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[Weekender] Delectable wonders at baseball stadiums in Korea

Hot dogs and nachos are often associated with baseball in the United States. For Korean baseball fans, however, the range of options is far wider.

The variety of food available at ball games is a boon for Korean baseball buffs, including Kim Young-won, who frequented the Lotte Giants’ home ground Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan city during the time he lived there.

“You only really go to the stadium for the food and the fun that comes with it,” Kim said, “The distance to the field is too far from the spectator seats to see anything clearly (compared to TV).”

Kim, 31, enthusiastically recalled Sajik Stadium’s “ajoora” culture, which in the regional dialect means “give it to the kid.”

Local fans chant the phrase whenever a foul ball lands in the seats until the ball is passed to a child to keep as a souvenir.

Riding on the regional tide, Korean fast food chain Lotteria has the “ajoora fried chicken box” at its Sajik location -- 11 pieces of boneless fried chicken and 10 spicy chicken wings priced at 19,000 won ($17).

Fried chicken is a popular choice across baseball stadiums. An online survey conducted by research agency Nielsen Korea between Aug. 8 and 14 showed that, among 500 stadiumgoers who responded, 71 preferred fried chicken at games. Hamburgers followed at 6 percent, with dried seafood and nuts coming in with 5 percent.

Adult beverages, namely beer, accounted for 5 percent, and jokbal -- pig’s feet -- racked up 4 percent.

Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Songpa-gu, southeastern Seoul, which the Doosan Bears and LG Twins share as their home turf, is no exception to the chicken fervor.

Due to having two home teams and the capacity to seat 26,000 people, Jamsil Stadium enjoys considerably more business than other stadiums. 

Photos of baseball stadium food shared on social media (courtesy of @dencihinjii. Instagram)
Photos of baseball stadium food shared on social media (courtesy of @dencihinjii. Instagram)
A total of 72 food outlets are operated in the stadium, according to manager Kim Jae-kwon, who works in the Jamsil Stadium management team for the LG Twins.

Among them, 10 are fried chicken joints -- and that’s not counting fast food chains KFC and Burger King.

But if fried chicken is not what some spectators crave, Kim also recommends the samgyeopsal pork barbecue and spicy pig intestines called gopchang as Jamsil delicacies.

The pork barbecue, cooked at vendors’ stalls and served hot in a paper box, comes complete with dips and vegetables in a paper tray.

The gopchang matches the adrenaline rush on the grounds.

The foods served at the stadium are reportedly all great matches with beer. 

Spectators can even bring their own if they would rather not stand in line or wait for the Jamsil Stadium “Beer Boy” to come around.

The man with a giant cask of beer is another icon of the stadium, but is sometimes hard to catch.

Photos of baseball stadium food shared on social media (courtesy of @nailshop_suart. Instagram)
Photos of baseball stadium food shared on social media (courtesy of @nailshop_suart. Instagram)
While spectators are free to bring in their own food, there are some regulations set out by the Korean Baseball Organization since 2015 that have to be kept.

Dubbed the SAFE Campaign -- “Security, Attention, Fresh and Emergency” -- the regulation prohibits canned or bottled beverages from entering the grounds. Plastic bottles of up to 1 liter are permitted.

Drinks stronger than 6 percent alcohol by volume are not allowed. However, manager Kim said people often work around this ban by refilling transparent water bottles with soju, a Korean liquor that is visually indistinguishable from water.

Kim said security at the entrance sometimes sniffs opened water bottles to catch rule breakers.

Innovative contents are ceaselessly being sought to gain an edge in the strong food culture at baseball grounds.

Korea’s first baseball dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Guro-gu, southwestern Seoul, which has capacity to seat 17,000 people, is gaining a good reputation for the complimentary food box served in its 261-seat Diamond section.

The “Dome Box,” which is likened to hotel-catered food, is brought to the leather-covered plush seats by men in suits.

In September, the Gocheok Dome’s home team, Nexen Heroes, arranged for lasagna, double cheeseburgers, BLT sandwiches and macaroni and cheese for the Dome Box package.

Another creative addition to an enhanced dining experience in stadiums could well be the “Totobox,” a square box priced at 2,500 won that can stably secure food items on arm rests.

The elongated square plastic totobox has a deep cup-shaped end that fits snuggly in the cup-holder hole of the stadium seats’ arm rest.

The inventive box was launched in September by startup Totogoods.

Totogoods CEO Park Jee-ho said he came up with the idea to meet the needs of people who find placing food on their laps or on the ground uncomfortable during energy-charged chanting and cheering.

For the ongoing KBO postseason in the chilly fall, hard-core fans may find totobox a welcome way to indulge in diverse foodstuffs available at ball games.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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