South Korea's Culinary Future is at Stake

South Korea is facing a declining population heading into the future. What will happen to the future of it's street food vendors and restaurants?

A "Jagalchi Ajumma" working in her stall at South Korea's biggest seafood market - Jagalchi Market. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)

During a recent trip exploring the South Korean cities of Seoul, Jeonju and Busan, I had so much great food that I thought it will always be available anytime I planned to visit again in the future.

I started to get some South Korea-related recommended articles in my news feed since Google is so smart with it's algorithm. One article titled, "Koreas' Future is Dying (Thanks to Demographics)" from The National Interest was an eye-opening and startling read.

The article describes the low-birth rate of millennials, the competitive environment to succeed to make money and focus on their careers plus the surprising anti-immigration culture that I didn't realize South Korea had. These factors all lead to a declining population with a society that's actually loaded more on the senior-side. The retirees will soon be facing a big challenge to their pension system with less workers being taxed to support the non-working people of Korea.

The question I had was, "What will happen to the future of it's street food vendors and restaurants?" These places are mostly owned and ran by South Korea's oldest generation, you barely saw younger family members or people helping out.

I started to think about the "Jagalchi Ajummas" in Busan who show up everyday selling and cooking seafood at South Korea's biggest seafood market. What will happen when they finally retire or just get too old to work? I barely saw any younger people working and learning their trade. A couple handfuls at best.

A middle-aged woman (known as an "ajumma") cooking Korean pancakes in Gwangjang Market in Seoul. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)

Going up to Seoul and eating my way through the various "pojangmacha's" around Namdaemun which serve (in my opinion) the best street food in the world I started to get sad and wonder what will happen to these places in the not too distant future? Everywhere I looked, you barely saw any younger generation working at these food stalls.

Imagine a future South Korea with little to no street food vendors and authentic Korean restaurants. In their place would be fast food chains or other big name restaurant chains. The culinary future of Korea is really in a scary place right now.

This is the price to pay for in a competitive, developing world. Koreans are having less kids or waiting until later in age after their careers are comfortable to have kids. Also, when you restrict immigration into a country it restricts your ability to collect taxes, which feeds the country's pension system.

If you plan to travel to South Korea, I suggest doing it now so you can enjoy the great Korean foods you'll find everywhere. If you wait too long you might never enjoy it in the future.


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About Digital Nomad Foodie

Digital Nomad Foodie is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army and has lived all over the world.  In addition to blogging, he is also a digital nomad working in healthcare.  He writes about his experiences and recommendations in various locations around the world.  His photos and reviews have helped over 79 million people learn about local & exotic destinations plus delicious food and can be seen on InstagramGoogle Maps and Yelp.


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