Oran Man Ida
Five years since I’ve had the best food in the world.
The restaurant looks the same: the same line of 50 people waiting to get in. I get in line, the smells bringing me back: appetite and nostalgia winding a tight braid inside me.
“The special, please,” I say as a waitress comes up the line, taking advance orders. No time for looking at a menu.
I wonder how many have eaten here in the last five years. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
I spot the owner as I reach the door. She looks up. “Where have you been?”
This is actually a true story. When we were in Korea, we lived in the city of Jeonju. In the old market, there is a restaurant called Nammun Pisundae (남문피순대). It is famous all over Korea and has been in business for decades. There is seriously a line outside of at least 50-100 people at every single meal time and it is always busy. They really only serve one thing: a spicy soup of blood sausage and pig organs. You might not think that sounds great but that’s because you haven’t tried it. It is seriously my favorite food in the world, specifically from that restaurant.
I got a chance to go back to Korea in 2019 and made a point to go to Jeonju to see old friends and to eat at this restaurant. Even after all that time, the owner recognized me right away and asked where I’d been. I explained I’d moved to the US 5 years before. To be fair, there probably aren’t many non-Koreans who were regulars there.
(You might wonder about the title: what an Oran Man is or who Ida is. This is a transliteration of the Korean expression meaning “long time, no see”).