It only took us two tries, but we finally made it to Korea’s one and only IKEA!
Actually, we visited late last year, and a version of this post has been sitting in my draft folder since then. As time passed, I wondered if a visit to IKEA, which in most ways resembled every other IKEA we’ve ever been to, warranted it’s own, full-fledged post.
Yet, for some odd reason, I find myself curious about how ubiquitous chain stores are translated and adapted to local tastes. I cannot recall the last time I ate at McDonald’s in the States, but I’m always so compelled to visit one overseas just to see how the menu differs. In this case, our visit to IKEA, part two, was fueled by a desperate need for a computer desk and coffee table, but also to a lesser extent, by an interest to see how Korea’s version of IKEA differed from America’s version.
I don’t know about you, but I could seriously live in a (very organized) warehouse… and eat IKEA cinnamon rolls for every meal…
The food menu was more or less the same as other IKEAs except that you could order your meal using a computer kiosk, then take your ticket to the cashier to pay and pick up.
Post-shopping lunch at an addictive Japanese fast food spot, Coco Curry! Also, the font choice for “good smell good curry,” really bothers me for some reason. Actually, the entire layout and choice of typography on that wall annoys me.
katsu curry with veg over rice and mango lassis
You may recall our first (failed) attempt at visiting Korea’s only IKEA last summer which included waiting in a line for parking for nearly an hour and calling it quits when we concluded that at our current pace, it would take at least three hours to reach just the entrance to the parking garage. In our initial visit to IKEA, we made two fatal errors: 1. We arrived 30 minutes after opening (too late, should have gotten a place in line at the crack of dawn) and 2. We went on a weekend.
After spending a good chunk of the weekend sitting in traffic while driving up to Seoul, we had no desire to ever make the drive again, so this past time we chose to visit on a Monday, over a long American holiday weekend, and timed our visit so that we arrived just after IKEA opened. It would be our one and only shot at snagging the coffee table and computer desk we had been putting off replacing since moving to Korea.
Our eyes nervously panned up and down the street as we approached the IKEA parking lot, expecting the worst. There were no cars, no lines, and no people. It almost felt too suspicious, like either we were being set up, or worse, that we had come all this way only to discover IKEA was closed. (It wasn’t.) Parking was easy and plentiful. We rushed through the showroom expecting the crowds to descend on us at any moment, but thankfully that never happened, even when it took us over an hour to decide on a coffee table. And even though there were still a good amount of people there for a Monday morning, we didn’t have to wait in line to check out or to pick up one of our items from the service center. Compared to our last visit to IKEA, actually, compared to pretty much any experience we’ve had at IKEA in the States, it was a rather pleasant experience.
With time to spare, we decided to skip the Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserves and walk through the attached Lotte Mall to Coco Curry, one of our favorite Japanese fast food spots. There aren’t many too many Coco Currys in Korea, and except for one lone restaurant in a town an hour and a half away, none where we live, so when we see a Coco Curry, we have to get our fix. Plus, it was yet another chance to compare and contrast a popular franchise restaurant outside of its country of origin.
For the most part, and with only a few slight adjustments, both Coco Curry and IKEA retained whatever it was that made it so recognizable, and there was something comforting about the familiarity of knowing what to expect, even in (especially in?) a foreign country. I also got a small thrill out of seeing Swedish translated into English and then translated into Korean. For example, when ” KÖTTBULLAR” was translated into English (meatball), which is also the Korean word for “meatball” (“미트볼,” or “me-teu-bol”). Or when the word “hej” was translated into both “헤이” (phonetic spelling of “hey”) but also “안녕하세요” or “annyeonghaseyo” which is how to say “hello” in Korean. Something about it was so out of context and yet oddly not, that it kind of boggled my mind. Like three countries merging into one? Which is sort of how my brain works these days whereby every tidbit of every language I’ve ever learned all swirls around in the same, considerably less organized, space. I know, I know, I’m totally overthinking this, it’s just IKEA after all. But IKEA in Korea! I shouldn’t be excited about such things, but admittedly, I am. Just like I still get excited when we go to our local COSTCO in Korea.
IKEA Korea (the website is in both Korean and English!) | LOCATION: About 30 min outside of Seoul in Gwangmyeong | DESCRIPTION: This IKEA location features everything you love (and hate) about IKEA: same look and feel, same products, same lines… We found the pricing to be similar if not a little higher than what we found on the US website. Avoid weekends at all costs, unless you are a glutton for pain or have an extremely high threshold for long lines and a massive clusterf*&k. If you’ve ever been to a Costco in Korea on a Sunday afternoon — multiply that experience by about a million and you’ll have yourself an IKEA in Korea experience. If you must visit over the weekend, I read that late evening is the best time to visit, otherwise, stick to weekdays or order online and have IKEA deliver. | NOTE: If you have an IKEA family card from another country (like the US), you cannot use it at the Korea location. Or so we were told. That’s also assuming we asked the correct question and and that our question was understood.
Coco Curry | LOCATION: Next to IKEA in the Lotte Mall Outlet food court. You can walk over to the Lotte mall from the 2nd or 3rd level of IKEA while riding the escalators up to the showroom. Once inside the Lotte, take the elevators up to the food court area. | DESCRIPTION: Coco Curry is a Japanese fast food chain that serves huge, inexpensive plates of Japanese style curry and katsu. You can customize the spiciness of your order (I get a 4 or 5) and how much rice you want with your meal (I always get the smallest portion). I found the spiciness at this particular Coco Curry to be about two levels spicier than what I’m used to in Japan.