5,000 Won for a Bowl of Instant Noodles, “70% of the Money Spent over the Holidays Was Spent on Food”

Lee Yu-jin, Jeon Ji-hyeon 2023. 6. 7. 15:36
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A foreign tourist choosing instant noodles at a major supermarket in Seoul on June 5. Yonhap News

“It’s great to spend time with family, but we spent too much money because the prices were all up.”

Gweon Dong-gyu (42), a salaried employee, said as he recalled his credit card transactions over the past four days on June 6, Memorial Day, a holiday that ended an extended weekend. He and his family went on a trip to Sokcho. He said, “We were surprised at the price of food at rest areas, not to mention the prices at the destination. They charged 5,000 won for a bowl of instant noodles and 10,000 won for a squid roasted on elvan stones,” and expressed his surprise. Gweon also said, “About 70% of the money we spent over the holiday was on food,” and added, “I think there is no longer the concept of enjoying a ‘light’ meal.”

The price of instant noodles soared in places other than rest areas as well. The price of instant noodles, a typical commoner’s dish, rose 13.1% from a year ago as of the previous month, the highest increase in fourteen years and three months.

On Tuesday, a restaurant specializing in gimbap in Hwagok-dong, Gangseo-gu, Seoul sold a bowl of plain instant noodles with an egg for 5,500 won. Instant noodles with additional ingredients, such as cheese, kimchi and rice cakes, cost 6,500 won. A, an employee at the restaurant said, “We charged 4,000 won for a bowl of instant noodles until last October,” and explained, “We had no choice but to raise prices since companies raised prices.”

The price of processed food (7.3%) rose by more than twice the overall inflation rate (3.3%) and have pushed restaurant prices up as well. Choi (26), who got a job last month, said, “A few days ago, a friend and I went to have kalguksu (knife-cut noodles), and we paid more than 20,000 won.” She further said, “Wherever we go, it now costs more than 10,000 won per person. The higher cost of eating out really hit home.”

Summer, a time when seasonal menus like naengmyeon (cold noodles) are popular, is here, but some say it’s not easy for them to casually head out to a restaurant. Gim (37), another salaried employee, said, “I really like the naengmyeon at this particular restaurant, but they raised their prices again this year, following an increase last year.” He added, “Since it costs 16,000 won a bowl, I only visit the restaurant half as many times as I used to. It is now a luxury to enjoy the pleasure of eating.”

Restaurant owners were also frustrated. Gim, who runs a samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) restaurant in Jongno-gu, Seoul said, “Due to the (Ukrainian) war, the price of chicken rose by over 10% from last year. We had no choice but to raise prices, and now we notice a visible decline in the number of customers.” Gim continued and said, “We can’t lower the price since the price of everything, rent, power, water, and gas has risen.” B, the owner of a restaurant that sells a variety of noodles including naengmyeon, said, “The prices of vegetables and eggs, which we use as noodle toppings, have jumped, not to mention the price of grains. We really don’t make much of a profit.”

Tuesday, which was the last day of the first “stepping-stone holiday”--a term used in South Korea to refer to an extended holiday or weekend interrupted by a single workday--after the declaration of the endemic, the streets of Myeong-dong, Seoul were bustling with tourists. But even here, voices could be heard complaining that prices had jumped too much. C, a Japanese tourist said, “I spent over 100,000 won on food in just two hours since I arrived in Myeong-dong. I feel the prices in South Korea are higher than I had expected.”

On Tuesday, street vendors in Myeong-dong were selling egg gimbap for 8,000 won, a small cup of dakgangjeong (sweet crispy fried chicken) for 7,000 won, a serving of japchae for 5,000 won, a tornado potato for 6,000 won, and chicken skewers for 5,000 won. Sim (26), who lives in Busan, said, “I came to Myeong-dong for the first time in four years, and it’s nice to see so many foreigners. It feels like things have returned to before Covid,” but added, “I was surprised at how expensive everything was, even the street food.”

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