“It’s more expensive than when I was here before the pandemic. Every time I come to Korea, I come to Myeongdong, but the prices keep going up.” (Isabel – tourist from the Philippines)

Myeongdong in Jung-gu, Seoul on the afternoon of the 9th. The main street is lined with street vendors selling a variety of foods.

From common street snacks like tteokbokki, fish cakes, chicken skewers, and taiyaki buns, to steaks, lamb skewers, grilled lobster tails, and more.

But the prices stand out. It depends on the store, but some stores were selling 3 dumplings for 5,000 won, taiyaki for 4,000 won, and takoyaki for 5,000 won. Chicken skewers are also sold by most street vendors for 5,000 won.

Frozen dumplings sold for 5,000 won for three in Myeongdong. Photo by Ji Hyun Lee
Street food that costs more than 10,000 won is also common. Grilled semi-dried squid costs 12,000 won, beef kebabs 14,000 won, steaks 15,000 won, and grilled lobster tails 20,000 won.

Semi-dried squid sold for 12,000 won at a street vendor in Myeongdong. 〈Photo by Ji Hyun Lee
Even considering that prices have risen a lot lately, there was a difference from street food in nearby markets.

A shop in Namdaemun Market, close to Myeongdong, sells military dumplings for 5,000 won for six. This is half the price of the dumplings sold on the streets of Myeongdong, which cost 5,000 won for 3 dumplings.

Hotteok, which used to cost 2,000 to 3,000 won in Myeongdong, was around 1,500 to 2,000 won, and kimchi, which used to cost 6,000 won in Myeongdong, was 3,000 won for 5 at Namdaemun Market.

“Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner”

It wasn’t just Koreans or foreign tourists who felt that Myeongdong was overpriced.

“I come to Korea for sightseeing once or twice a year, and every time I come, I visit Myeongdong,” said Isabel, 26, who was visiting with friends from the Philippines. “I remember grilled lobster costing 15,000 won when I came before the pandemic, but it’s gone up a lot in the meantime.”

“I’m here to have fun, so I’ll eat even if it’s expensive, but to be honest, the street food in Myeongdong is a bit expensive,” Isabel said, “It seems like the prices go up every time I come.”

Grilled lobster tail sold by a street vendor in Myeongdong. Photo by Ji Hyun Lee
Clarabelle (27), who was traveling with her family from Singapore, said, “Honestly, the cost of food in Korea is cheaper than in my country (Singapore), so it’s not too much of a burden.” However, she added, “I feel like it’s more expensive than other restaurants in Korea, so I wonder if they’re charging more for tourists.”

“I often pass by Myeongdong Street, but I honestly don’t think about buying food there,” said Imo (21), who attends school nearby. “I know they are catering to foreign tourists, but it’s too expensive for street food.”

Kim Ji-eun (34), an office worker, said, “I know that prices have gone up a lot lately, but I still don’t understand why they charge so much even though they are street vendors and only accept cash.”

“The price of jaejol has gone up too much…it’s not too much메이저놀이터

Street vendors selling food in Myeongdong. Photo by Ji Hyun Lee
Street vendors in Myeongdong operate under the ‘real name system’. The street vendors are officially licensed by the ward office to operate as street vendors. The annual street vendor fee varies depending on the location of the vendor, but is around 1 million to 1.5 million won per year.

Add to that the rising cost of living since COVID-19, and Myeongdong vendors claim they had no choice but to raise their prices.

“The prices of materials and accessories have gone up so much since COVID-19,” said Lee Kang-soo, who runs a street vendor in Myeongdong and serves as the general secretary of the Myeongdong Merchants’ Welfare Association. “Before COVID-19, a large barrel of oil cost about 28,000 won, but when I tried to start my street vending business again after the pandemic, some places were charging up to 65,000 won.”

“Now it has stabilized a bit and is down to around 50,000 won for a barrel of oil, but when you add up all the other costs, it’s still a lot more than it was before COVID-19,” Lee said, emphasizing that “the cost is the same, but it’s not like the vendors are being greedy and charging more.”

There are often complaints about overpriced food, but there’s nothing the local ward office can do about it.

An official from Seoul’s Jung-gu Office said, “We often receive complaints about overpriced food, but we can’t ask vendors to adjust their prices because we manage street vendors according to the Seoul Jung-gu Street Vendor Management Regulations.”

“However, we are promoting and educating vendors to display the price as much as possible,” the official explained, “because if the price is written down, consumers can clearly understand it and decide whether to buy or not.”

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