From May 8 to May 12 I visited Seoul for the first time, mostly to eat as much food as I could and learn about a cuisine I knew little about.
There are loads of non-fast food burger joints in Seoul, as documented by Dan of Seoul Eats, but for my single Korean burger experience (gotta save stomach room for other food, you know), I wanted go to the most basic, prevalent Korean burger joint. That desire brought me to Lotteria, the McDonald's of South Korea.
Aided by Dan and Terry on my first visit to Lotteria, we tried two burgers that I couldn't get back at home: the vegetable rice bulgogi burger for ₩3,800 ($3.05) and the squid burger for ₩1,900 ($1.53).
I've wanted to try rice buns for years ever since I first heard about them being used at Mos Burger in Japan. I love rice; I love burgers. What could go wrong? We found out as soon as we bit into it: rounds of semi-compressed rice are ill-suited to make a substantial burger buns that actually hold up to the fillings. Burger engineering fail. Although it's not apparent in the photo, the bun easily fell apart due to the hefty slathering of mayonnaise. You may as well eat it with a knife and fork.
The bits of corn and unidentifiable specks of vegetable matter in the rice buns may have also contributed to their instability. They don't add much to the rice bun's flavor; maybe it's just to make it seem "healthier."
Bulgogi is a Korean dish of barbecued beef marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and garlic. In burger form, you don't really taste meat, but just get the sensation that you're eating some kind of sweet and savory protein mass. Mayonnaise mellows it out, bacon adds some meatiness, and pale wilting lettuce bits add...not much, but if you look at it from the right angle, you get a bit of light green.
I wish I could appreciate the rice bun considering its made of my favorite grain, but as I don't like buns that fall apart mid-burger eating, I think my rice bun journey is over. (I'm perfectly okay with the idea of eating a burger patty with rice in non-sandwich form.)
The squid burger was mostly fish with a few squid bits, but for only ₩1,900, what do you expect? The spicy sauce made it more interesting than just a fried patty of fish and squid bits. (According to Joe of ZenKimchi, I should've gotten a shrimp burger as my seafood burger of choice. D'oh.)
Since I didn't think it was fair to get my impression of Lotteria from just those two burgers, I bought a regular bulgogi burger for ₩3,300 ($2.65) at the airport before leaving South Korea. The giant slice of tomato was too big (I prefer my burgers sans tomato); after taking it out, the meat-to-other-stuff ratio was better. Like the bulgogi rice burger, the patty was mildly sweet, made even sweeter by the glop of bulgogi sauce on top. Unlike the rice burger, the soft and squishy wheat-based sesame seed bun didn't fall apart. Thank god. I scarfed down a few bites of this in my gate's seating area before boarding the plane (I'm sure I looked just a bit funny taking photos of my burger as the line of passengers moved past me) so I don't recall much about it besides that it was alright. ...If I were really hungry.
For more bulgogi burger action, check out FatManSeoul's taste test of four fast food bulgogi burgers: one from McDonald's, one from Burger King, and two from Lotteria. The winner was the Hanwoo Bulgogi Burger (made with Korean beef) from Lotteria. If only I had read that beforehand.