Thursday, October 11, 2012

Korea's Got Take-Out in the Bag

I've gotten take-out pretty much everywhere I've lived, visited, or rested momentarily. It's unfortunate, but it's the American way. I'm talking about practically everything, everywhere, all the time in the states, KFC and other Indian food in India, breads, cheeses, crepes, sandwiches in France, random things in Spain. And now that I am here in Korea, I am noticing a big, big difference compared to anything I've ever experienced.

Ordering "to go" has always been a decision fraught with turmoil for me. For example, back stateside, I always hated getting Chinese food to go because they rarely included the soup as part of the meal ("dine in only"--what BS!) and if they did, it always ended up all over the rest of the take-out containers and food.

In case you were wondering, I do realize that this is perhaps the most first-worldiest of first world problems. But it is still a problem that plagues us poor, lucky bastards.

I began my time here in Korea with all of my preconceived notions about take-out: soup is a never-should-be, soda cups will most likely come with loose lids that will splash all over you if you breathe on them, and if you want all the perks of eating in (refills, free appetizers like chips and salsa, etc.), well you better sit your butt in your seat and just savor it.

But I am slowly coming to the realization that I've got it wrong. No, not only do I have it wrong, but the rest of the world has it entirely, back-asswardly wrong.

The Koreans seem to live by the idea that a restaurant is no place to linger. You should be out there, doing things--working, enjoying a picnic in the park with your family, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change--and eating whatever you please while you're at it.

So it's no wonder when I order takeout from Lotteria (a Korean fast-food joint), everything is separated into different bags and then all tied up together. The soda lid is taped on. And while this does create a lot of garbage, actual sit-down restaurants make up for it.

If you order take-out from one of these and you're recognizable, a "regular" if you will, your food will be whipped up in a jiffy, placed in actual dishes and double saran-wrapped, and then placed in a bag for your convenience. When you return for your next fix, you simply return the dishes. And even if you're not a regular, or maybe you happen to look like an untrustworthy, sticky-fingered American, they provide the styrofoam versions of these, still just as safely packed away.

I've seen everything. Soup is placed in a plastic bag (no spillage), then placed in a styrofoam bowl. A saran-wrapped chopstick/spoon set is included, or with saran-wrapped side dishes too. Just in case you can't live without your kimchi, pickled radishes, or quail's eggs, God forbid.

I feel so safe, so taken care of when I unwrap these little gifts, like manna from heaven that allows me to sit in the sun in front of an adorable coffee shop, enjoying the views of the city rising up around me, while eating from the little place around the corner that sadly, only has a view of a dumpster.


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