Thursday, October 23, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I have previously noted that you can't take two steps in my neighborhood without walking past a restaurant. Just on the ground floor of my building, there are three chicken hofs, two Japanese fusion restaurants, a bakery, traditional Korean porridge, fresh seafood pub, bibimbap, shabu, beef galbi and samgyupsal.

The situation is similar for the officetel in the next block (except where I have a FamilyMart convenience store, they have a GS25). If I walk west from the main road (east is E-Mart), down the side streets, I encounter hofs, fish restaurants, octopus, pork, beef and on and on. Even pizza.

And they're very reasonable--today, Mr Hwang and I met up for lunch after the Youngil marathon and stuffed ourselves on shabu shabu for W15,000 (including beer). He pointed out that Koreans love hot pot year-round, especially when they're drinking--they think a warm belly makes the alcohol healthier. Determining the logic of this view is left as an exercise for the reader.

It's so inexpensive to eat out, I understand why Korean kitchens are so small. Still, meals are intended for couples or groups, so I cook dinner for just myself pretty regularly.

Anyway, if you were wondering if I had some other-than-anecdotal basis for my contention that Seoul is restaurant-um-intensive, here's part of an article from Donga-A Ilbo on the subject, titled "Korea`s Restaurant-to-People Ratio Far Higher Than in U.S.":
Competition among small businesses is fiercer in Korea, but low specialization and efficiency could shake up the industry, experts warned. A Bank of Korea report released yesterday said Korea has 12.2 restaurants per 1,000 people, 6.8 times higher than the United States (1.8) and 2.1 times higher than Japan’s 5.7).
In addition, Korea has 12.7 retailers per 1,000 people, 3.9 times higher than the United States (3.2) and 1.4 times higher than Japan (8.9). The number of motels and hotels in Korea per 1,000 people is 0.9, more than the United States (0.2) and Japan (0.5).

Surely, a shake-up is due--hell, this rapidly-changing country has a shake-up per week--but there will still be a high ratio of retailers to people, since many people don't own cars, or are loathe to use them in the crazy traffic here (Yogi Berra quote, anyone?) So they would rather walk a block down the street and spend a few won more than make their way on public transport to the nearest E-Mart or HomePlus. If I had to take a 20 minute bus ride to E-Mart instead of just cross the street, I promise you they'd see my foreign face there a lot less often.


Andrew said...

True true. That is why I never go to Emart, it isn't within five steps of my front door.

Also, a reason why there are so many motels is there is a whole lot of extramarital sex (gotta love that term) going on.

On top of that, since children live with their parents until marriage, they have no choice but to hit a motel to get it on with their boy/girl toy.

This is not to mention the fact that every Korean person I have ever met in my life aspires to be a small business owner.

Chris in South Korea said...

Living in Seoul myself, I've noticed how many things I can buy at the convenience store for just a few hundred won more than at the closest E-mart. On the other hand, unless the items are particularly heavy (I've given up on buying bottled water, for example) I generally make a once-a-week trip to get all the groceries and other odds-and-ends needed throughout the week.