Spreading the word, at a lower volumeLord knows, one of the loudest things about Itaewon is its Christians. On Saturday nights, they set up in front of Baskin Robbins or the Itaewon Methodist Church and blare their spirituals. You walk past and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not how high their amplifiers are turned up.” You cross yourself and pray they’ll take the racket inside.
Well, unclasp your hands, because they have. Last month, an exceptionally kind and cheerful Christian woman, Kim Byung-nam, opened a new cafe, one that caters to believers, a couple doors down from the Methodist church, at the west end of the main drag. It’s bright and homey, with a big kitchen, spacious dining area and ― of course ― a stage.
Ms. Kim has four people helping out: her husband, a salaryman at Haitai; two “sisters,” friends of hers from the Methodist church, and a young Ugandan university student. Also running around will be Ms. Kim’s two delightful kids, a 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. All project smiles that seem preternaturally cheerful (i.e., out of place in Itaewon).
As do the patrons. Drop in for dinner and you’ll probably be among folks who’ve just been to Bible study at the Methodist church, middle-aged Koreans or U.S. soldiers or prim-looking English teachers. They’ll shoot you a smile and a nod when you come in.
Ms. Kim insists that she opened the cafe for the purest of reasons ― not to get rich, but to give her fellow Christians a friendly place to congregate and further their missionary work.
Skeptical? One look at the menu and you won’t be. The offerings are divinely tempting, and the prices miraculously low. Order the beef on rice, for only 7,000 won ($6), and you’ll get a big plate of steamed rice, tender, bite-sized chunks of steak in a thick gravy sauce with broccoli florets and red bell pepper slices. That would be the specialty. Ms. Kim also recommends the chicken teriyaki plate for 6,000 won, and the turkey sandwich for 5,000. There’s also seafood or meatball spaghetti, and Korean staples like kimchi fried rice and bibimbap, none costing more than 6,000 won.
The really nice thing about the cafe, like many religion-based enterprises, is its trustful atmosphere. You get the feeling that everybody has agreed to treat each other with kindness and respect, and that everyone believes the same things. Kind of like North Korea, except you can leave, and there’s lots of food.
Don’t forget, though, that you might be subjected to a musical performance or two. There’s no fixed schedule for these, so on any given night someone could uncase a guitar or keyboards and air out their lungs, or do what Ms. Kim calls “dance worship.” Very different from the sort practiced at nearby nightclubs.
Anyway, this column heartily recommends the Christian Cafe. Go with an empty stomach, a pure heart, an open mind and earplugs, just in case.
by Mike Ferrin