19 June 2008
when in seoul...
When you're roaming around the market on a Sunday afternoon and notice leaning towers of silver noodle bowls rising out front of a packed restaurant it's not difficult to choose a place for lunch. In fact walking past this crowded establishment immediately triggered our trip-wire for eating well around the world: look for locals eating - and then eat there.
The only caveat with this method is that you've got to be ready to go whole hog because when you walk into a place like this, you're walking into a different reality. You're not only going to be eating with the locals, you're going to be eating like the locals. This means zero accommodation for the things you're used to where you're from. And that, my dear friends, is exactly the reason you're here.
You're here to climb the thin staircase to the second floor, take off your shoes, and discover that unlike downstairs there aren't tables and chairs, there are only tables.
You're here to sit on the floor. Which in turn means you're here to keep shifting your body weight around until you can find a position in which your legs, or your feet, or your bottom - or some combination thereof - does not go immediately numb.
You're here to order by pointing at photos on the walls, or food on other people's plates, and then hope that the meal you've gesticulated at and nodded for, actually tastes as good as it looks.
You're here to use a set of chopsticks for your noodles, a spoon for your soup, and the scissors for anything that's too unruly to be tamed by either the chopsticks or the spoon.
You're here to clean your face and hands with thin napkin squares that you find in a bunch on the floor, and throw your garbage in a small pail that just barely fits under the table.
And not only do you get to do these things but you also get to eat the best food on offer, like cold chewy noodles with cucumbers and spicy sauce and a hard-boiled egg on top. You get to slurp the noodles and drink water out of cold metal cups and sit in your socks on the floor. And you get to pretend - for just a moment - that you, of all people, know the best places to eat in Seoul.