If you’ve been to South Korea, chances are, you already know bungeo-ppang. This Korean fish-shaped bun is typically filled with sweetened red bean paste and is popular during winter, sold by the street merchants in Seoul. As opposed to its name, which means “crucian carp bread,” bungeo-pang doesn’t contain fish. And despite being sold at fewer tented food kiosks, the dessert remains a favorite of the old and new generations.
The Japanese also make bungeo-ppang but calls them taiyaki. These charming fish-shaped buns/pastries are in different versions, some smaller snd others bigger. When the fish bun is small in size, you usually get several of them for just a dollar or two.
Why Is It in the Shape of a Fish?
Many countries worldwide, particularly in Southeast and East Asia, where it symbolizes perseverance in the face of adversity, see the carp as a symbol of luck. This belief is because of the carp’s ability (similar to that of the salmon) to swim upstream to reach its spawning grounds, withstanding the current trying to push it downstream. Moreover, thanks to the carp producing a wealth of eggs, it symbolizes abundance.
The Origin of Bungeo-ppang
Bunggeo-ppang originated from a similar Japanese snack called Taiyaki. The treat is also fish-shaped and loaded with a red azuki bean paste filling.
Between 1910 and 1945, the end of WWII, Japan had annexed South Korea, and it was during this period, the Japanese introduced taiyaki, their fish-shaped bean-filled waffle, to Koreans. Tai refers to a red sea bream, while yaki is the food cooked over direct heat (for example, okonomiyaki, teriyaki, yakisoba, and yaki udon).
During the 1868-1912 Meiji era, Seijirō Kanbei moved from Osaka to Tokyo to set up shop selling imagawayaki. After realizing that his rouns bean paste-filled treats weren’t selling well, he instead settled on making them look like the expensive sea bream and called them taiyaki. Due to the Tai being considered luck fish, and they were pricey at that time, they were often reserved for festivals and special occasions.
The fish-shaped buns were a hit, so much that the shop Seijiro opened still sells them, and can be found in Tokyo’s Azabu-Jūban district.
However, during the other half of the 20th century, the popularity of taiyaki started waning till Masato Shimon released what was to be the biggest-ever selling single in Japan, “Oyoge! Taiyaki-Kun” (Swim Taiyaki!). This 1975 Christmas Day release was featured in “Hirake Ponkikki,” a children’s animated series starring a taiyaki who, tired of being cooked, flees his mold and dives into the sea.
The taiyaki was introduced to Korea in the 1930s, and as time passes, South Korean street food vendors have modified the dish to make it theirs. For instance, bungeo-ppang is much smaller when compared to the size of taiyaki.
The dessert fell out of favor in Korea pretty early on, but thanks to the 90s craze for all things retro, it’s now one of the most beloved Korean street foods. So much so that there’s even an interactive bungeo-ppang map in Google Maps where people can add their favorite cafés and street carts, together with information relating to prices, reviews, and opening times.
What Types of Filling are Used in Bungeo-ppang?
Bungeo-ppang is typically sold with a red bean paste filling, but vendors have begun to create their own variations over time, making the snack as diverse as it could be. One such version is the matcha green tea paste/custard filling that you can combine with the red bean paste.
Other variations of bungeo-ppang fillings include:
- red bean paste only
- vanilla custard
- Nutella or chocolate
- ham and cheese
- savory fillings like cheese with tomato sauce and minced meat, similar to a pizza topping
How to Make Bungeo-ppang at Home
Want to have a taste of these fish-shaped waffles? Follow this DIY recipe.
- 125g plain flour
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- one egg
- 175ml milk
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1 tbsp of filling per fish – e.g., classic red bean paste, custard, chocolate, etc
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- Combine all of the batter ingredients in a jug. It will be easier to pour the batter mixture into the mold if you use a jug.
- Add the cooking oil or butter to the bungeo-ppang pan—preheat the pan atop a gas hob.
- Begin pouring the batter mix into the pan, but only cover around one-half of the fish shape.
- Carefully place the filling to the center of the fish shape, then cover the other half of the fish mold with batter to encase the.
- Seal the pan and quickly turn it over. Cook both sides until the pastry turns into a golden brown color, which should take roughly 2 minutes on every side.
- Transfer the fish bun to a cooling rack and cool for several minutes before you serve it.