[Dramas and Food] The spice of life
by Guest Beanie
I need to start with a confession: Up until a few weeks ago, I had never eaten Korean food of any kind. I’d wanted to for a long time (I think it may have even predated my discovery and subsequent love of K-dramas a few years ago).
Why then, you may ask, have I resisted so long, especially when these dramas constantly parade tasty temptations in front of us? I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but my hesitation stemmed from the fact that when it comes to sensitivity to spicy foods, I’m a serious contender for the title of Wimpiest Tongue. Based on my observations (not to mention the prevalence of the word “spicy” in the name of many Korean foods), this unfortunate weakness felt like it might be a serious obstacle in my ability to enjoy many of the meals my favorite characters did. But the more dramas I watched, the more I was enticed by the enjoyment the characters showed whenever they tucked into the many and varied dishes that make up Korean cuisine.
The turning point came when I learned about Korean Black Day. I’ve never been one to mope about singledom, but I do enjoy any excuse to turn an otherwise ordinary day into a celebration, so I decided that I would embrace the celebratory aspect of this day with gusto. And while it was far from the first time that I had seen jajangmyun devoured with relish in a drama, Jo Anna’s obsession with jajangmyun in Fantasy Couple had brought it to the forefront of my mind and made me insanely curious what it was about that particular dish that made this amnesiac heiress constantly demand it in the same way that a child might tirelessly lobby for ice cream. Therefore, finding out that it was a common dish to eat on Black Day (because of the black bean sauce) was the deciding factor: jajangmyun was going to be the starting point on what I hoped would be a long and fruitful exploratory journey into Korean cuisine.
However, my determination to finally begin this odyssey did not magically raise my tolerance to the dreaded heat of spicy foods, so what to do? My solution was somewhat ambitious for someone who had never even tasted the dish before: I would make it from scratch and thus be able to control the spice level.
“Recipe hacking” is something I’ve had success with before — when my brother developed an egg allergy as an adult, I was determined that he not miss out on beloved family recipes just because they contained egg. So I researched similar recipes that were egg-free and was able to adapt the existing recipes so that they remained true to the meals that we grew up loving but wouldn’t adversely affect my poor brother. I employed a similar strategy when approaching the task of making jajangmyun.
I researched and selected several different jajangmyun recipes, making note of the common core elements and then picking and choosing the variables to suit my taste (for instance, only one recipe included mushrooms, but I love mushrooms, so they made the cut), so that the resulting chimera recipe still stayed true to the traditional dish (I hoped!), but would be more likely to please my taste buds.
I bought a pack of fermented black beans and made the sauce ahead of time, and then I made the rest of the meal when Black Day rolled around. This also made for a great bonding experience for my Mom and me. Growing up, I took much delight in being chef’s assistant to her, and in a beautiful full circle sort of way, she now gamely assisted me as I made this foray into unfamiliar culinary territory. In a similar way, just as she had introduced me to so much great entertainment growing up, a few months ago I had broadened her horizons by establishing K-drama nights and introducing her to that whole new world. And of course that was what we sat down to watch with our jajangmyun.
Because somehow we pulled it off — not only did we avoid disaster, but the jajangmyun was a huge success! The black beans had a unique flavor that was unlike anything we’d tasted before in the best possible way, and I have plenty of beans left in that big bag that I bought, so I have a feeling we’ll be revisiting this recipe in the near future and many more times after that.
The success also boosted my confidence and desire to continue experimenting with making other drama-inspired recipes. Next on my wish list is to try making kimchi, though I know I’ll probably have to eliminate the red pepper flakes that seem to be a common ingredient (unless I have a taste bud transplant), which unfortunately will likely affect the authenticity. But when I watched Marriage Not Dating, I was salivating at the four cheese kimchi pancakes that received so much praise and even changed the course of more than one character’s future. I wanted to try making those so much, and as the drama stressed that the kimchi used is essential to the success of the recipe, it looks like that will be my next starting point. Wish me luck!
Marriage Not Dating
Tags: Theme of the Month