Seoul's Myeong-dong food wars: restaurants vs. street vendors
When shopping is on the mind for both tourists and locals in Korea, it is more than likely that Myeong-dong will come up as a destination. One of Seoul’s busiest shopping districts, featuring both domestic and foreign brands, Myeong-dong has become synonymous with bustling crowds and the lively call of various merchants. However, behind those friendly voices and smiling faces, a fierce battle is being waged between Myeong-dong’s restaurants and its street vendors!
In order to take advantage of the steady increase in foot traffic, especially that of foreign tourists, street vendors have come out in force, lining the stretch from Noon Square building to Myeong-dong Cathedra.
Offering a diverse array of cheap yet generous dinning options, street vendors have become extremely popular with passing tourists and shoppers (especially the growing number of Chinese visitors to Korea), who stop by to grab a quick bite before moving on with their shopping or sightseeing.
According to a recent survey by the district office, Myeong-dong is now home to over 190 street vendors on any given day with an estimated pool of over 300 distinct merchants altogether!
However, not everyone has received this boom warmly in Myeong-dong’s food scene. The increase in street food consumption has hurt the sales of brick-and-mortar restaurants hard, causing Myeong-dong restaurant owners to petitioning the local government fiercely to limit (or ban all together) street vendors in the area.
Apart from accusations that street vendors largely operate illegally (without permission or license), pay no taxes, and damage the image of Myeong-dong, almost 400 local restaurant owners identify the presence of street vendors as the primary reason for their losses.
Many of them have pointed towards a changing food culture, primarily driven by Chinese tourists, who not only visit restaurants less frequently, but also have begun carrying in street food to eat inside while ordering less.
With no local government action in sight, restaurant owners have begun petitioning the Seoul Metropolitan government to intervene.
Whose side are you on in this fight?