Rethinking expectations when a savory treat is strangely sweet

Even garlic bread isn’t safe from the sweet tooth fairy at Kim Youngmo Pâtisserie in Seoul

I can’t think of many foods that inspire more joy than bread. While traveling, I enjoy trying local loaves with different seasonings or special toppings. And at a Kim Youngmo Pâtisserie in Seoul, I couldn’t help but see—and smell—a delicious-seeming hunk of garlic bread.

But first, why were we there? We were meeting a friend of Sean’s from high school in Massachusetts who had been born in Korea, moved back to teach English after graduating from college, and lived in Seoul ever since. His wife and daughter joined us too, recommending Kim Youngmo and helping us translate the Korean menu while we caught up and learned about their experiences.

As we walked into the bakery at the Lotte World Mall in the Jamsil neighborhood, I fixated on the garlic bread. Its aroma caused me to do a double take as we followed the waitstaff to our table. I wasn’t even upset when I realized they don’t sell slices but rather entire pre-sliced loaves, so we placed our order.

Like most garlic breads, I expected an oozy center where the garlic met the oil and a savory, crusty outside. But one bite in, I quickly realized that the Korean garlic bread we ordered was unexpectedly sweet. Once I got beyond my disbelief, Sean’s friend told us that, no, my tastebuds were not deceiving me: Korean garlic bread is uniquely sweet. I’d heard about other unique Korean desserts, but there was no primer for the garlic bread.

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Up close and personal with Korean garlic bread

The experience brought me back 20 years ago to when I was 13 and my family took a trip to San Francisco. I convinced my parents to eat at a restaurant called the Stinking Rose because it had been featured on The Real World years before and included garlic in every dish. In fact, their catchphrase is: “We season our garlic with food.” I thought the meal was good, until we ended with a garlic-flavored ice cream. Between clenched teeth, I ate my dessert and proclaimed how much I loved it because I didn’t want my parents to regret our decision to eat there.

This time with our Kim Youngmo garlic bread, I came to enjoy the sweet garlic taste, but really only for a few bites. I tapped out at a slice; my body simply wouldn’t accept more. Eliza watched us eat it with great curiosity but we decided against letting her sample it, unsure of how she might respond; if she did love it, where on earth could we find it again outside of South Korea?!

When we were leaving, our friends gave us a gift: the Mont Blanc (pictured below), another giant pastry I’d been eyeing. Given its size and delicacy, I teasingly referred to it as our newest child. For the next couple of hours, we did laps around the Lotte World Mall, steering clear of the heatwave and gazing in wonder at the cleverness of the mall’s design. Toward the end of our time at the mall, we finally tore into the Mont Blanc. At first glance, it appeared to be a giant croissant-like brioche bread, and it was—except it was also decadently sweet. The bump in our blood sugar gave us a nice jolt to help figure out the subway back to our hotel.

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Me, trying hard not to stuff the pastry into my face long enough for the photo

The big difference between the Mont Blanc and the garlic bread is that I expected the Mont Blanc to be sweet, whereas I never could’ve imagined garlic bread being sugary. I’m not strictly opposed to mixing sweet and savory tastes, but I learned something important about myself: I like my garlic bread savory.

That said, I’m still dreaming about the one that got away: yes, an Oreo Croissant.

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The Oreo Croissant in all its glory, smothered in chocolate and zebra-like stripes

You should visit Kim Youngmo for the sheer variety and sweetness and Instagrammable pastries. Here are their details:

Kim Youngmo Pâtisserie
29 Sincheon-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
(Google Maps / Foursquare / TripAdvisor)

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