Portable pies are perfect for picnics
Depending on where you are from, the word “pie” will conjure up different images. Americans may picture a freshly-baked apple pie, cooling on a windowsill, while the Brits may think of a hearty Shepard’s pie on the dinner table.
For young Koreans today, it directs their minds to a Kiwi favorite — handheld meat pies.
About the size of an adult’s fist, a classic version of this pie is filled with cubed or minced beef, onion, tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. There are dozens more variations with different fillings. Though it has roots in Europe, it is most commonly eaten in Australia and New Zealand.
The owner of the local meat pie shop Eunpie, Choi Eun-soo, likened the dish to Korea’s samgak gimbap (triangular-shaped seaweed rice rolls). She worked in New Zealand as a chef for nearly 10 years.
“You can get it almost anywhere and there are many different kinds,” said Choi. “It can be a road trip snack that you pick up at a gas station or a meal in a lunchbox.”
The versatile quality of meat pies align with one of the latest food trends in Korea which sees consumers favor desserts that can constitute as a meal.
According to the most recent study from Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on the food and beverage industry, desserts nowadays are regarded not only as a sweet dish at the end of a meal but also as a separate food that can be eaten as a “light meal with a drink, or a snack.” It cited this expanding concept of dessert to the nation’s growing number of single-person households and the fact that dessert cafes have become a space where people can talk and spend a long time in, even through mealtimes.
Catering to this current trend, handheld pies in Korea can be a quick to-go meal for one, a Han River picnic food with beer or a dessert to indulge in with friends and coffee.
The Korea JoongAng Daily visited three meat pie shops in Seoul that offer different styles of handheld pies.
Choi and her older sister Choi Eun-jin were both huge meat-pie fans in New Zealand. So when they came back to Korea and realized that there weren’t any authentic Kiwi-styled meat pie shops, they decided to set one up themselves.
“We wanted to make pies that could recreate the taste that we remembered from our time in New Zealand and introduce it to more people in Korea,” said Choi Eun-jin.
Eunpie’s first store is in Mapo District, western Seoul. Since opening in March last year, it has added eight more locations across the country. Eunpie is Korea’s only meat pie franchise after Peggy Pie and Jesters Pies, closed its stores in Korea.
Eunpie offers five kinds of savory pies, including Mushroom Pie for vegetarians, and a Sausage Roll. Its signature is the Beef Pie (6,000 won or $5).
Encased in the flaky layers of the pie shell is a gooey filling that consists of small cubes of beef, potatoes, mozzarella cheese and onion.
Each bite of the pie is incredibly satisfying. The rich flavors meld perfectly.
To emulate the original taste of the meat pies that the Choi sisters tasted in New Zealand, the pair use lots of spices such as thyme and nutmeg.
“Korean customers didn’t like it at first but now the fragrant spices are what keep many of our customers coming back for more.”
The pie is served on a paper plate with a small packet of strawberry jam and ketchup. Beer is available in the store as well.
Although there is a small bar table inside and two tables outside, most people take the pie to-go.
2. Ginger Bear Pie Shop
One hour before opening at noon on Monday, there was already a queue of a dozen people in front of Ginger Bear Pie Shop in Songpa District, southern Seoul.
Arguably the hottest eatery among 20 and 30-year-olds right now, the waiting time didn’t stop young locals from getting their hands on pie.
“I wasn’t too concerned about the long line,” said Lee Kyung-hwa, 24. She and her friend were the first ones in the line. “I think it is part of the experience, and everything is very organized and the whole thing isn’t so unbearable as some people might think.”
Indeed, the waiting wasn’t too stressful or chaotic. In addition, a sense of solidarity seemed to have formed for the common goal of pie as strangers occasionally made small talk and helped newcomers who couldn’t find the end of the line.
The shop has some 20 different kinds of sweet and savory pies but most people come for the meat pie (though it is certainly hard to resist a wedge of scrumptious fruit pie on the way to the cashier).
The Classic Mash Set (12,000 won) is comprised of the Ginger Bear Classic Meat Pie with a side of plain mashed potato sprinkled with bacon bits and chives, and a light gravy sauce.
The exterior shell is more soft than crispy. The pie is packed with cheese and a hunk of beef resembling meatloaf. The mash wasn’t very fluffy or creamy, but it was well seasoned. Overall, the dish has a homemade feel.
For those dining in, customers must order one drink per person. Ginger Bear Shop offers coffee, tea, juice and wine to pair with its pies.
Home baking YouTuber Cho Eun-bit owns Ginger Bear Pie Shop. Her channel “Daram Table” has some 227,000 subscribers. She is also the owner-chef of the gluten-free dessert venue called Café Pepper in Songpa District.
Though named after the French-Canadian meat pie, Tourtiere in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, makes handheld meat pies that have been tweaked to suit the local palate.
The main ingredient in Tourtiere’s pie is tteokgalbi (short-rib patties) made 100 percent from Korean beef, known as hanwoo. It is rolled in a compact ball with shitake mushrooms, garlic, green onion, onion, ginger, red pepper and apples. The ball is then placed between pie sheets.
The pie is surprisingly runny thanks to what CEO of Tourtiere Lee Ji-eun calls the meat juices. Even though it gets quite messy, she recommended that the pie be eaten by hand in order to simultaneously enjoy the meat and the pie crust which is very flaky and crispy.
To add some sweetness to the salty pie, the eatery offers in-house Maron Paste (2,000 won), which is made from chestnuts.
These ingredients may seem at odds but inside the mouth, they come together masterfully to create a gourmet-tasting meat pie.
“We used familiar tasting foods but explored different combinations to offer a sense of newness to customers,” said Lee.
The pie is smaller and more aesthetic than other meat pies mentioned and resembles a tart rather than a pie. It is the only item on the menu apart from beverages such as coffee and soft drinks.
A single pie costs 6,000 won and a box of six is 35,000 won.
BY LEE JIAN [email@example.com]