This evening I ate at a little restaurant near my apartment. It was an old little restaurant, maybe the size of my room…cramped, with a tight kitchen space in the back. The name was “Gimbap Town”, gimbap being a sushi-roll like “korean sandwich”…It’s quick bite food. There are “Gimbap” restaurants all across Seoul..little holes in the wall offering quick, cheap bites…my personal favorite being the most popular Gimbab Jeonguk (meaning Gimbap Heaven, oddly enough started by the head of a large church in Korea). This was similar to a lot of cheap Korean fast food joints I’ve been to, but lower quality. I couldn’t eat the banchan (side dishes) and the kimchi soup was plain. I felt uncomfortable eating because it was such an intimate space and I really didn’t want to finish my meal. The restaurant ajumma (middle aged woman) kept looking at me and I’d pretend to enjoy my food, fake half smiling. In reality I was counting down the bites while trying to stay present. Nonetheless, the environment was fun..A huge woman sat a few seats away from me, a stern look on her face, with what appeared to be her son or nephew…They ordered 4 large dishes: fried pork cutlet, spicy rice cakes, gimbap and kimchi soup…The table next to me a couple, talked and joked over shared gimbal rolls. The boss was an outspoken older Korean woman, barking orders across the restaurant, despite the cook and waitress not being able to hear. “What?” they’d repeat, until finally getting her message.
Outside was a typical night in my neighborhood, people lining the streets drinking soju at street food stands selling meat and seafood. Most of the food stalls you find in Seoul are selling variations on rice-cakes, fried veggies/meats, fish soup, and a popular dish called sundae, made of intestine…The street food stalls outside my new apartment are a little more unique, selling cheap cuts of barbecued meats and grilled seafood along with alcohol. Large groups of students and businessmen as well as other locals gather there most nights of the week, talking over drinks in the lively night. Even though it’s 8 o’clock the shops are all still open, an older couple still selling ddeok (rice cakes) late into the night and an old woman sitting atop a pile of vegetables, earlier for sale, smoking a cigarette to herself. A few stray cats wander around picking up scraps of food where they can.
I walked pass the scene, nothing out of the usual for me now but once a really unique sight. I now have to remind myself to take photos. It’s funny feeling at home in a place that’s still in so many ways obviously not my home.