South Korean chain restaurants in Busan (TGI Friday's, Bennigan's, Starbucks, and Outback)
The Transnational Fast Food Theorem, named by one food-obsessed traveling duo (ahem), reads as follows: the deliciousness of a fast food chain restaurant is directly proportional to the distance from the chain restaurant's home location. For those of you visual learners, as my mom likes to call herself, here's a diagram:
[The Homesickness Axiom is a related proposition which states that the longer and farther you are away from your home location, the more appealing fast food from your home will be.] We have tested this theorem with the Krispy Kremes in Australia that sell ice cream donut sundaes (why, oh, why doesn't Krispy Kreme in the South --- origin of the deliciousness --- sell ice cream?) and McDonalds in New Zealand which have full coffee shops, including a pastry corner, and free WiFi.
South Korea is perhaps the best proof I can offer. Dunkin' Donuts in South Korea, located approximately 7,000 miles from the original location in Massachusetts, are clean and filled with a mouthwatering array of delicate, fluffy donuts with exotic flavors such as banana, passion fruit, green tea, and pineapple. Bennigans in Seoul serves healthy, garden fresh salads and pastas rather than the greasy burgers and sandwiches they used to serve in the United States (apparently, Bennigans only exists in South Korea now because they filed for bankruptcy in the US - who knew?).
Now, I don't want you to think that we only ate American food when we were in South Korea. We had our share of bibimbap, ramyan, galbi, kimchi, vegetable pancakes, and gimbap. But, with only one week in the country, we did not have the time to adjust to the food. The fiery South Korean fare, which uses generous helpings of ground red chiles, blistered our tongues and we finished every meal looking for water or milk.
Sanchon vegetarian restaurant meal (one of the few vegetarian options in Seoul, it specializes in temple cuisine)
Vegetarianism, too, is a word that has rarely crossed the South Korean mind. We ordered three vegetarian dishes at each meal, in the hopes that one would actually avoid meat, and often I couldn't even find one vegetarian dish in a restaurant. And, the truth is, we were lured by the irresistible pull of the familiar. We hadn't seen an American restaurant in over a month and the chance to eat pancakes and donuts for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch appealed to our gastronomic instincts.
We celebrated our ninth anniversary in Seoul. I had hoped for a romantic South Korean meal, perhaps at a barbeque place, so that Patrick could wear those snazzy gloves that they give barbeque eaters in South Korea, followed by a nice walk through the downtown area back to our hotel. Instead, we woke up in Gyeongju, took an hour long bus to the temples, ate a hasty, mediocre lunch of bibimbap, sped back to Gyeongju and took a five hour long bus to Seoul.
Patrick slept and I watched a Korean cooking show that mainly involved people frying still-wriggling, bug-eyed fish. This is not a particularly uncommon cooking method amongst South Koreans. South Koreans will slice open raw eels, sea slugs, and sea cucumbers and serve them to you just like that, without any cooking or seasonings. We saw vendors selling piles of silkworms and curiously unripened fruit because South Koreans prefer purchasing fruit when it is hard and bitter. [Despite the bad rap they have gotten for eating dog, the only dogs we saw were these cute and cuddly little fellas at pet shops on every street corner.]
As that poor fish slithered and flopped in the sizzling pan, I closed my eyes and started thinking about food. This is something I do. Other people daydream about rainbows, money, that perfect guy, or shoes, but, when I need to relax, I think about glorious food that makes my stomach and heart full. I remembered pizza: the pizza that we had grilled when we once owned a house, the pizza they served from the wood-burning stoves in Rome, and the crackling coal-fired pizza we had at Grimaldi's in New York before we left the States. When we reached Seoul at 9:30, my stomach sounded like a revving lawnmower. As we walked past restaurant after restaurant, I kept telling Patrick, "Not this. Not this." "What do you want?" he asked, but I was too embarrassed to tell him that I really, really wanted a proper slice of Americanized pizza.
Our ninth anniversary meal
And, there, in the bottom of the subway station, I saw it. A little red roof with words scrawled below it. Pizza Hut. I hadn't eaten at Pizza Hut in years but, on this day, it was the only thing I wanted. I ran to it, dragging my backpack behind me, as Patrick rushed to keep up with me. "Pizza Hut!" I yelled. We ordered the Rich Gold Super pizza with a crust ringed by a layer of melted cheese and an inner layer of sweet potato puree. We ate that pizza in five minutes flat and proclaimed it the best thing ever invented. Why don't they sell pizzas with sweet potato puree in their crust in the United States? I cannot tell you but I offer this as further proof of the Transnational Fast Food Theorem.