The long road from Ewha Womans University to the subway station is filled with restaurants and cafés. Along the sidewalk, away from the restaurants with their colorful signs, there are small street vendors enticing passersby with delicious smell. In front of Yes APM, street vendor Yeom In-don has been selling sweet and sour pork for four years now.
“On my way to school, I found myself naturally walking towards a vendor following a delicious smell,” said Jo Yu-jin, a student of the Division of International Studies. “It is perfect for a quick snack on the way to school.”
Like most street vendors, Yeom focuses on only one menu - his famous sweet and sour pork. However, Yeom’s is different from typical sweet and sour pork sold at Chinese restaurants. With two different types of flavors, chili and soy, dressed with cheese sauce, his sweet and sour pork satisfies most palates.
“I really enjoy the soy flavored ones as they have the perfect degree of saltiness,” Jo said. “It is very addicting as one piece of pork leads to another and suddenly I am left with an empty cup.”
Though his vendor is now famous for its distinguished sweet and sour pork dish, Yeom did not start off by selling it.
“At first, I sold sausages,” Yeom recalled. “Soon, I realized they were not selling as much as I hoped, so I looked for something more unique. Then, I thought of the Chinese dish, sweet and sour pork, a menu not sold in small portions.”
Although he had changed his menu, business was still sluggish until one student came by and bought a cup of sweet and sour pork. Later, Yeom found out that the student had praised the pork on the Ewha community Web site for its good taste and the sanitary vendor.
“I was very thankful when I found out about it,” Yeom said. “More students started to visit and when the student came, I gave her a free cup as a sign of my gratitude. I can never forget that.”
As Yeom’s vendor gained much popularity, students gave nickname “Tangtris.” Tangtris is tangsuyook, the Korean name for sweet and sour pork, combined with Tetris to describe the elaborate way Yeom piles his pork pieces into the cup, much like fitting blocks of Tetris. As students wait for their cup, Yeom fits in pieces of both kinds of pork, and when it towers over the cup he hands it over, giving instructions on how to eat without toppling them over.
“I always tell the students how to eat so that they can enjoy it without toppling it over,” Yeom said.
However, Yeom states that there are some difficulties in running a street vendor. Since street vendors tend to be hard to locate and provide very small places to eat, they tend to be overlooked.
“After the student posted on the Web site, I was very busy for about a year or so,” Yeom said. “But I always seem to see a decrease in student customers after the holidays. Thankfully someone mentioned “Tangtris” again around this April or May.”
With the street filled with tourists, many might assume that the tourists will try many of these street vendors. However, Yeom points out that although many tourists pass by, they do not come specifically looking for “Tangtris.”
“Most times, tourists just visit my place to enjoy the Korean vendor culture,” Yeom said. “But when they enjoy my food even though it was merely for experience, it really makes my day.”
Yeom has been running “Tangtris” for four years, and he recognizes a slight difference in students who visit him. He thinks students now tend to come alone and buy one that they can finish quickly rather than coming in groups for large quantities.
“Nowadays students prefer the smaller cup as they tend to be in a hurry,” Yeom said.
Yeom wishes to continue “Tangtris” and added “as long as there are students who visit me for a cup of cheese tangsuyook, I will keep my place like I have been for the past four years.”