Part of the Urban Challenge Research seminars for City Foods: Liveliness and Livelihood in Sustainable Cities
Across Seoul, countless tented food stalls called pojangmacha (literally “covered wagon”) have for generations purveyed cheap, tasty fare into the wee hours of the night. The foods that typically appear under the tent are tteokbokki, sundae, odeng, gimbap, and other familiar nosh that can be washed down with beer or soju. But while these foods are as popular as ever, other sorts of gilgeori eumsik (literally “street food”) that are decidedly more “fusion” or “international” have recently competed for the ever-diminishing real estate that is legally available to street venders. One such place is Ewhayeodae Street that leads to the front gate of Ewha Womans University. While other locations are better known for street food, this place helps us to assess two particular facets of contemporary Korea’s on-going social, cultural, and economic transformation: first, the status of women, especially young women, such as those who attend Ewha University, and second, the rise in the number of foreign tourists, especially from nearby Asian countries. By examining this one small slice of Seoul’s expansive street food culture, this project hopes to demonstrate that the gilgeori eumsik of Ewhayeodae Street signals more than just a changing culinary taste of Korea. Rather, by offering new and innovative foods that appeal simultaneously to young Korean women and foreign tourists, the Edae food carts anticipate an urgent social reality: As much as any other factors, the future of Seoul continues to hinge on both the ongoing evolution of the role of women and the internationalization of the country.
Robert Ji-Song Ku is an associate professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University of the State University of New York. His research interests include Asian American studies, food studies, and studies of Korean popular culture. He is the author of Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA (University of Hawaii Press, 2013) and co-editor of the anthologies Pop Empires: Transnational and Diasporic Flow of India and Korea (University of Hawaii Press, 2019) and Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader (New York University Press, 2014). He is currently completing a book tentatively titled “Korean Food in the Age of K-pop.” Born in Korea, he grew up in Hawaii and currently lives in Binghamton, New York.