Korea tip #13 – Fast Food Restaurants
Korea may have delicious bbq, wonderful seafood restaurants, and lovely kimbap shops, but every westerner knows the benefit of a quick and easy hamburger and fries from McDonalds or Burger King. Or McNuggets, or chicken burgers, or even just a milkshake… but I digress. Fast food restaurants, for the majority of foreigners in Korea, is a little slice of home. Sometimes, however, it may be a little daunting for newbies. Sure, the menu at McDonalds may look the same as at home, but just try asking for a value meal. See what happens. 😉
The availability of fast food is diverse throughout Korea. Lotteria is by far the most common fast food restaurant here, as it is owned by the Lotte company (Lotte Mart, Lotte Giants, Lotte everything just about…) so it is an Asian specific company. In my experience McDonalds is found in many high density areas, and Burger King is slowly creeping up. You can also find KFC, a spattering of Quiznos, and a few Subways in Seoul. There’s also another one that has recently become popular called Mom’s Touch, which is fried chicken and chicken burgers (with DELICIOUS fries, might I add!)
There are two challenges newbies face when eating at a fast food restaurant in Korea. I struggled with this for the first few months, so don’t be embarrassed. 🙂
First things first – how to order. What westerners know as extra value meals (or ‘meals’ for short) are called sets here. (In Konglish you’d say set-uh.) For example, if I was ordering a Big Mac meal, I’d say ‘ Big Mac set-uh’. This will get you the regular Big Mac, fries and a Coca-cola. I am being drink specific because Coca-cola (or Pepsi) is the default drink. If you don’t specify, they won’t ask you what kind of drink you want and you’ll automatically get Coke. Oh, and most items on the list are in English, just written in Korean, so you should be fine when ordering. This might become an issue with ordering at Lotteria, however, because the names of the burgers are kinda weird. Most Lotterias have convenient little menus that sit on the counter, so you can just point.
In Korea, they have this whole thing about charging companies money for drinking cups not being put in the right garbage receptacle (seeing as how they should be recycled). So, when you eat in at a fast food place, you’ll most likely get a plastic cup with no lid to drink out of. This goes for ice cream as well. Disposing of this is the second challenge when eating at a fast food restaurant. They’re kind of picky about what goes where.
McDonalds restaurants are great with the pictures of where to put stuff, but some places aren’t. You just have to open the flapping door to see what goes in there if there are no pictures. But anyways, there will be a place for you to empty any leftover liquid and ice from your cup, which you pour out, and then place the cup in the slot at the top (or sometimes at the side). Plastic lids and straws will have their own compartment, and so will food waste. The rest of it (paper, wrappers, ketchup packets, etc) are thrown in a completely different compartment.
If you are confused by this process, don’t worry. Like I said above, I was very confused for the first few months of living in Korea (thank goodness Ross knew what he was doing!). But sometimes things just weren’t labeled and we were both confused, so we played the waygookin card and just gave our trays to the people at the counter while sporting a “Sorry?” look on our faces. It has worked many times.
So, in closing, I just wanted to say good luck. Enjoy the burgers! 🙂