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BUSAN, South Korea -- I was sitting in a park in New York City with my childhood friend as she told me about a guy she was dating. I was only half listening, because my mind was being blown by my first-ever gourmet cupcake. She eventually married him, and I have continued a near matrimonial love affair with cupcakes.

Crazy for Cupcakes in Korea


BUSAN, South Korea — I was sitting in a park in New York City with my childhood friend as she told me about a guy she was dating. I was only half listening, because my mind was being blown by my first-ever gourmet cupcake. She eventually married him, and I have continued a near matrimonial love affair with cupcakes.

I’m not alone in this love affair. Cupcakes have a legion of followers: the wee snack cakes are popular enough to have generated their own reality show back in the states, Cupcake Wars, which is currently in its seventh season. Thanks to some innovative entrepreneurs (and an episode of Sex and The City), the humble little cake has been elevated from tasty treat to international craze.

In Busan, we can thank David Park for opening the city’s first gourmet cupcake shop, Red Velvet. While studying English in Australia, David developed an interest in baking. Upon his return to Korea he thought that cupcakes would be a good addition to Busan’s culinary scene. Before opening his shop, he traveled to Los Angeles, New York and Japan. He wanted to discover the key to cupcake success.

Park’s favorite cupcake is, predictably, the red velvet, which he has perfected. A soft red cake in color and flavor that melts in your mouth, topped by a cream cheese frosting so subtle that it required a few bites until I was convinced it was cream cheese. The frosting and cake compliment each other beautifully in texture and flavor.

Red Velvet in Nampo has been open for five years now. It is a family operation, run by Park as well as his wife and sister. All three are artists and their work decorates the walls, windows and canvases that give the shop its cute, comfy and retro feel. The cupcakes are baked fresh daily and the decorative swirls and candies that top the (almost) too pretty to eat cakes are changed regularly.


Red Velvet in Nampo-dong is open every day from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Individual cupcakes are 4,000 won and custom orders are available.


 

Other places in Busan to grab a great cupcake

Red Velvet in Jung-dong – The store has the same retro décor, mellow music and uses the same recipes. They have a nail polish station, allowing customers to give themselves manicures in the cafe. Open from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day except for Tuesdays. At Jung-dong station, exit 2, make an immediate left, and Red Velvet is just off to the right.

Good Ovening –  Located in the basement level of Lotte Nampo. These are my personal favorites, cupcakes so lush that the sugar rush is instant. They’re around 4,500 won for individual cakes, while a box of nine gets you a five-percent discount. They also have a catalogue of special occasion cupcakes.

Penguin Cupcakes – Located in Millak IPark on the river walk between Millak and Gwangan. This hidden gem has been open for a year. Owner Choi Youn-hee uses organic flour and high-quality ingredients, something which definitely sets her cakes apart in texture and flavor. Cakes range from 4,000-6,000 won, and they’re open from Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Manoffin – Located on the basement level of Shinsegae, near the subway entrance. This little shop has something for everyone, from muffins to cupcakes to heavenly tortes. The chain’s only Busan location offers the best value, with prices ranging from 1,800-2,800 won for an individual cake. Packs of six, nine or 12 range from 11,000-21,000 won.


 

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