Castrated Cake and Bollockless Beer
Recently, a blogger whose posts I regularly read (The Supplanter), has been condemning Korean cake and ridiculing its ersatz quality (Happy Spam Day). The Supplanter has made similar accusations against Korean beer (cASS and sHITE) but he is not a member of the substantial army of westerners that live here, some of them for decades, who continually berate Korean society. And I have to agree with him; Korean beer is shite and their cake, as scrumptious as it looks, is not much better.
I’m not much of a beer drink and if anything prefer what we Brits refer to as ‘real ale’ and I was also spoilt by ten years living in Germany where there is a vast range of decent pils-type lager. Korean lager never quite satisfies and drinking it tends to make me yearn for the real thing. Not only is it weak, watery and blatantly bland, but in every sip is the constant reminder of a chemical process and a factory production line.
Korean cake, at least in appearance, is certainly comparable with the fabulous creations of German torte and such delights as Schwarzwälder Kirchetorte, Sachertorte and kaβekuchen. In terms of taste however, you can expect a tragic disappointment.
Several weeks ago, I had a coffee in one of the numerous Sleepless in Seattle cafés to be found around Song-So, in Daegu. Having learnt not to coax disappointment, I rarely buy anything other than a coffee bun but when I noticed Camembert cheesecake on the menu, I couldn’t resist. Quite a strange concoction, Camembert, chocolate and cream, I thought, especially if you’ve experienced the almost putrefied, overripe Camembert which exudes the slightly pungent pong of ammonia. And Camembert in Korea is also strange as decent cheese is one of the hardest products to buy. I had heard that certain cheeses could not be imported because there were restrictions on foods with certain bacteriological properties. Then there is the theory that Koreans, like the Chinese, haven’t developed a taste for cheese or many other milk products as the climate and pastures for rearing cattle don’t exist as they do, for example, in Europe. Korean cheeses are usually always mild, stretchy and in terms of cheese, totally synthetic.
Well, the Camembert was quite delicious and there certainly was a tinge of Camembert flavour; present but not pronounced and as distant almost as Europe itself. The combination worked but the cheesecake was really just mildly cheesy syntho-cream. And then, last week, when I had some spare cash in my pocket, I noticed a complete Camembert cheesecake sitting in a Paris Baguette bakery. It was certainly very vocal and for a good ten minutes I stood outside the shop deliberating whether or not to buy it and apart from the calories with which I knew it would be loaded, I don’t usually spend 16.000 Won (£8) on a cake. Well, it was Friday and my boss had given me a bonus, so I bought it!
However, my reasoning wasn’t purely gluttonous as I’d hoped to salvage the reputation of Korean cake after reading the Supplanter’s condemnation. I was going to pen a response basically agreeing with his observations but forwarding the Camembert cheesecake as an exception and as soon as I got home took a few photos to help secure my intended argument.
Korean bakeries are certainly adept at creating visual feasts and cakes covered in cream, chocolate and fruit, in a fascinating and artistically inspired range of designs, mesmerize and tempt the viewer. Unfortunately, visual creativity far outweighs culinary inspiration and innovation. My beautiful cheesecake, which looked like an entire mould encrusted round of Camembert, was nothing other than a boring sponge with a lick of creamy substance providing the filling and a thin painting of Camembert forming the facade, and a facade was exactly what it was! As far as sponge cake went it was delicious but cheesecake – it was not!
I have now come to the conclusion there is more value and taste in a humble coffee bun than the entire gamut of glamorous gateaux where a thin wall of creamless-cream, coffeeless-coffee and chocolateless-chocolate hide a either a basic sponge cake or simply more aerated syntho-cream.
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.