[FOUNTAIN]Hawker Food Can Be AppealingRecently, the Seoul city government and district offices began regulating street vendors from cooking food to sell on the streets. As the controls are reinforced, ddeokbokki, fried dishes of cuttlefish, sweet potatoes and boiled fish paste is disappearing from the hawker stalls; Western fast food such as hamburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches that can be warmed up just before sale are taking their places.
The reports about the newly enforced regulations and the changes in street vendors' fare reminded me of the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 that Duke Wilhelm IV proclaimed. The regulation prohibited brewers from using any ingredients other than water, barley and hop extracts. After the law went into effect, German beer maintained its pure taste and high quality, earning a worldwide reputation and becoming the country's most representative product.
In contrast, a liquor taxes ordinance proclaimed by the colonial Japanese government in 1916 brought the tradition of home-brewed Korean liquors to a halt. The law prohibited making alcohol at home except for a small amount to be consumed by family members. According to the regulation, no more than 360 liters of home-brewed rice wine and no more than 180 liters of soju, a distilled liquor made from fermented malt starter, steamed rice and water, could be made by each household. Violators had to pay fines five times higher than the liquor taxes. The purpose was to collect more taxes from Koreans by inducing them to drink alcohol produced by breweries, because it was difficult to collect liquor taxes from every household.
In 1918, two years after the law was enforced, the amount of liquor taxes collected was 12 times higher than that in 1909, indicating that the ordinance was effective. Before and after the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, many Koreans tried to revive traditional Korean liquors, but only a few succeeded because the brewing traditions were lost.
Japan later lost the pure taste of its traditional liquors as well. At the end of World War II, a rice shortage prompted new rules allowing factory-produced ingredients in sake. The practice still survives, and the quality of Japan's liquors has never been the same since.
In Germany, street vendors sell grilled and boiled sausages. In Japan, takoyaki, small pancakes with octopus, and ramen are widely sold on the street.
Street food is a tourist attraction that highlights the special identity of a country. The government should stop trying to control street vendors with punitive measures and come up with policies that will induce positive changes in vendors' sanitary conditions.
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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