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From Won to Đồng, Bánh Đồng Xu Offers a Slice of Nostalgia in the Digital Age

There was a time when I substituted meals with bánh đồng xu.

Bánh đồng xu, or cheesy coin bread, is a pastry made from a mix of flour, milk, eggs, and sugar, typically filled with melted mozzarella cheese. It is baked in a mold that shapes it into a round form, imprinted with a design mimicking a South Korean coin.

Introduced to Vietnam in late 2023, bánh đồng xu quickly became a craze among the youth. At Emart, a Korean supermarket chain, people would queue for hours just to buy the few batches available from the two overworked molds.

A report by South Korea's broadcaster, JTBC, highlighted the bánh đồng xu craze in Vietnam.

For those with a sweet tooth like me, bánh đồng xu — with its crispy, buttery pastry and gooey cheese filling — is an ideal dessert. There was a phase when I was too lazy to cook and subsisted almost entirely on bánh đồng xu, buying them everywhere from upscale bakeries to street carts. The quality and price, of course, varied widely, but one element remained consistently iconic.

The distinctive design of the bánh đồng xu is inspired by sipwon, South Korea's KRW10 coin. One side of the coin displays its denomination and year of minting, while the other features an image of seokgatap, a national treasure in the city of Gyeongju, where bánh đồng xu originated in 2019. As Gyeongju was historically a capital with numerous scenic spots, the pastry began appearing in tourists’ photos, spreading its fame to other cities in Korea and neighboring countries like Vietnam.

Bánh đồng xu as sold its hometown Gyeongju, Korea. Photos via The Korea Times.

Ironically, despite promoting a positive image of the country, bánh đồng xu went through an “identity crisis.” The Bank of Korea, which holds the copyright to the KRW10 design, argued that using currency design for commercial purposes was against regulations and could lead to counterfeiting and devaluation of the currency. Shops selling bánh đồng xu weren't penalized, but to continue operations, they had to alter the design to avoid confusion. For example, instead of imprinting “This is the 10 Won of the Bank,” it could be changed to “This is abc pastry from xyz store.”

When introduced in Japan, bánh đồng xu was modeled on the JPY10 coin. Japan, with its prevalent vending machine culture, remains one of the few countries that still extensively use coins. Photo via Sora News.

It's hard to judge the rightness of another country's policy, but I can't help feeling a bit melancholic about the fate of my favorite snack. To me, coins are like film cameras or vinyl records — not the quickest or most efficient way to accomplish a task, but they hold an inherent value from their meticulous craftsmanship. As inflation rises and cashless habits gain traction, the smallest denomination coins are slowly disappearing from everyday life. When the original disappears, bánh đồng xu becomes a nostalgic reminder of the charm of physical and artisanal objects in a digital age.

The exclusive Vietnamese version of bánh đồng xu is modeled on the VND500 coin which stopped being issued in 2011. Photo via Tuổi Trẻ.

Recently, I heard that a Korean snack chain has launched a new exclusive product, a Vietnamized bánh đồng xu, so I rushed to buy it. Though it was double the price of others on the market, the quality and flavor were significantly better, but what moved me most was the nostalgic feeling when I saw the VND500 face on the pastry, bringing back memories of when I used to carry a handful of change, how the metal clank in my pocket, and how the coins would slowly roll and disappear into a public phone booth when I’d call my mom to pick me up after school.

I wonder if one day, when traditional coin-shaped pastries are gone for good in Korea, would tourists come to Vietnam to recall a simpler memory of their past?

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