997 and introduced the café bakery concept in 2003. Whole grain breads, savory and sweet pastries, pies, doughnuts, cakes, sandwiches, cookies, jams, chocolates, and traditional cookies; the bakery carries an immensely wide range of products. Their cute buttercream cakes are favorites among kids.
The soft pastel green BI was newly created in 2010 and gives their stores a comforting homey ambiance. The café offers standard coffee drinks, fruit juice and smoothies, and bingsu in the summer. Tous les Jours also has a cake delivery service which can be accompanied with other products (such as chocolate) and champagne. Mobile gift vouchers are also available.
Tous les Jours is part of the CJ company family; you can get credit points or discounts with a CJ ONE card. Information for other affiliate cards with which you can receive discounts is available on their website.
Bbang Goom Teo (빵굼터)
“The bread baking place” is the literal translation. Bbang Goom Teo opened in 1995 and currently has more than 120 stores nationwide. The bakery offcers breads, cakes, pastries, cookies, chocolates and candies, sandwiches and beverages in their stores. The stores are generally not that large in size, and can mostly be found in residential areas.
The bakery also operates its own baking academy offering various classes for the amateur homebaker and also a full professional course.
First opened in 2004 by the Hotel Shilla, Artisée is described as a café-deli patisserie and the ambiance of its stores pretty much reflects that title. Light, airy, and with lots of open space, Artisée’s stores give the impression of being somewhere else than “just a bakery”. The café offers various types of coffees and teas, juice, even beers and wines, while in their bakery there are many different types of breads, cakes, soufflés, sandwiches and macarons. For meals, soups and salads, pasta and other dishes are available. Gift sets and gift cards can be purchased along with various souvenirs such as mugs, tumblers, aprons, and teddy bears. They also offer a catering service.
Patissier Kim Young Mo (김영모과자점)
Probably the single most successful patissier in Korea, Kim Young Mo opened his first store in 1982. His determination and excellent skills made him successful in the baking arena, and without crumbling to the competition of the company bakery brands, he established himself as THE high-end Korean bakery/patisserie, opening his other stores in Seoul’s ritzy neighborhoods.
The bakery definitely has a French influence, which is quite visible in the taste and style of the products, but the bakery offers traditionally baked wafer cookies such as jeonbyeong (전병) as well. Cakes made for special occasions are their forte: birthdays, weddings, all sorts of holidays. A wide assortment of gift sets is available as well. The bakery runs a café called “Pere et Fils” which offers breakfast and brunch along with the regular menu.
Besides the chain stores mentioned above, I cannot go without mentioning the old school troika of Korean bakeries: Taegukdang (태극당), Goryeodang (고려당), and ABC New York (뉴욕제과). Having been established in 1953, Taegukdang is known to be the oldest western bakery café in Korean history. It is situated in Seoul’s Jangchung-dong, across the street from Dongguk University and is the place to get the “original of all originals” patbingsu. Established in 1945, Goryeodang is known as more of a confectionery company than a bakery, and has been through many ups and downs during the years. They run franchise stores nationwide, but on a much smaller scale than the other brands mentioned. There’s only one ABC New York and it has been standing in front of Gangnam Station for the past 30 years. It has a famous reputation not for its baked goods, but rather as the meeting point for friends and lovers, before the cellphone era. “Meet you in front of New York Bakery” was a given when meeting in the Gangnam area. Despite the abundance of cell phones today, it is quite amusing to see that it still remains a popular gathering point.
There are many, many more bakeries than what is mentioned above; the French import bakeries, the privately owned artisan bakeries and the quaint neighborhood bakeries. As a general guideline, I recommend buying cakes at larger stores where inventory is quickly moved as this will ensure the cake’s “freshness” and regular loaves of bread at the nearest bakery where you can check the times when the freshest batch comes out. If you’re a baguette snob, I’d suggest sticking with the French bakeries (same thing for croissants and macarons) but everything else depends on your personal taste. There are quite innovative breads and pastries to be found by brand and discovering them can be quite fun.
Whatever bakery you choose to visit, be a smart buyer and always check at the counter if you have an affiliated membership card to get discounts. Happy munching!