Food isn’t simply a moment of sheer brilliance. It’s a transformative rite of passage, and is important throughout every person’s lifetime. This ideal is very true for Café Seoul in that the main characters experience food throughout their lives as a constant in a chaotic world.
The three main brothers of the story (though more importantly partially deaf rocker Sang-Hyuk and bakery owner Sang-Woo) are united through the appreciation of good food. When the three are growing up, bakery Morandang is a safe haven for them and their family; food, in the form of delicious sweets, is a uniting, bonding experience for the family. Multiple flashbacks throughout Café Seoul emphasize that food is not a fleeting fancy, but rather something that can be traced back, all the way to childhood even, as a dependable source of happiness and family.
Jun, the traveling journalist, stumbles upon Morandang as it faces imminent destruction by evil Yakuza looking to take the property for their own uses. Jun seeks solace in Morandang because it represents his childhood as well, as his family owned a bakery at one time. In this sense, Jun becomes part of the Morandang family, not through blood relation. No, the literal familial ties are not what truly unites everyone at Morandang; it is the connection through food, and through enjoying said food, that connects each and every person to one another.
When Sang-Woo is injured by the yakuza and can no longer bake, Jun steps up to the challenge, along with Sang-Hyuk, to prepare sweets at the caliber that the three brothers’ father once obtained through his carefully crafted baked goods. The montage of the two working together to create excellent food (along with the third, less reliable brother who works for a rival bakery) serves to once again highlight the power of food as a uniting force. Eating delicious food together is a bonding experience, but more than that, the actual physical process of making the food, and learning from mistakes together, is an invaluable source of brotherhood and unification.
In the last sequence of the movie, the yakuza boss comes to Morandang, where it is then revealed that he himself has a history with Morandang’s sweets, as he appreciated them as a young child. This only works to further support that food is a timeless motif; it transcends age and morality (as the yakuza boss is obviously of less morals than the brothers) and resides at a more basic level of association, of ties that cannot be severed. The final sweet served to the yakuza boss is overcooked mochi, a treat enjoyed by the brothers, by Jun, by the yakuza boss and his minions. It is a form of sustenance that nourishes the mind as much as the taste buds and the senses.
Food is respected as a sensual experience; it engages the senses. This line is repeated by all of the brothers as something their father once said. This line particularly strikes a heavy note because it recognizes that taste is but one of the parts engaged by the joy of food. There are so many more pertinent emotions and feelings associated with food. Café Seoul seeks to illustrate food as a connection across the many divisions between human beings; whether it be blood, ethnicity (Jun is Japanese, while the brothers are Korean, a fact repeated many times through the movie), age, or even friendship (as it is for the yakuza versus everyone at Morandang), no matter the differences and dissimilarities, food connects all characters. Café Seoul seeks to demonstrate that food connects all people, at such a basic and instinctual level that no other factor can trump its inherent power.