When I first arrived in Korea I often walked the back-streets of Daejeon in the frigid winter winds. I was intrigued to see rows of tents, clad in orange or blue-striped plastic with see-through plastic windows. Shivering, I peered through their plastic windows to see seats, tables, food, and people.
The people sat in groups with food and drinks, huddling around heaters against the cold outside. I longed to go in: The tents seemed to be oases in the winter, shelter from the snow, and islands of comfort. What were these mysterious places?
They were (and are) the famous Pojang-macha of Korea, places where any traveler can stop, briefly or at length, for a bit of inexpensive food, a bracing drink and a convivial atmosphere. Pojang-macha (covered wagon, POCHA in short) are something like a restaurant on wheels, a movable bar, or maybe even a psychiatrist’s office.
Pojang-macha in Korean culture
A quick glimpse at Korean television dramas reveals the continuing importance of the Pojang-macha to Koreans: hardly a show goes by in which one character or another does not repair to the Pojang-macha to hang out with friends or to drown their sorrows in a bottle of soju.
A Pojang-macha can sometimes be confused by Westerners with a street food vendor or other food vendor working out of a tent. Don’t make this mistake. Koreans all know that a Pojang-macha is a place you go to drink, and we’re not talking about juice here.
Today some places have even taken to calling themselves, indoor Pojang-macha, which have nothing to do with tents or carts. They’re essentially just bars, which have decided to adopt the name to in order to imply the inexpensive, casual atmosphere of the original version.
History Of The Great Pojang-macha
In one sense, Pojang-macha are new: They have existed in Korea for fewer than 60 years. But in another sense, they carry on a long Korean tradition. For centuries, Korean peddlers provided goods, services and food by moving to where the customers were and not forcing their customers to come to them.
Pojang-macha are merely the latest manifestation of this type of Korean service; fast food and drink that is provided somewhere close to customers’ workplaces and homes.
Pojanga-macha first began to spring up early in the 1950s in and around the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. The first Pojang-macha were quite different from their modern counterparts.
They were small cars and carts, exposed to the elements, which sold small snacks and drinks. Later, some clever merchants began to cover their carts with an orange tarp, provide stools to sit on, and sell small appetizers.
This eventually became the norm, with a tent containing a small cart and a handful of stools to sit on.
As time went by Pojang-macha began to get larger and to feature tables. In the 1970s Pojang-macha flourished in Seoul as the palli-palli (“hurry up”) culture of Korea kept Koreans at work late.
As Seoulites streamed out of work, they stopped at a Pojang-macha for a quick drink and a bite to eat. Pojanchmacha menus have become increasingly diverse and the seating became even more comfortable.
The New Pojang-macha
Since just before the turn of the century, Pojang-macha have undergone a major evolution. In areas like Jongno in Seoul, Pojang-macha now offer extensive menus and there are even some with table service, an idea that was never envisioned by the creators of the original Pojang-macha.
Some Pojang-macha in Jongno and other areas now offer set menus, with a combination of individual snacks put together in one plate.
These inexpensive sets (as low as W2,000) feature traditional Korean food such as gimbap (rice rolls), tteokbokki (rice cake in pepper sauce) and sundae (Korean blood sausage). In addition, Pojang-macha have begun to specialize, meaning that with a bit of research you can now find a much wider range of foods.
Finally, in a Pojang-macha-esque improvisation, some restaurant owners tack on an orange tented section to the front of their establishments to keep out the winter cold.
Don’t Be Intimidated
The next time you’re wandering the streets of your city or town and feeling a bit thirsty or peckish—just look for that flash of orange plastic.
Inside you will find a remarkable array of food and a simple but potent range of alcohol. If you don’t speak Korean, don’t worry: everything should be laid out on the cart and you can simply point to the food you want prepared.
Stepping through the door for the first time can be daunting, but once inside, you’ll find the slight risk is worth it!
The Rules of Intoxication
If you’re drinking in a Pojang-macha, remember the rules of Korean drinking etiquette.
- Don’t pour alcohol into a cup that is not empty.
- If someone pours for you, you pour back for them.
- Hold the cup and if the person pouring is older than you, hold it with two hands.
- The same is true for pouring a drink; if the person is older than you hold the bottle with two hands.
- Finally, if you are drinking with someone older, it is customary to turn your head about 15 degrees away from your elder when you drink.
Hongdae Pocha Cafe
Created by SURA Korean Cuisine, HONGDAE POCHA CAFE is a Korean restaurant on Robson Street Vancouver, where you can savour the best version of Korean Street Food with your favourite drinks! Most dishes at Hongdae Pocha Cafe are designed to offer modern Korean Street Food-inspired recipes and comforts that can satisfy Korean food aficionados and novices both. Come on in and soak in the fantastic Korean-70s atmosphere to enjoy your full flavoured night out!
Click HERE to check out our awesome menu!
Our Student Discount Promotion:
- Sun-Thurs + Open-8:30pm
- For the student discount, the order must be placed by the 8:30pm.
- The discount only applies to food menu items.
- Limited one discounted item per a student.
- Please bring your student ID! Must!
- The discount is not offered on Statutory Holidays.
- Click HERE to see the detail!!
Hongdae Pocha Cafe
Korean Street Food Restaurant by SURA