(SEOUL, South Korea) — The scrumptious smell of shrimp patties and brioche buns cooking over a sizzling pan filled the air. Watermelon-shaped rice cake bars were piled up in one corner, iced tea and soda in the other.
Immediately after the lunch bell chimed, giggling elementary school kids lined up in front of the red-glazed catering truck, sneaking a peek at the menu, enjoying the mouthwatering buttery scent.
It’s a food truck gift designed just for Global Sarang School, which is attended by children of migrant workers and the underprivileged in urban Seoul.
Sending a fancy decorated catering truck to a concert or a filming set for an idol and staff is a long-time fan culture in South Korea.
K-pop stars are no longer the only ones who get food truck surprises. There’s now a food truck driving around Seoul with popular mom-and-pop restaurant chefs on board to serve their specialty menu at children’s facilities.
“It’s cool that we get a food truck just like Black Pink,” 9-year-old Hayoung Song from India told ABC News. Black Pink is a four-member idol girl group from South Korea and the most-subscribed artist on YouTube.
T&C Foundation, a non-profit organization in Seoul, began the food truck project in February for 16 facilities for underprivileged children. The goal was to make sure children were provided with balanced nutrition amid the pandemic, as facilities that relied on donations and grants fell under economic pressure. School lockdowns and transition to online classes left many children skipping meals provided at their schools.
The project went further than just feeding children a good meal. It focused on making the recipients feel like they were treated like “kings and idol stars,” rather than receiving welfare distribution. To add an even more child-friendly feature to the food truck, the organizers put together a dice game for children to play while waiting in line. Kids could roll the dice to get bigger portions of snacks or, sometimes, they would have to go to the back of the line and wait for a new turn.
“I’m so happy to be part of a meaningful project, to see children smile, eat good food. I also hope they get to feel like K-pop idols getting support from their fans,” Nick Jeong, a college senior volunteering for the food truck project, told ABC News.
The organization saw the project as an opportunity to benefit both the small food vendors and the recipients of the project. Restaurants suffering from nose-diving sales due to strict government COVID-19 restrictions got a guarantee for steady revenue.
“I am overjoyed to see children’s eyes glow when they eat our signature menu,” Myungja Lee, owner of a small seafood diner in the Pildong food alley who has cooked on the food truck once every week for the last two months, told ABC News. “On top of the sense of accomplishment that we cooked good food for children, this helps with the restaurant earnings as well.”
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