Saturday, September 05, 2009
Lotteria surpasses itself - The Half and Half by Rob McGovern
A large percentage of expatriates in Korea have at some point taught English. Most of those teachers came to Korea, or were brought here to do just that. As a result most of us have gone through the same procedure of cultural adaptation. You arrive at the airport and are bamboozled by the pictographs everywhere. You are, if you are lucky, met by someone, a recruiter usually, and shepherded, like a piece of prized cattle, onto a bus or train. Someone else meets you at the bus or train station and takes you to your apartment, opens the door, shoves you inside and tells you to be in work tomorrow. As you settle in for your first night on a year long adventure you realise you have no blankets, no water and no means of getting any.
Soon you are taken out by co-workers, desperate to see if you can eat spicy food and if you can sit on the floor. They decide you can do neither and take you to a pizza place with chairs, because at least you can eat some food from home, a sweet potato pizza maybe, just like grandma used to make.
Eventually you are taken for some Korean food and your co-workers wait on the edges of their seats to see how you will fare when presented with what they would have you believe is the strangest food on earth. A food that is so different from anything you could have possibly tried that you will surely just implode from a single glimpse.
The morning after having tried your hand at kimchi for the first time, your co-workers are astounded to find that, unbelievably, you not only survived but you thought that it wasn't as bad as the hype made it out to be. Fast forward four or five days and your weak foreign stomach can take no more kimchi, the salty, fishy, sour, crunchy, pungent concoction has beaten you, for now.
In a desperate attempt to avoid kimchi for the fifth time in your first week you stumble into Lotteria. It looks like McDonald's and it has burgers and fries. This will do, even if you aren't a fan of fast food, it must be better than kimchi again.
Upon closer inspection you notice a burger that looks like it has rice for a bun. You play it safe and point to something that looks like meat in bread and you are presented with a bulgogi burger. As fast food goes you will probably have eaten worse things wrapped in bread.
Lotteria has saved you and will, you think, be a mainstay in your diet throughout your time in Korea. Hangovers will be no match for the greasy delights of a burger and fries and you will forever be in their debt. All hail Lotte.
I personally haven't tried the rice bun thing and I have no intention of doing so. I like my burgers with bread. Rice formed into a bun and wrapped around a burger is not my idea of dirty food fun. If you want rice, eat baek pan or kimbap, if you want a burger, eat a burger, eat two. It is for this same reason that I haven't tried the prawn (shrimp if you like) burger. Imagine a burger, a delicious burger, with a big patty, dripping with delicious fat, a little slice of real cheese all in a delicious bun, lightly toasted and maybe even with some seeds on top, to aid the bowel in dealing with this fattening but heavenly sandwich. Now take away the beef, the meat, the essence of what a burger is and replace it with prawns, ground up, shaped into a slab and bread crumbed.
Well this October Lotteria in Korea (The first Lotteria actually opened in Japan a full 7 years before Korea) is 30 years old. This haven from preserved cabbage is celebrating 30 years of helping foreigners through their first weeks in Korea and helping Koreans adapt to 'foreign food' in true Korean style.
They have made a celebratory burger. A special, anniversary burger that takes the simple and unbeatable combination of meat and bread and the frankly bizarre idea of a ground up seafood sandwich (A Lotteria original apparently, first appearing in 1977) and puts them together into a single sandwich. The 불-새 버거, as it is called, is half real burger, half sea food impostor. If you have a picture of something that looks like a mutant burger in your mind, a mermaid burger if you will, normal to the middle then frankly frightening the rest of the way, you have understood correctly.
Has a more disgusting sandwich (It is between bread and so it can be called a sandwich I think), outside of your childhood days of putting just about anything on bread, ever existed? The short answer is, no, it has not.
This is however not entirely unexpected. Koreans have a need to tinker, to Koreanify foreign food. Maybe it is so they can call it Korean food. Poor Korean kids are being laughed at all over the country by mean native English teachers because they genuinely think that Pi-ja is as Korean as dog soup. Although they might have a point with the half and half burger. I for one am happy to allow them to adopt this one as an entirely Korean concept.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PICTURES MAY CAUSE IRREVERSIBLE DISTRESS