Saturday, November 24, 2012

American sandwiches

When I first arrived in Korea, of course I was interested in Korean cuisine, but I craved and quickly sought familiar eating places, too. Convenient to my roommate Michael’s apartment (where I was staying a couple weeks until my apartment became available) was LG Mart, the newest and perhaps largest supermarket in Chuncheon. The first floor was an eatery with a large selection of Korean food, but the draw for me was McDonald’s, the only choice besides Korean food in the eatery. 

Often during my first month, I found myself on my own before I had to be at work mid afternoon, and it was a short walk to LG Mart where I could easily order a meal in spite of my poor Korean skills. While most of the menu was the same as you’d find in the States, once I made the mistake of ordering what I thought was a quarter pounder but turned out to be a bulgogi burger, bulgogi being a favorite Korean method of serving beef. It had a certain appeal, but when one expects to bite into a quarter pounder and instead gets a spicy mouthful of meat with the texture of meatloaf, it can be quite the surprise.

Later, I discovered a Subway sandwich shop in the downtown shopping district of Chuncheon called Myeong-dong. By then I’d learned how to give my destination to a taxi driver, and it became my daily ritual to take a taxi to Myeong-dong, specifically to the department store where Subway was located. 

Unfortunately, I appeared to be the only person in a town of 250,000 who seemed to like Subway's decidedly western style sandwiches as I rarely saw another person eating in the restaurant besides myself (I’ve since learned that Koreans generally don’t get excited about sandwiches which explains why I was typically the only person in the store). Also, my desire for something familiar was often thwarted as the employees often apologized for not having any bread in stock. That’s a mystery I’d like to solve: how do you open your doors but not have bread when bread is the basis of your business? Maddening. 

When I returned to Chuncheon after returning home at the end of my first year, the department store was closed and later remodeled and opened under a new name. For a long time, I was frustrated not having easy access to American sandwiches not bastardized to taste Korean, but I waited patiently for Subway to reopen when the remodel was finished. I was naive in my expectations: it never returned, and the only other Subway I ever saw in Korea was in Seoul in Itaweon where it was always busy, thanks mostly to the larger expatriate crowd there, but I also saw a fair number of Koreans there (though I always suspected they were not born and raised in Korea). 

Photo by _BuBBy_