Monday, December 24, 2007

Fast Food

I've mentioned Lotteria ('롯데리아') in passing during my time in Korea. In fact, it was the scene of one of my worst experiences here and is part of the Lotte group which I've already experienced elsewhere in the form of the Lotte Giants baseball team and of course, more recently, Lotte World in Seoul. But it's really not fair to relegate this fast-food chain to a footnote because despite its Japanese origins it is ubiquitous here - to the point at which I think most locals believe it to be Korean.

While in some respects it's clearly modelled on a McDonald's-style restaurant right down to the similarly-coloured external signs, this is no mere copy. Lotteria has differentiated itself by creating products such as the shrimp-burger and more recently, introducing the chestnut and sweet potato 'lattes', although I'd already experienced the latter from a branded refreshment bar at a hospital, of all places. The sweet potato lattes are great so I'm really pleased I can get my fix from somewhere more convenient now, although the chestnut latte is even better so that may turn into my regular drink. You can have Lotteria's cheese fries and kimchi products otherwise it's basically the same type of food as you'd expect from their American rival, or at least, McDonald's Korea.

One area in which Lotteria has not been influence by McDonald's, at least, not recently, is in the area of décor. I'm not sure at what point they decided that the 1950s-retro look was a good idea, but their otherwise often slightly drab-looking restaurants might give the impression that perhaps they'd actually always looked like this, save for the fact that the first Korean branch opened in 1979, and the original Japanese only came into existence seven years earlier than that. But then again, perhaps the 1950s look was fashionable in Seoul back in those days. So there is lots of chrome and red plastic-covered seating, providing a rather harsh and garish ambience, which may be a good reason why the look generally stayed in the 1950s, and future decades depicted in science-fiction movies made in the 1950s.

But the 1950s look may be passing. At the Lotteria opposite Busan station there's no sign of chrome at all. Instead, think pastels. I assumed that this must be part of a gradual rebranding exercise which would leave all their restaurants with an updated design era stereotype - 1990s I'd say. Maybe it's intentional.

So it was with much excitement that our local Lotteria suddenly closed and the workmen moved in, and this being Korea I didn't have to wait more than a few days to see the result of the refit. And the result is... a clothing store. Lotteria is gone, and now my nearest is over a mile away opposite a McDonald's where, it seems, business must be better. I know a mile might not sound much, but it's a huge psychological distance in Korea as far as convenience food is concerned, where within 200 metres there are no less than four Kimbab (or Gimbab) Nara's and Kimbab Chungugs, serving the Korean equivalent of functional-fast-food - namely rice, sushi, noodles, and the like. So, there is no Western-style junk food outlet anywhere within our busy area any more, given that Lotteria was its only representative, and I guess that means more rice in my diet, and fewer shrimp burgers.

Korean tags: 식사

1 comment:

Ian said...

I remember the red vinyl/ checkerboard/ 50s rock'n'roll style going into the Changwon location in 2003 so it's not the original design.

Did they ever introduce a cheeseburger?

Post a Comment