[Dramas and Food] Anchoring my memories
by Guest Beanie
Because This Life is Our First
How do I give homage to the glorious food porn of dramas like Let’s Eat, Pasta, Gourmet, and soon to be favorite Greasy Melo? These shows celebrate food like I do with characters that ACTUALLY eat! This is so unlike American media that I’m used to where characters are around food, but they don’t indulge like in Korean dramas.
While searching for my food shots it occurred to me that what I really loved about food in Korean dramas was the chance to escape to another time because the food scenes trigger so many memories.
One of my favorite dramas, Because This Life is Our First, did that for me in a way that other dramas hadn’t because of the scenes set in Namhae. A few years ago, I lived in Namhae-eup teaching English at two elementary schools and this drama had me in my feelings about those days. While watching scenes I found myself paying attention to the saturi, Facebook messaging my friends to reminisce, and remembering the kind ajummas who fed my homesick soul.
Another aspect of the show that I loved, which also had me reliving the past, was how the food depicted where the characters were in their relationship. For example, after they first got married Ji-ho had started to think there was more in the arrangement which she expressed through cooking a meal for Se-hee. I am just like Ji-ho’s character because I love to cook for the people I care about, so the sense of anticipation as Ji-ho waited for Se-hee’s reaction to her cooking and the glory-smile when he enjoyed the meal hit a sweet spot.
Because This Life is Our First
In that moment, I was teleported right back to college when I cooked for the guy I was head-over-heels in love with. It also hit a little too personally when Se-hee drew a clear line between them and a rejected Ji-ho decided to no longer share her good-good food. When you think he feels the same way versus when it’s one-sided so you don’t even bother plating everything… I’m not still bitter.
Aside from reminders of embarrassing rejections, K-dramas also have a way of depicting the love of family whether it be biological or a mish-mash of whomever comes into your life. I believe food facilitates this for me when I see mom characters overfeeding and overpreparing for their families.
I saw this in Because This Life is Our First where Se-hee went to help Ji-ho’s family and you see the neighborhood ajummas preparing buckets of cabbage for kimchi. This overpreparing was also in a favorite scene from My Ajusshi, where Mom makes the brothers take Dong-hoon a ton of food, despite Ki-hoon’s loud protestations that he doesn’t like his brother — but he did it anyway, gotta love family.
I was also reminded of my mommy making food for me when I would drive five hours to get home during my breaks from college, or when I returned home from living abroad. It’s the way my mom expresses her love, just like ajusshi’s mom.
The food reminded me of bygone times but also that there is something very grounding about coming home and eating food that just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else even with the same ingredients. KFC doesn’t taste as good as it does near Montego Bay airport in Jamaica when we’d stop after getting my dad from the airport. Now, dolsot bibimbap will never taste the same as the ajumma’s at my favorite kimbap store in Namhae-eup. I will forever remember her laughing good-naturedly and calling me an Eskimo (I swear it’s the only English word she said to me) because I continued to wear my puffy white jacket in March when it was supposedly warming up. #stillsalty.
The movie Little Forest also reminded me of that grounding.
Not only did Little Forest lead with tons of food glory shots, but that sense of needing to be home permeated the scenes. Hye-won, the lead character, goes back to her village after not making it in Seoul and she initially struggles with feeling like a failure. After living abroad in South Korea and China, I returned home and also struggled with feeling like an untethered failure.
In a scene where her friend is speculating the reasons for her return, Hye-won merely says, “No. I came because I’m hungry.” This resonated at a time when I too was hungry for my family’s love and support and needed to reset. It can be draining traveling alone especially in places where you are the “first of your kind.” So, the scenes with simple foods, like dumpling soup, carry so much rejuvenating energy and I take it to heart.
Whenever I watch a food heavy drama I will indulge in bibimbap from my favorite café, milk bread from a Paris Baguette, samgyupsal from a bbq joint, or kimbap from the Korean supermarket. However the thing that I get the most satisfaction from is a chance to go down memory lane and that is worth its weight in soju.
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