OK I’ve seen it all now – I was walking through Jongak underground station in Seoul when I noticed yet another stall selling baked goods to peckish commuters and shoppers. Nothing strange so far; you can buy all sorts of baked goodies in the underground: muffins, waffles, sweet potato pastries to name a few. And there are interesting snack combinations like coffee and stylish potato too. But this was the first time I have seen 동빵 Dong Bang: Poo Bread. Yes, you heard right.
That’s my bad translation of it anyway. But 동 dong does in fact refer to, well, “poo” (note the swirly dong/poo shape on the counter below and in the name logo ) and 빵 bang is bread. So welcome to poo bread. The bread isn’t made of poo (that would be weird). It’s a kind of waffle similar to 붕어빵 Bungeobang which are made in the shape of a fish and filled with sweet red bean paste available on streets stalls everywhere. They are served warm so perfect on a cold winter’s day.
But rather than looking like fish Dong bang are patented shapes based on the dong bang characters (below) and one is the cute swirly shape recognised as poo in Korea (and Japan and possibly other countries too)
Above are the dong bang characters - Just in case you didn’t guess, the dong is on the head of the characters on the left
When you buy your dong bang you can choose from various fillings including red bean paste, chocolate, vanilla, corn, cheese, and strawberry. There’s also coffee to go – Americano, cappuccino, latte, caffe mocha, or a caramel Macchiato. But if you are not interested in a sweet waffle, they also sell 동빵 친구 dong bang chingu – friends of Dong bang – which include various types of spicy meats and sausages on sticks…
So when I first saw this shop I wondered WHY ON EARTH would they call their product dong bang?! Does it sound nice in Korean? I became fascinated with this idea of Dong bang and how this concept can work in Korea. I did see some people walking past the shop and giggling at the large dong on the counter and the dong shaped waffles on sale. But they were amused, they weren’t disgusted. I tried to imagine the same scenario in Britain. Poo bread anyone? No? Didn’t think so. So why is dong bang tempting to buy? I decided to investigate a little further.
First a note on pronunciation
Mr Kim explained that the two words dong 동 and bang 빵 DO sound cute together. But here is the twist and it is a bit confusing – the actual spelling for dong (poo) is 똥 not 동. This changes the pronunciation and the nuance of the word. The word 똥 with the double d consonant (ssang-digeut) is harsh and you need umph behind you when you say this word. Whereas single d consonant dong 동 is softer. Listen to the different Korean sounds here. But within the context of the curly-wurly dong poo shape, dong (동) is recognized as dong (똥) but not in a nasty way because the pronunciation and spelling are different. (Is any of this MAKING SENSE? )
So dong sounds cute in Korean. It doesn’t seem to be a rude, uncomfortable, or embarrassing word to say even with the correct spelling. (Although probably not appropriate in formal situations ..)
I could only think of the word poo in the translation as I think it is the least offensive. And there are other meanings for poo in English. We have Winnie the Pooh for example. But he is shaped like a bear.
All other words – ’sh*t’, ‘crap’, excrement, turd, or the hospital friendly ‘faeces’, or ‘stool’ – all sound icky to me. :( I could use the word ‘plop’, but I would feel silly and about 4 years old!
Another problem is the shape that represents the concept of dong/poo. The shape of dong is like a swirly soft chocolate ice-cream. The curly shape is inoffensive- even charming. And there are good connotations attached to dong. Dreaming of doing a dong is very good luck in Korea – If Mr Kim dreams of doing a dong, the very next morning he RUSHES to buy a lottery ticket. (This hasn’t brought any money in yet but I haven’t given up hope.) So it’s not unusual to see gold coloured dong key rings on sale for good luck. On the other hand, consider the shape of a British poo. (I can’t bring myself to include a picture so if you need an image please refer to Google :)) The only place you would buy something in this shape is in a joke shop. No, not cute at all. And the only connotations I can think of are negative – like stepping on a dog poo. So I could never eat poo bread but I can eat dong bang with no trouble at all.
So the play on the sounds dong and bang and the cute recognisable shape of the curly dong make the snack tempting. It stands out in an increasingly competitive baked goods market. And it definitely stands out – if they had been regularly shaped waffles, I wouldn’t have noticed the shop or written this post at all!
You can see some nice close up pics of the various waffles and interior of the shop on this Korean blog. Or go to the Dongbang website where they have some info in English too including a list of the outlets where the stalls are located. Bon appetit.