2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Can Anyone Track Down This Food Cart in Seoul? Asking For a Friend

Can Anyone Track Down This Food Cart in Seoul? Asking For a Friend

Breakfast in Seoul

Of the many dishes I tried in Seoul—bibimbap, bulgogi (from a Popeye’s in the DMZ, no less), barbecued pork, pajeon—the most memorable came from an early morning stop in an unexpected alley.

I was on assignment documenting a student trip to South Korea. Because it was too dark to make sense of the neighborhood when I had arrived the previous night, I faced three tasks that first morning: find the nearest subway stop, get cash, and eat breakfast.

To the right of the hotel was a busy intersection; to the left, an uphill road ending in a turn. In search of the subway, I chose left. After a serpentine trek past two French-style bakeries, a construction site, and an art space filled only by a sculpture made of twigs and branches, I arrived at the divine combination of a 7-Eleven, a Woori Bank, and my subway stop. One task checked off. And, thanks to the helpful cartoon guides printed above the bank’s ATM, task two was also quickly accomplished.

In the 7-Eleven, I grabbed a yogurt and a box of brown rice tea and tried my best to greet the clerk with a shaky “annyeonghaseyo.” I looked for a place to eat my yogurt and celebrate a successful morning.

But then I saw it, in an alley between the 7-Eleven and the bank: a cart—more like a tiny house on wheels, complete with porch, than a food truck—with an assortment of grilled foods, fried foods, and stewed foods. An elderly woman sat on the porch, stirring a vat of broth behind the spread. My yogurt could wait.

Now practiced, my “annyeonghaseyo” resembled the actual greeting. I pointed, more to the array than any individual item. The vendor handed me a skewer and gestured to the vat.

Not expecting this follow-up, I shook my head “no,” then “yes;” we both laughed, and she ladled broth from the vat into a cup, which I had no choice but to accept. I remembered to say a “gamsahamnida” in thanks.

I bit into the skewer, which was far spicier than expected, and took a drink of the broth, which was far fishier than expected, then sat next to a businessman on a stoop outside of the bank. While he ate a pastry and drank coffee, I finished my skewer and sipped fish broth and waited for the students to arrive.

I never figured out what I ate. Perhaps it was maekjeok, a pork skewer I learned about later, but I would never know. The woman, her cart, and the meats and broths were gone the next morning—and every other morning I was in Seoul.

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