If you’ve been around Dramabeans for a while and are familiar with my posts, it will come as no surprise that food is important to my and my family’s lives. This is 100% due to my husband, maybe 110%. (But this essay is not about how food is the way to a man’s heart, or some such nonsense.)
Looking back, it was my own mother that introduced me to Korean food. I’ve mentioned this in earlier guest posts, but I grew up and still live in one of the least diverse cities in the United States. As such, when my family met other minorities with similar beliefs and family structures, we gravitated towards them and stuck to them like white on rice.
It was in this way that my mother met her soul sister, a Korean woman with two children. My mother is an excellent cook and she would take the best recipes of her friends and incorporate them into our diets. So, it was nothing for us to have homemade Italian meat balls direct from a 1st generation Italian followed by the best bún riêu recipe from my own Vietnamese-immigrant grandmother. The Korean dishes that she most often incorporated into our weekly meal plan were japchae (glass noodles with vegetables) and tteokguk (rice cake soup). Cooking was her love language.
Reminiscing on this in the past month reminded me about all those K-drama moms whose cooking was their love language. One example that came to mind was Let’s Eat 3. (You didn’t think I would skip doing an homage to my favorite multiple-season series, did you?) I can’t think of kimchi sujebi without thinking of Lee Jin-woo and Lee Seo-yeon, the stepsisters vying for the love of their mother/stepmother. Polar opposites in terms of personalities and interests, they were united by their mother who, through her cooking, showed them how much they were loved.
Lee Jin-woo couldn’t understand how sweet and considerate her mother could be to her stepdaughter, always making her favorite dish when asked, when she would always nag at Jin-woo. And it was her mother’s kimchi sujebi which was the sticking point. It’s a hearty soup made of hand-pulled wheat dough noodles, anchovies, vegetables and, of course, kimchi. The very first episode, Seo-yeon comes back to Korea and the first thing she craves and has to eat is kimchi sujebi. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, she’s disappointed in the restaurant fare, a far cry from the kimchi sujebi of her memories and her stepmother.
Some of my fondest memories growing up are of making japchae and tteokguk with my mother, two dishes I’m comfortable making for my own family. When the girls in Let’s Eat 3 prepared kimchi sujebi with their mother, I found myself missing those times with my mother. Even I, who would rather do just about anything besides cooking, felt the emotional tug of family. Knowing how far apart these two sisters really were and how mentally far away their mother was from them made the sting that much more palpable.
I understood their mother trying to cook at the nursing home and almost burning the entire place down, because you see, my grandmother has dementia as well. My grandmother’s amazing bún riêu is a distant memory for her, which is why I love it when my mother comes over and cooks it for us. Because not only is the language of love in the present, it’s also the memories of that love that sustain us when we eat those foods–even if those who made it have long forgotten us. It was that way for Seo-yeon, and that is how it is with me. My own mother is showing signs of forgetfulness now, and so I cherish the times when I get to cook with her. I prefer tteokguk to kimchi sujebi (which my husband has made for me) and it’s likely due to the strong emotional connection I have to my mother when I eat it. When Dae-young found a traditional kimchi sujebi for Seo-yeon that tasted just like her stepmother’s, I bawled. One little soup formed bonds between all these characters that were not easily broken.
This will be too late for Mother’s Day, but to all the mothers out there–whether food is your love language or not–you are loved, more than you know, and more than your children will ever tell you. So keep showing your love in the ways you do, because the food you make not only physically sustain us, the memories emotionally sustain us for life.