Sunday, April 6, 2014

I Miss Pojangmachas (Korean Street Food Vendors)

Walk around Seoul enough and you're bound to spot them. They'll often be covered in brightly coloured tarps, and inside, a huddled few sit on stools while a man or woman keeps stirring a large pan of rice cakes covered in a red sauce. Sometimes, a canopy extends outwards from the main "kitchen" to a picnic-ish area of plastic tables and chairs. People of all sorts—young, old, male, female—are there, eating something off a long pointy stick and throwing back shots of soju.

These are the pojangmachas.

A "pojangmacha" is a street food vendor in Korea. Usually, it consists of a food cart with a griddle for serving up ddeokbokki (spicy rice cakes), hoddeok (small fried pancakes). There will be a frying pot for various fried foods like fried squid, fried sweet potatoes, and fried noodle rolls. Also prominently displayed will be a long roll of soondae (Korean blood sausage) as well as a bamboo forest of long sticks protruding out of a tub of broth. This is eomuk, or fish cakes (delicious, but their PR team really needs to come up with a better name because "fish" and "cake" really don't belong in the same sentence). And of course, they'll often serve beer and soju.

Some of the pojangmachas in crowded areas like near Gangnam Station only have seating available around the cart itself. Others are more expansive and have little plastic tables and chairs underneath a vinyl canopy.

A lot of Koreans attach a sentimental and romantic value to pojangmachas. For starters, they're almost always the setting for emotional scenes in Korean dramas and movies. Often, when the hero or heroine experiences heartbreak, s/he will go to a pojangmacha alone and drink so much soju that the ajumma who runs the place has to cut them off. Confessionals are common as well. In Architecture 101, when the male protagonist first tells his friend of his fervent crush for the female protagonist, they're both at a pojangmacha, eating eomuk and drinking soju.

A pojangmacha scene from Architecture 101

On a personal level, my mom often told me that when she was younger, she and her friends would stop by these things after school and it'd be the best meal of the day. I never grew up in Korea, so eating at these places was one of the few ways for me to vicariously live that experience.

Contradictorily, when I was younger and visiting Korea, I would usually be discouraged by my parents from eating at pojangmachas because they're not as well-regulated as established restaurants. But starting in late 2010 when I was living for the foreseeable future in Korea and getting used to life there, I started to stop by once in a while at these places. And for whatever reason, food just tastes better when you're outdoors, sitting on plastic chairs, and huddled over a small table.

A unique pojangmacha I went to in Apgujeong that served breakfast sandwiches

I haven't ever gotten drunk at a pojangmacha, though. Yet. I guess this is one of the things I should try the next time I'm there!

No comments :

Post a Comment