A Historic Bread Shop in The Heart of Seoul
A short hike from Namsan Tower takes me down to Jangchung-dong, a district in central Seoul. The neighbourhood is known for its jokbal streets, filled with delicious aroma of braised pig’s feet. In addition, the area is home to the oldest bakery in Seoul. Late Shin Chang-guen had founded Tae Guk Dang in 1946, a year after the country’s liberation from Japanese colonization.
Shin used to work at a Japanese-owned bakery and decided to open his own baking shop in Myeongdong. In 1974, the shop was moved to current location in Jangchung-dong. The place was popular among young couples as a date spot. At that time, the menu was mostly Japanese-inspired biscuits and candies. Even today, many of Tae Guk Dang’s hundreds of baked goods follow traditional recipes rather than modern, western pastries that are currently in trend in South Korea.
Modernization with an Attempt to Keep the Tradition
My sister, who had often patronized the famed bakery a few years back when she resided in the area, hurriedly walked over from Dongguk University Station. Her excitement quickly turned into utter disappointment as she noticed the changes; the building was renovated to resemble one of those prevalent coffee shops–clean, modern, and spacious.
“The place used to a cute little bbang-jib.. Now, it’s just like rest of the big-named, factory bakers,” my sister was heartbroken. Personally, I’ve never known what the place was like before so I was not too emotionally affected.
Although it was completely renovated, with a careful observation I could imagine the kind of atmosphere that the little old bakery had. The old signs and emblems contain Chinese characters and are written in fonts that you would only find in aged newspapers. The cakes–large, flat, vibrant in unflattering colours–are quite unlike simple and sophisticated designs of modern cakes that you can easily find in Seoul.
The signature bread at Tae Guk Dang is called salad bread–written in retro pronunciation of sarada bbang. The bread is really nothing to get hyped up for. A soft, buttery roll stuffed with homemade coleslaw. It’s simple, tasty, and familiar. It does not require rocket science or mastery technique to build such bread. But for many Seoulites, the humble sandwich is a food for soul that brings back memories of days gone past.
The bakery is also a cafe and along with usual espresso drinks, it also offers retrospective dabang coffee–a cheap, instant coffee with sugar and cream that was popular back in the 80’s coffee shops.
Tae Guk Dang 태극당
7 Dongho-ro 24-gil, Jangchung-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul