Not to make every post about the Koreanized versions of western food I eat here but... let's talk some more about the weird Koreanized versions of western food I eat here.
In a city with more Starbuck's and Dunkin Donuts than anywhere in the world, it's hard to believe that Korea has it's own native contender in the pastry/cafe business, but Paris Baguette is somehow even more ubiquitous than its American competition. Its pastries range from things wholly Korean (glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste) to Americanized French pastry (puff pastry twists with super sweet chocolate chips melted in) to things that are just truly bizarre (gooey cheese and onion bread with a surprise sweet glaze). It's not the best but the longer I live here the more often I find myself going there. It's only a matter of time before I try the infamous "milk cake" everybody swears by and become a convert.
Korean cafes have a system I find odd (and at odds with our food safety standards in America) where all the pastries are just piled in a long buffet and you take a tray and set of tongs to serve yourself. Yes, you use one set of tongs for everything you touch instead of each item having it's own tongs. I'll admit that for the most part the risk of food borne illness from pastries due to cross contamination is pretty low but some of them have melty cheese sitting at room temperature and what about allergies? Do people not have nut allergies in Korea? I may not always be the strictest adherent to the health code, but the self serve piles of pastry with no protective glass weird me out a little no matter how impressive it looks.
The items are usually all labeled in both Korean and English but the descriptions are entirely in Korean so though it might say "Always Dreaming of Chocolate" or "Coffee Bun" in English, you actually have no idea what is actually in the pastry. I decided today was a good day to try a coffee bun, an item I've never seen before that resembled a small, domed angel food cake but baked in a cardboard fluted tart pan. It seemed safe enough. I figured it either was somehow going to secretly be coffee flavored or be relatively plain flavored for enjoying with coffee (why I still think like this five months into living in a country where nachos sometimes come with marinara sauce, I don't know).
While waiting for the bus, I unwrapped my pastry and pulled off a piece from the edge. The texture was a bit crunchy and chewy, like the edge pieces of brownies which I was pretty into. The flavor though... I pulled off a second piece and chewed it thoughtfully (I often make intense faces when trying to figure out what's in things, it must look insane to people on the street). AH! Fake butter and pancake syrup. Like an Eggo waffle drenched in Log Cabin. Not the worst thing but not really what I was expecting. I had pulled enough off of the edge to tell that there was a filling. Always with the surprise fillings. Whatever the filling had been, it seemed to have mostly turned to steam while baking because the cake mostly had a large pocket missing custard. The parts of the cake that were still moist from the custard tasted like salty coconut. I detest coconut but it was such an odd flavor that I kept eating the salty coconut sponge cake anyways. It wasn't good but I still ate half the cake.
In related news: I just made a list of six supposedly actually French bakeries to go to before I forget what pastry tastes like.