This is part 4 in the series on trends to watch this year. Part one was about ‘ALONERS’ who want freedom to follow their own interests. Part 2 was on how UNTACT MARKETING is striving to improve our shopping experience. And part 3 looked at how consumerism has created BEAUTIFUL TRASH. Now we are on to one of my favourite subjects: food!
all the pictures in this post are stills from the SBS reality show Paek Jong Won’s Food Truck
KOREAN STEET FOOD
Korean dramas often focus on the divide between the lifestyles of the rich and poor, don’t they? And of course one way to emphasise that the characters are from the poor part of town is to have them stop and eat at a street stall. (then cut to the rich family in a French restaurant devouring steak.)
Street stalls offer a range of cheap traditional Korean food. Your standard stalls include fish-shaped waffles filled with red bean paste (붕어빵 bungeo-bang), rice cakes in spicy sauce (떡볶이tteok-boki), fish cakes on sticks ( 오뎅 odeng), seafood and vegetable tempura (튀김 twi-gim), and grilled chicken on skewers (닭 꼬치ddak-ggochi). The stalls themselves tend to be simple and generic in design.
But I doubt if many children have aspired to become street stall vendors. I mean, you can’t make much money running a street stall, can you?
Or can you?
There has been a radical change in thinking towards the humble street stall. Welcome to the upmarket and rather more trendy food truck.
Younger people are actively choosing to be self-employed, shunning office jobs in conglomerates, perhaps even choosing not to go to university. By running a food truck they can work their own hours, be their own boss, and show their personalities and interests through the decor of the truck and the food they serve.
That’s why food trucks are so interesting. They represent a change in attitude to values and lifestyle.
According to the Korean Food and Drug Administration, (Trend Korea 2018) in 2015 there were 3 food trucks registered nationwide. By 2017 there were 448! And it’s estimated that if we include all the non-registered trucks too, the grand total comes to something around 3,000.
The trendy food stalls are often run by young entrepreneurs who do up their trucks with cute decor and serve a range of international cuisine. American burgers, Thai curried prawns, and of course coffee. It’s estimated that there will be another 500 food trucks on the streets this year.
WHERE ARE THE FOOD TRUCKS?
I first noticed the food trucks when the summer night markets started to become a thing. During the warmer months there are markets held at the weekends along the riverside in Yeouido and Banpo and also by Dongdemun Design Plaza DDP.
Last year we went for a stroll along the Han River and found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of youngsters at the night market gathering around the stalls selling handmade goods. But the main attraction seemed to be the food trucks. Advertised as food from around the world there were over 30 food vans.
We decided not to join the LONG queues for the most popular dishes and read in the newspaper later that some people waited 4 hours in the queues! Wait 4 hours for a burger? I don’t think so. (The queue for the loo was an issue too) See the choice of food at the market here on the website.
This winter I saw a few trucks so they are not just there in the summer anymore.
FOOD TRUCK REALITY TV
The increase in food trucks has led to the reality TV show ‘Paek Jong Won’s Food Truck’ which started last year. Celebrity Chef Paek has done lots of cooking shows and his recipe books remain on the bestsellers lists ( I personally find his recipes too sweet though) but in this series he sets out to help food truck owners.
By the way, if you are interested in reality shows revolving around food, there are LOTS of them.
In Please take care of my refrigerator celebrities bring on their actual refrigerators from home and the panel of chefs have to cook dishes using the ingredients from the fridges. (Gordon Ramsay appeared on this show last December).
In Youn’s Kitchen a team of celebrities set up a Korean restaurant abroad. They’ve been to Indonesia and Spain so far. In Three meals a day celebrities live on an island and have to find food and cook for themselves. In Let’s Eat Together celebrities go around different parts of the city with spoon in hand ringing on the door bells of local residents trying to get someone to feed them dinner! (Mr Kim loves this show)
A lot of the shows involve celebrities but Food Trucks is about ordinary people trying to run a business and make a living. In series one we were introduced to 7 food trucks offering different dishes from around the world including Swedish sausages, Belgium waffles, and candy floss.
But although the food trucks are lined up outside busy Gangnam Station, they hardly get any customers. With a firm but politer-than-Gordon Ramsay approach, Chef Paek sets out to find out why and help them improve. He discovers that the menus are not enticing, food takes ages to prepare or has been sitting around too long to be tasty, or the owner is reading a book or snoozing instead of trying to attract customers. The list of issues is endless!
This show is a fascinating look into the new world of street food. Chef Paek says in the show that running a food truck is a great way to get experience in running your own business. And who knows where that will lead to? So this year we are likely to see much more variety of food available on the streets of Seoul.