The Writing on the Wall

Posted on April 3, 2010


Original post, February 6 2009

Sleeping through the Korean night is no longer a problem. Waking up in the morning early enough for breakfast, is. Especially after hours of walking through chilly Seoul at night, absorbing the sounds, smells and sights of this vibrant city. And yes, it is fun to roam around alone, getting lost occasionally, but when you’re with a local who knows the streets, then it all suddenly turns into magic. You no longer take the shortest road to somewhere, but the most beautiful. Map comfortably tucked into your bag, your eyes can linger upwards, rather than downwards on a lifeless piece of paper. You are made to wonder into little restaurants which you probably wouldn’t have dared walk into alone or which, through the endless roads and streets, you would have never even known existed.

Seoul is very much a city for eating and drinking, and in a place where very few people are confident enough to speak English to a foreigner, I discovered it is best to leave the food-and-drink-hunting to my Korean friends, to whom, I swear, I will be eternally grateful for the great time I’m having. I’m honest when I say that there has been only one thing in Korea which I absolutely hate, and that I love everything else. I hate the fact that people smoke in restaurants. It makes my clothes and hair stink, and it gives me a headache. But I love the foods whose names I constantly fail to remember, and most of all, I adore the ever present concept in Korean culture of communal food which so many Western nations have lost.
In a Western restaurant you order your own little plate with your own little food, which you consume alone facing a bunch of other people who are also eating their own little food. Here, eating alone is not really an option, and you typically order one kind of food accompanied by a seemingly endless selection of side dishes, all of which you enjoy together with your friends. And, while I’m not so bad as to ask for a fork in restaurants, I must admit that I am having trouble with the flat steel chopsticks which are in use here, and, often ask for the lighter wooden version.


The joys of Korean food are many: Perfectly spicy chicken and rice, roasted pork wrapped up in lettuce and smeared with a slightly hot sauce, pickled onions and cucumbers, slightly salty, sweet potato cake, hot chocolate with almond flakes in a cafe with walls covered in writing which I cannot understand, but which Sue, my host for that particular night, patiently translates. And noise and light, and more noise and more light, and street after street of looking up, and forgetting where your feet are going.


– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @

Posted in: Seoul