Isaac Toast: a South Korean sandwich specialty

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Travelling gives you a licence to be adventurous with your daily diet. Breakfast, in particular, is a meal that instantly becomes so exciting to eat in foreign countries. 

The breakfasts we ate on our trip to South Korea late last year ranged from cheap gimbap (Korean-style sushi) and samgak gimbap (triangular rice balls) from the local 7 Eleven, to warming dakjuk (rice porridge) and baked goods from the popular Korean bakery chains Paris Baguette and Tour Les Jours. One of the most memorable breakfasts we had was from the uniquely Korean breakfast-cum-sandwich chain, Isaac Toast. I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a whole post to this marvelous bread creation.

So, what is Isaac Toast? At the most basic level, it's buttered, grilled white bread filled with breakfast meat (think ham steak, bacon, beef patty or chicken), omelette, cabbage and cheese. I'd say that the closest Western equivalent of Isaac Toast would be a McDonald's breakfast McMuffin (however this comparison does not do justice to the sheet deliciousness of an Isaac Toast sandwich).

The popular toast franchise started in South Korea as a humble stand-alone shop. It gradually grew into a global phenomenon that now boasts more than 700 outlets around the world, with locations in Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

The chain has a cult following in South Korea, which we witnessed first-hand at the Myeongdong branch in Seoul, just a few minutes walk from Myeongdong subway station. We arrived at 9:30am on a weekday morning, eager to get our hands on some hot toast. We hadn't even spotted the shopfront before coming across the long line of people in the queue outside.

Now you may be thinking: what's so good about hot toast? It's a simple breakfast meal that can be easily made at home. The drawcard here is Isaac Toast's special sauce that is spread onto each sandwich. It's a clear, sweet spread, with a buttery, honey-like flavour that is unlike anything you've had before.

The Myeongdong branch is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall takeaway joint. 

The menu is stuck to the outside window and is limited to seven different toasts, each of which are priced between 2400KRW and 3200KRW (roughly $2.80 - $3.70 AUD). This is another factor that attracts the crowds; it's serious bang for your buck.

As we waited in line, we observed most people ordering and eating on the go, as there was no sit down area in the vicinity of the eatery (further research informs us that most branches are, in fact, takeaway shops similar to this one). Most of the waiting time lies in the initial queue to place your order. Once you've ordered and paid, it does not take very long for your toast to be cooked and assembled.

It took us about 20 minutes to reach the front of the queue. While waiting, we scoped out the menu and, as we neared the front, observed the ladies behind the window hard at work. They buttered breads slices, cooked the fillings, constructed and wrapped the sandwiches with precision and calm, working the production line like toast masters. 

Each toast is made fresh as the orders are placed, so you can be guaranteed that you'll get a hot sandwich. Rather than being toasted or grilled, the bread is fried on a liberally buttered hot plate until it takes on a nice, golden stain. 

One side is then smeared with a coating of the flecked, jelly-like special sauce.

The meat fillings are cooked on sheets of foil, which keeps the hot plates clean and catches all of the residual cooking juices. Take your choice of ham, bulgalbi (marinated beef steak), tteokgalbi (beef short rib patty), bulgogi (marinated beef), ham or bacon as the base filling of your toast.

The other components of the filling are cooked separately to the meat. This starts off with a thin egg omelette, upon which sits a pile of shredded cabbage and a square of American-style cheese that melts slightly as it takes on the residual heat from the grill. 

The fillings are gathered and placed on top of the prepared slice of toast, then sandwiched with the final slice of buttered bread. The order of the filling ingredients in the sandwich differs slightly depending on the type of toast, but all of them have the standard fried egg omelette, cabbage, cheese and sweet sauce.

The hot, filled sandwich is transferred into paper wrapping printed with the cutest branded design. Although it's a seemingly simple breakfast, there is something about this humble toast that makes it utterly irresistible.

I had the ham special toast, which consisted of ham, cabbage, cheese, omelette, pickles, special sauce and ketchup. Akin to a ham and cheese toasted sandwich (minus the melted, oozy cheese), it was a well-sized sandwich that provided the ultimate balance of sweet, savoury, crunchy and soft. The buttery, processed white toast was a real guilty pleasure, and the fresh, crispy cabbage provided a wonderful crunch that contrasted with the salty ham, thick, firm omelette and ultra orange cheese.

The real winner here was the special sauce. It flavoured each bite and provided an unusually sweet, fruity taste to the toast that was really quite delicious.

This uniquely Korean sandwich is most definitely worth a try. If you are ever in South Korea, do yourself a favour and visit Isaac Toast, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or as a morning or afternoon snack. 

Isaac Toast, Myeongdong Branch
105 Toegye-ro, Chungmuro 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
5 min walk from Myeongdong subway station, exit 5

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  2. The sauce is kiwi, honey and mayonnaise.