The Western Influence
During the past few months, there’s been a sudden increase in Western food products, both at the large supermarkets- E Mart, Homeplus, Lotte Mart- and smaller convenience stores- CU and 7/11. Anyone else celebrate when Reeses Nutrageous Bars appeared in the shops? How about when Biscuit Spread became readily available? Personally, my most recent exciting discovery was Milka Chocolate at a local foreign sweet-shop.
It got me to thinking how much more Westernised Korea is becoming. In the big Marts now, there are entire sections of ‘super foods’- grains like quinoa, quinoa flakes, oatmeal- which only a little while ago were hard, if not impossible to find. You’re spoilt for choice for teas- rooibos, earl grey, English breakfast, and cereals- even if they remain expensive, there are entire cereal isles with a huge variety, including different types of granola and muesli. The variety of cereal is surprising if you read expat forums from just few years ago, describing how you can’t find breakfast cereals in Korea.
The ‘foreign isle’ in local marts is getting increasingly larger and more exotic- sauces, condiments, spreads, even choices of olive oil: in the local E Mart, there are about six different flavoured olive oils. Even coconut oil is on the shelves in some places. While a couple of years back, Home Plus was the best place to go for Western products, you can now find a variety at all large shopping marts.
The same is true for Western restaurants and chains. Before moving to Korea, I read up about the city I was moving to. Being outside of Seoul, there was very little tourist- or general- information online, but there were forums about the city. These forums went back ten years, and described the city as a ‘boring’ place with ‘nothing there’, not even a Starbucks (shock horror)- it wasn’t Westernised at all, apparently.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived and the first three cafes I saw by the bus terminal were: Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme- wait, I thought this place wasn’t Westernised…
Within the same city you can find: Pizza Hut, Dominoes, 3 Macdonalds, 3 Baskin Robbins, Outback Steakhouse. And most recently, a Burger King and Auntie Anne’s pretzels opened in 2014. Plus, two brand-new foreign sweet shops, the majority being Western goodies. There’s a scattering of other Western restaurants and cafes too… and all this in ten years, in a city which back then ‘didn’t even have a Starbucks.’
So even living outside of Seoul, it’s no longer too difficult for expats to find Western comforts, should you so wish. Certain things are still hard to locate- nicely-fitting clothes; shoes; underwear; deodorants- but, there is a continuing increase in Western-style chains and products.
The question is: how do Koreans, especially the older generation, feel about the increasing Westernisation? Certainly, they seemed to celebrate when IKEA arrived: it opened in December and on ‘January 21, welcomed its 1 millionth guest’, and made 18 billion won in under a month. (original article here). But whether they enjoy an increasing number of Western-style eateries, whether they buy the foreign products like cereals (I was recently asked by a Korean ‘how do you eat cereal… with milk?’), is another question.
For the expats in Korea, it’s generally a good thing. Finding oatmeal in supermarkets was a personal highlight- here’s hoping for Kinder Buenos and Maltesers to become available soon. Fingers crossed…