I have a huge confession to make. Historically, I have not enjoyed eating. Not in an I-have-an-eating-disorder-way or anything, but some people just eat to live, while others live to eat. I was the toddler that my parents had to chase around the house to eat, the last child at the table because I wouldn’t finish my food, and the first teenager done because I finally realized that life happened when I was being held hostage by my food.
In all scenarios, I didn’t enjoy eating. Because I didn’t like eating, I hated cooking. My poor future husband had to endure my one attempt at cooking for him while we were dating—an overly dry roast in a crockpot slow cooker, which was like chewing leather—and he still married me. That is why he’s the chef in our family, and a good one at that. They say that when you’re married to a person long enough, you start becoming like them. I wish that were the case with my cooking. Unfortunately not! But I have come to appreciate food much more than prior, and I do have K-dramas to partially thank for that. Not only this, but dramas have also taught me that food is one of the cornerstones of building lasting relationships. Many of you know that I have a K-drama club, where several women between the ages of 38 and 65 share a meal and an episode of a K-drama. Although they have experienced many other aspects of life, these were K-drama virgins, and almost perfect strangers. Although K-dramas speak for themselves, it’s the food that we eat when we get together that has made this group and our relationships with each other thrive.
We started Let’s Eat 2 for my husband. I had no interest in seeing a foodie show, one where he would drool all over and then want me to try to cook for him (which he does ask me to do on occasion). I still don’t have a fondness for cooking; I’m too klutzy to make it through preparing a meal unscathed. But it had Seo Hyun-jin, whom I just saw and loved on Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim, so I didn’t protest too loudly. As I watched I saw myself in the series, but not in the female lead. I am the exact opposite of her, actually. No, it was the awkward second lead, Sang-woo, with whom I identified. For those not familiar with his character, he was not a food-lover, never had food in his fridge, never felt the pangs of hunger, and didn’t think about his next meal, even as his date was starving! He just saw eating as a means to live. He is exactly what I was before meeting my husband and learning to appreciate food and how food is prepared. The character saw food as just a means to an end and not really an experience to enjoy. He was also a loner, without many friends, and no place to foster these friendships.
From the first episode of Let’s Eat 2, where Chinese food was front and center, served authentically family-style, I was hooked. I’d never seen food prepared in a drama and the food cinematography was gorgeous. But it was the ddeokbokki seen in the flashback with a young Soo-ji eating at a young Dae-young’s mother’s restaurant, that had my novice-cooking-self thinking, “Hey! I can make that!” And I did, but added a lot of other things to make it more Vietnamese-American, so fusion, the best of all cultures rolled into one. And if you want to try it.
But it wasn’t just that. When Dae-young goes to the Indian restaurant with Sang-woo, I don’t know why I was so culturally insensitive, but I thought, “Why would there be an Indian restaurant in Korea?” But there it was. Well-appropriated, serving food that I was familiar with, having good friends who are immigrants. And we had Indian curry the next day. So, while eating naan and our curry, I felt another connection to Korea, ironically, and a better appreciation of this small world we live in. A Korean show reminding me of my Indian friend, and the food that tied us all together.
Another dish that we made that came from not just this show, but every Korean drama ever, was hangover soup. Now, thankfully, I’ve never really needed this to treat a nasty hangover, but how prevalent must drinking to excess be if a whole culture has a soup dedicated in their post-intoxication rituals? Food serves as a healing elixir in many East Asian cultures, so again, I shouldn’t have been surprised that it would be featured in such a prominent way. But I’ve noticed that for a stuffy nose and colds, and even allergy relief, hangover soup does the trick to clear out those nasal passages, make you more alert, as well as fill that hole in your belly. And what person from any culture can’t relate to being ill or hungover?
But truthfully, it was the Korean food that I had no idea existed until I watched Let’s Eat 2 that kept me coming back for more and maybe even wanting to cook more. That, and Dae-young’s hilarious man-splaining that was the cherry on top. To try to find these dishes in middle America where the immigrant population is less than one percent is nearly impossible, and so, besides for the Korean barbecue fare and kimchi, so many of the soups featured were unknown to me and if I wanted to try them, I would have to make them.
Thankfully my K-drama foodie friends are always up to try new foods, and trying new Korean dishes is mandatory! The rooftop meals featured in the series underscore how important food is in developing relationships, which I didn’t really understand growing up, but now savor because it has given me such good friends. I hope to be able to try the kimchi-crab soup, kkotgaetang, someday, and probably in Korea, and probably with my K-drama friends with origins all over the world. Because I’ve learned that it is food that brings people together and also because crab is very expensive to come by when you don’t live near a coast! And when I make that trip, I’ll be sure to call Dae-young up to have him explain to me the origins of the dish!