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`Hamba` Food for Construction Workers

Posted December. 03, 2005 04:48,   


A cafeteria at a construction site, referred to as a “hamba” in Korean, meant more than just a dining room to construction workers. Delicious foods and mak-keol-li (Korean traditional raw rice wine), served by individual hamba owners allowed exhausted manual workers to escape from their daily routine.

As time has changed, however, the “hamba” restaurant at a construction site has become more like a company cafeteria.

In particular, large-scale construction companies such as Hyundai, Daewoo, Samsung and GS are increasingly hiring catering service providers to operate on-site restaurants during construction periods. The industry estimated that 30 percent of “hamba” restaurants at construction sites in the Seoul metropolitan area are run by specialized catering companies.

Serving Foods Based on Science-

It was 11:30 a.m. on November 30, and the inside a “hamba” restaurant at a GS construction company’s reconstruction site of the Jamsil 4th complex in Jamsil-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul was clean even though it looked shabby in its appearance. Six individuals were wearing gowns and even hoods. Workers were paying 3,300 won for a meal by placing their cards provided to them in advance to a card reader.

In this restaurant run by a catering service provider Sangrak Food, a 12-year-long excavator driver with a family name of “Hahm,” said, “The food here is sometimes better than that of my wife, because the menu is changing everyday,” as he took a heaping portion of spicy roast pork onto his cooked rice.

Hahm added, “When a few unprofessional women would run a ‘hamba’ restaurant in the past, the menu was determined voluntarily by the cook. I got upset when they served the same side dishes several times in a row. Now, it never happens because the catering company is in charge.”

Romanticism Has Gone-

This restaurant does not serve liquor like soju or mak-keol-li but does serve an abundance of cooked rice and varied side dishes.

Drinking alcohol before closing time is banned for safety reasons. Upon being detected for drinking, a worker is kicked out of the construction site.

Safety supervisor Yi Jae-yeol said, “Some senior workers who used to sip alcohol while eating meals made several attempts to drink at other restaurants outside the construction site, but they stopped taking the risk beginning earlier this year when we purchased a breathalyzer and set up a sobriety check point at the entrance gate.”

Yun Seon-hyeon, a 20-year-long cook in charge of side dishes, said, “There is less noise, which I like, but there is less of a touch of humanity as well. In the past, foremen used to ask junior workers to sing a song while having meals, but today they just eat their meals quietly.” In fact, about 70 workers finished their lunch in seven to 10 minutes on that day.

Yun added, “Many workers want to have a broth to chase a hangover on Mondays, so I prepare a bean sprouts soup or a dried-pollack soup for Monday’s menu.”

Seung-Heon Lee ddr@donga.com