Our favorite foodie is back! The third season is both a sequel and a prequel as the timeline bounces between the present day and 2004, giving us a glimpse of how that charming chatterbox gourmet became the way he is. Of course, a new season also means a new romance with a new neighbor — who also happens to be an old crush.
EPISODE 1: “First Meal”
We start off watching a man cook an elaborate steak and pasta dish for his girlfriend, which seems something like our hero would do. Except GU DAE-YOUNG (Yoon Do-joon) is despondently sprawled out on his sofa, watching a cooking show on TV. It’s clear he lives alone, and is only roused when his landlady reminds him that he has to move out at the end of the month.
In the morning, Dae-young browses real estate websites. His boss catches him, reminding him that he should be focused on work. Dae-young — the guy who used to win awards for being the top insurance salesman — now has the lowest sales rate and hasn’t met with clients in weeks.
A familiar face stops by: Season 2’s AHN CHAN-SOO (Lee Joo-seung), who was the (once creepy) college student who lived on the rooftop. He reminds Dae-young that he promised to buy him a meal if Chan-soo ever was in the area, so he’s taking him up on that promise: “Is there a good restaurant nearby?” As if he has to ask!
Chan-soo wonders why Dae-young insists on going to a restaurant that serves the same food as other restaurants they already passed, and Dae-young launches into one of his trademark tirades as he explains how this restaurant serves the best fresh croaker fish (and how best to eat it, of course!).
The men happily tuck into their meal, proving that this season will give the same devoted love and attention to the food scenes as ever before.
Chan-soo wonders if Dae-young has always been the type to lecture during meals, but just as Dae-young’s about to tell him how it all started, a car accident happens right outside the restaurant. That causes Dae-young to suddenly flash back to an accident of his own that happened sometime in the recent past.
Everyone spills out of the restaurant to stare at the accident. One of the passersby is LEE JI-WOO (Baek Jin-hee), who is walking her dog (a beautiful Golden Retriever named Kongali). Ji-woo is a nurse and jumps into action once she sees the injured people, tending to their wounds until the paramedics arrive to take everyone to the hospital. Ji-woo also goes to the hospital, momentarily forgetting about Kongali.
The dog, however, sprints towards Dae-young, who thinks Kongali is about to attack him, but instead she covers his face with happy puppy kisses. Dae-young patiently waits with the dog, hoping for the owner to come back, but at the mention of the word “home,” Kongali leads him through the neighborhood — and to Ji-woo, who suddenly remembers that she’d left Kongali behind and hurries back to find her.
Both Ji-woo and Dae-young are surprised to see one another, recognizing each other from college fourteen years ago. He marvels that she’s lost her country accent and now sounds like a Seoulite, whereas she’s impressed by his snazzy suit, remarking that he always used to wear dirty tracksuits. Ha!
They head to a nearby cafe to catch up over a cup of coffee, and Ji-woo sees herself in the mirror for the first time, realizing her hair is messed up, she’s not wearing makeup, and her shirtsleeves are covered in blood from the accident. It’s always the days you feel like the worst when you meet an old crush.
Dae-young gives her a business card, and she’s surprised that he’s an insurance salesman, since when she knew him, he was majoring in mechanical engineering. She’s still single, but she notices the ring on his finger, and assumes he’s married. Dae-young says he’s not, and vaguely agrees when Ji-woo says he must be seeing someone.
Ji-woo has to get ready to work the night shift, so they agree to meet up later to share a meal. Both Ji-woo and Kongali seem a little sad to watch Dae-young drive off. As Dae-young heads home, he smiles as he reminisces about his college life.
Flashback to 2004, and a twenty-year-old Dae-young sprawled on the floor of his small, crappy apartment, watching TV and eating snacks. Some things never change.
Dae-young attends a freshman welcoming party for engineering students. Most of his sunbaes are more interested in whether or not the freshmen have sisters than anything else they say in their introductory speeches.
Other freshman there are BAE BYUNG-SAM (Kim Dong-young) — no sisters, and is in fact terrified of women just in general — and KIM JIN-SEOK (Byung Hun — only brothers, and spent his life attending boys-only schools.
But while pretty boy LEE SUNG-JOO (Seo Byeok-joon) doesn’t have any sisters, he’s friends with a lot of girls, which makes him the most popular freshman to his sunbaes.
The trio is impressed that Dae-young has his own place (since his hometown is too far away to live with family, like the other boys do). Soon Dae-young’s tiny basement apartment is a second home to all the boys (where they, too, sprawl on the floor, watch TV, and eat snacks). But during a particular rainy night, Dae-young’s apartment is flooded, and they all wake up soaked like they slept in a bath.
So all the boys help Dae-young move to a rooftop apartment, which seems ideal since there’s no way it’ll be flooded. But rooftop apartments are hot as hell in the summer, and as the boys fight over the fan, it breaks. Realizing they can’t stay any longer in that sauna (which is hot enough to hatch chicks and potentially burst prized soccer balls), Dae-young decides to find another place to live.
But first, a coffee break! The trio are baffled that Dae-young insists on only getting coffee from the music department’s coffee machine.
When they ask him why, he starts to ramp into a trademark Dae-young, “How can you say all coffee machines are the same?” detailed expository foodie rant, but he just sputters out a vague, “It tastes better… just because…” Ha!
The boys are shocked to discover that Dae-young is moving to Myungshin Villa, since everyone knows it’s haunted (which is also probably why it’s so cheap — that, or the lack of upkeep from the elderly landlords). Dae-young scoffs at the idea of ghosts and happily moves in. But his first night there, as he’s watching TV, he hears strange laughter coming from somewhere.
He assumes it’s his neighbor also watching TV, but realizes that she wasn’t even home at that time. His neighbor, by the way, is none other than a twenty-year-old Ji-woo. She’s got an adorable country accent, and reassures Dae-young that he must be hearing things because she lives alone.
Despite his disavowal of ghosts, Dae-young finds it hard to sleep when he hears a strange crying sound, and then a rattling at the door. It doesn’t help that his other neighbor is a shaman, who warns him that spirits are not something to take lightly (and offers him a neighborly discount to exorcise his room).
Once the skeptic, Dae-young’s now beginning to believe in ghosts. After a few drinks with the boys, he staggers home drunk. The lightning and thunder mixed with the sounds of his neighbor shaman performing her ritual, plus the howls of a black cat crossing his path, have him freaked out.
But it isn’t until he sees a ghost in the hallway that he screams and passes out in fright.
He wakes up to find the ghost peering down at him. It’s actually a young woman, LEE SEO-YEON (Lee Joo-woo). She’s Ji-woo’s stepsister and has been secretly living with Ji-woo because she was kicked out of the college dorms. It was her laughter and cries Dae-young heard the previous night. Ji-woo begs him to help keep Seo-yeon a secret from the landlords, who would charge her more for the utilities if they knew.
After one of their regular visits to the music department’s coffee vending machine (where the boys plead with Dae-young to throw a housewarming party so that they can meet his pretty neighbor), Dae-young realizes he left his soccer shoes back at the vending machine.
He hurries to retrieve the shoes and is surprised to find that Ji-woo is the one who restocks the vending machine. He’s thrilled to finally meet the person responsible for making the most delicious coffee on campus and asks what her secret is. Ji-woo says it’s just a “golden ratio” of coffee, sugar, and cream.
Dae-young begs for the “golden ratio” so he can make the same coffee at home, and offers to buy her a meal in payment. She readily agrees, and soon they’re enjoying a heaping pan of gopchang (friend intestines). But Ji-woo doesn’t let Dae-young dig in right away — first she pours soju all over the dish and sets it aflame, which will give the gopchang a chargrilled taste once the alcohol burns off.
Ji-woo explains that she learned it from her mother, who runs a side dish store. Ji-woo’s mother also said that if you know how to properly enjoy food, then you won’t ever starve. Ji-woo impresses Dae-young by making some expertly crafted soju bombs, although he’s baffled why she made them two drinks each.
Ji-woo says it’s so they can down the first as a shot and drink the other one as they eat, without having to worry about their food being burnt from having to stop and make the second drink. Dae-young marvels at Ji-woo’s time-saving trick of shoving both the lettuce leaf and meat into her mouth at the same time, and cutting up the last few bits of gopchang to mix into the fried rice so they can enjoy every single bite.
Her enthusiastic joy for eating is contagious, and Dae-young says that he should eat meals with her all the time. When he sees Ji-woo pull out a bottle of antacid after the meal, he startles her by grabbing her hand and showing her an old trick his mother taught him.
He presses the acupressure point between her thumb and index finger, which makes her burp. She’s embarrassed, but no longer has indigestion!
As they walk home, Dae-young’s friend Jin-seok rolls up in his new car. Well, new to him, at least. He asks if he can park it at Dae-young’s house, since his parents don’t know that he bought it. He offers to drive them home, and poor, anxious Byung-sam practically flattens himself into the passenger door as Ji-woo (gasp, a girl!) sits next to him. The other two boys are delighted to finally meet Ji-woo, though.
Once they arrive at Myungshin Villa, the elderly landlords tell Jin-seok that he can’t leave his car parked out front. He tries to move it, but the car won’t start. The boys struggle to push it to a new spot just as stepsister Seo-yeon arrives. Jin-seok attempts to flirt with her, much to her amusement, but Dae-young yells at him to keep pushing.
With the girls’ help, the six of them manage to literally carry the car to the new parking spot.
In 2018, 34-year-old Dae-young smiles to himself at the memory of his college friends and their antics. But his smile fades as he enters his apartment, which feels empty and lifeless.
Ji-woo finishes her night shift and as she changes out of her scrubs, Dae-young’s business card flutters to the floor. Another nurse spots it, wondering if Ji-woo is buying insurance. Ji-woo says she isn’t, then smiles dreamily as she remembers Dae-young from her college days.
The other nurse assumes that Ji-woo must have finally gone on a blind date, but Ji-woo says she just reunited with her first love after fourteen years. Her nurse friend squees, but Ji-woo says that Dae-young has a girlfriend, so she doesn’t plan to do anything about it. The nurse friend grabs Ji-woo’s phone anyway, determined to have Ji-woo at least call him.
Except Dae-young calls her first — to ask her how her sister Seo-yeon is doing. Annoyed, Ji-woo says they’re no longer sisters and they haven’t seen each other in ten years. She says Dae-young shouldn’t bother her if he’s only interested in finding out about Seo-yeon, and hangs up.
When she gets home, Ji-woo makes a soju bomb as skillfully as she did fourteen years ago. It may be morning for everyone else, but it’s evening for someone who works the night shift, and she crawls into bed to sleep. But soon she’s woken up by Kongali’s incessant barking.
Irritated, Ji-woo heads out to the balcony to see what the fuss is about, and discovers Kongali’s just greeting their new neighbor — Dae-young.
Epilogue. Seo-yeon runs in terror through the crowded city streets, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a car as she flees an unknown danger.
I’d forgotten that one of the trademarks of the Let’s Eat series was the epilogues focused on a dangerous mystery. It was one of my least favorite plot elements from the prior two seasons, so I assume it will be the same here. At least they’re consistent!
As a die-hard fan of the first season, I remember it being next to impossible to get over the fact that they seemed to have completely erased Lee Soo-kyung (who I adored), and Dae-young was suddenly free to have a new romance. But I’m getting a bad feeling about how the show is going to have him break free from Season 2’s Baek Soo-ji. His obvious depression, the fact that he still wears a couple ring even though he lives alone, and the PTSD from the car accident are all hints that something terrible has happened. I mean, I’m willing to accept that we apparently need a new romance with every season, but I’m not sure I’m ready to face what I fear has happened to Soo-ji.
That said, I was immediately delighted by Ji-woo. I figured there would be an adjustment period to accept the new love interest, but I already adore her, if only because it’s obvious that she’s the one who taught Dae-young how to appreciate food. Her love of eating reminds me of Soo-kyung, which also makes me realize that maybe one reason he fell for that noona is because of her similarities to Ji-woo. Well, at least that’s what I thought until his curiosity about Seo-yeon made me think that maybe he and Ji-woo were “just” friends and it was Seo-yeon who was possibly Dae-young’s college sweetheart. But I’m not going to waste too much energy figuring out those relationships just yet, especially since this franchise likes to make romance so confusing anyway.
Despite my initial reservations (because do we really need another season? Really?), I think another reason why I easily fell in love with Season 3 is that it’s kind of like an Answer Me 2004-lite. I love all the details in the 2004 scenes (Se7en! BoA! World of Warcraft! Flip phones!), plus it’s an era that I’m able to be personally nostalgic about since I, too, was a college student at that time. Jin-seok, Byung-sam, and Lee Sung-joo also remind me of the Noryangjin trio from Drinking Solo (and not just because one of them is played by Kim Dong-young), who were my favorite characters from that show. It feels like this season is taking elements of shows I love and putting it together into something delightful that, while it might be a sequel with familiar plots and characters, still feels very much like its own show with its own personality.