What is ppang?* (Or, what is bbang?**) Ppang is bread!
My boss brought in an article from a local magazine today about a new-ish Korean bakery in town. She had visited it over the weekend, and we got to talking about baked goods in Korea, the US and Portugal, where she had enjoyed some wonderful egg tarts. Which, actually, is a nice triangle because the Korean word for bread, ppang (or bbang, 빵), is derived from the Portuguese word for bread, pão.
Pão didn’t become ppang in one step, though–it appears to have entered the Korean lexicon through Japanese during the colonial period (1910-1945). However, bread first came to Korea before this with Western missionaries in the 1880s. It was also made in a Western-style hotel from 1902, where it was called myŏnp’o (면포)–a word still used in China as miàn bāo (麵包/面包). But, bread became more widely known in Korea from the beginning of the Japanese colonization, when it got its current Korean name, and became more widely eaten after the US Army established a presence in Seoul following World War II, bringing a lot of Western foodstuffs, including more flour (이지은 2010; 강은영2015).
Context: Bread in Korea
Growing up in the US, I ate sliced bread every day–usually in the form of a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, and sometimes as toast at breakfast. Other times, there were biscuits for breakfast or rolls for dinner. So bread was definitely the staple carbohydrate.
In Korea, of course, rice fills that role, and bread is usually eaten as a snack or as a busy person’s breakfast.
Seoul is full of bakeries, from plebeian chains like Tous Les Jours (뚜레쥬르) or Paris Baguette (파리바게뜨) to the more niche places like Hongdae’s excellent Publique Bakery and my old neighborhood favorite, Baker’s Table in Kyungridan. Baked goods, too, run the gamut. The latter places sell goods that could be found in any quality bakery anywhere in the world, which, when you’re living in Seoul, makes them really special. However, for those in the wider world, the treats of Seoul’s everyday bakeries are probably more interesting.
One of the most ubiquitous (and popular?) is tanp’at-ppang (단팥빵), literally, sweet red bean paste bread. Red bean paste, with its slightly sweet and somewhat earthy flavor, is made from the adzuki bean (p’at 팥) and is a popular dessert ingredient throughout East Asia. In Korea, it’s the main ingredient in tanp’at-ppang, which like ppang came to Korea through Japan. It’s sold in bakeries in a typical bun shape as well as on the streets in a fish shape–check out Maangchi’s recipe for it!
The first time I bought a pastry in a Korean bakery back in 2007, I thought I was buying bread filled with chocolate and my poor homesick self was sorely disappointed when I bit into it to discover red bean paste–but now I enjoy the flavor!
* McCune-Reischauer Romanization**Revised Romanization