At around 12:40 p.m., people started lining up in front of Lee Sung Dang Bakery's modest-size branch inside a department store in Jamsil, southern Seoul. The reason for the wait is the bakery's signature red bean buns which come out at 1 p.m.
"The line isn't too bad today," said Lee Yoon-mi, a customer in her 50s carrying five red bean buns and five vegetable buns on her tray. "I am just glad that I don't have to go all the way to Gunsan to taste this treat."
Lee Sung Dang, the oldest bakery in Korea, opened in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, in 1945, the same year Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule.
The old-fashioned, 496-square-meter bakery ― with its own factory inside ― has around 60 full-time employees baking and selling pastries every day.
While there are over 200 varieties on offer ― including pastries, confectioneries, cakes and ice cream ― the sweet red bean bun and vegetable bun are the most beloved staples that entice visitors from across the country. According to the store, 2,000 to 3,000 people visit the bakery each day.
On an average day, 12,000 red bean buns are sold at the Gusan outlet. The number goes up to 20,000 during weekends or holidays.
What is so special about the round-shaped mildly sweet buns?
Fresh from the oven, plenty of red beans are stuffed inside a glutinous thin dough made of rice flour. The buns are also affordable at 1,300 won each (S$1.60).
Another popular item is the vegetable bun, filled with cabbage, onion and carrot and seasoned with pepper and mayonnaise. At 1,500 won, around 8,000 to 10,000 of these savory treats are sold every day at the Gunsan store.
The bakery recently opened three branches in Seoul: two in Jamsil and one in Gangnam.
Customers can easily purchase other pastries at regular hours, but should be there at four precise times ― 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. ― to guarantee the purchase of those red bean and vegetable buns before they are sold out.