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[Dramas and Food] The spice of life


Fantasy Couple

By @kitmiho

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.


Fantasy Couple

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.


Fantasy Couple

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

 
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That sounds awesome! Congrats on your foray into Korean cooking!

I also crave a lot of hanshik during dramas and variety shows, but I know because of my many allergies, I can't. It can be both fun and difficult to convert recipes into allergy friendly foods.

@kitmiho Would you mind sharing your recipe for jjajangmyeon?

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I would be happy to!
It currently only exists in my scribbled ineligible handwriting, but I will convert it into digital form and share (whilst secretly dreading that I somehow did something that invalidates it as proper jajangmyun and will be called out on it lol) – stay tuned!

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I loved reading this! The jajangmyeon sounds delicious πŸ˜‹ Good luck with your future recipes!

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Dramas' constant mention of food compelled me to purchase my first bottle of sesame oil recently (which is already half empty).

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@kitmiho there is also the "white kimchi", without red pepper. Not spicy. It is also a traditional Korean dish, so you can try that one :) this recipe for ex.: https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/baekkimchi

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Thank you for this link! I too cannot handle spicy food; in fact, I have a serious allergy to paprika and peppers of all kinds. So I will be trying this recipe (minus the pepper, of course).

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Thanks so much! I will definitely check it out! :)

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But... Jjajangmyeon is originally not spicy, whether you make it yourself or not!

Try Mul-naengmyeon if you have time. It is my favouritest non-spuxy Korean dish! And of course, like kimchiturka said, there's always white Kimchi. (But it won't taste the same, since there's no salty umami seafood taste to it.) Maybe you can make the traditional Kimjang without Chilli flakes and share how it goes? Cos that just sounds funny but food is born from funny ideas. haha!

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Haha I thought @kitmiho was a genius for starting with a completely non-spicy Korean dish! @kitmiho, you can safely go to a Korean restaurant and have japchae and bulgogi too (and bibimbap as well but just be extremely careful about how much and which pepper sauce you add). You can have most kinds of pajeon (pancakes) in restaurants, just probably not kimchi pajeon. πŸ”₯4U

If you aren't just deathly anti-spice you might try rinsing off regular kimchi a bit (or a lot) and see how that tastes. It may be just fine in your own cheese pancake. Otherwise I concur with the folks who recommend white, or water, kimchi for you.

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Just call me an accidental genius lol!

Thanks for the list of safe foods from a Korean restaurant - I'd definitely like to be able to taste how things should be from an authentic source. I can't wait to try some of these!

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I’ll check that out! I guess I’ve been unfortunate enough to be told things are β€œtotally not spicy” only to find the otherwise trustworthy speaker and I judge spiciness on a completely different level enough times to be wary when there is any uncertainty whatsoever.
Plus, when I was looking at fermented black beans to buy, too many of them were chili infused, which again made me paranoid – would that even be listed in a restaurant? In the end, I was so determined to not ruin the first taste experience that this was the only way to be absolutely certain. I've been "burned" before! :)

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@kimiho Good luck in your kimchi success!

You're such a great sister for adapting the recipes and at times I too am a strong contender for Wimpiest Tongue πŸ˜‚

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I enjoy reading about how k-dramas have inspired many Beanies to broaden their culinary and/or gustatory horizons, but my favorite part of this theme-of-the-month's posts is reading about how Beanies are bonding with family and friends as a result. How wonderful that your mom took a turn as your sous-chef and that you were able to enjoy jjajangmyeon and k-dramas together.

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Hasn't it been wonderful? I'm incredibly close to my family, so I really enjoyed both reading and being able to write about such experiences!

And yes, I’ve loved introducing K-dramas to my mom; I only did so a few months ago but it’s been a glowing success. She’s grown disillusioned with a lot of her formerly favorite American shows because they are tending to try to be darker and edgier and further away from the escapism that they once were. So I decided I’d try introducing her to my beloved K-dramas as a counter to her disillusionment. And she loved them! I could write a whole post on her (often entertaining) reactions and what she’s picked up from the dramas (possible future prompt for Theme of the Month maybe...?), and it's almost been like experiencing my favorites for the first time all over again watching them with her!

Actually, the day I submitted this post she showed up with our agreed upon dinner fixings… and ramen. She’d seen it enjoyed so much in the dramas she decided she wanted to check it out. To say she loved it would be an understatement. She now boils it up as a side dish every K-drama night no matter what else we’re eating (tonight was no exception). And that delights me to no end! :)

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Your description of how k-dramas have created this new, wonderful chapter in the story of your relationship with your mom makes me a little bit envious but also very happy for you both. I hope that at some point in the future you do get to share with us some details about your mom's reactions to k-dramas. I have a friend who's my mom's age that I'm hoping to recruit into the club this summer and I'm excited to experience k-dramaland anew through her eyes, heart, and funny bone.

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Wimpiest Tongue in the World candidate too!
I could not even stay in the kitchen when my Asian housemate was cooking. The spices wafted all the way to my throat and made me cough. One day he offered me a taste, and as I was starving I accepted. *insert volcano emoji* After that I always had a jug of milk or apple juice ready when I tried something spicy. My tolerance has improved a bit since then. :D

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I'm in the wimpy tongue club too.

I so want to try this dish too. I admire that you just decided to make it yourself.

I keep eyeing a jar of kimchi, that says mild, in the store. Just nit brave enough yet. I find that others definition of mild doesnt always agree with mine.

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Coincidentally, I was visiting my brother the day before this was published and he took me to a Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant. And it had kimchi as an included side!

As expected, by itself it was a little too on the spicy side (though my slightly more tolerant brother categorized it as a mild level spicy), but when I ate it with rice, that made it more tolerable and I was able to appreciate the flavor instead of being distracted by the desire to down my entire glass of water :) .

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I love spicy food, gimme all the spice! Hopefully some day you can build yourself up to it, haha

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I was just going to ask if there is any fellow beanies who would come up and express their love for spicy food! xD
But it is so awesome that fellow beanies have found alternatives to eating spicy food. :)
I guess for now, more for us lovers of spicy food?

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@Currently Living On Planet Earth
Hah! I like your name! It makes me want to ask: which other planets might you be moving to or which did you come from? πŸ˜‚

I like both spicy and non-spicy food. I don't go for the super spicy, tiny-chilli-with-all-the-seeds level of spiciness ... but I do like my sliced/ground chillies and pepper in meats and sauces. πŸ˜‹

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Hehe, it's just a joke I have been using since school days, it's when I can't think of a name or I'm too lazy to put where I am from. πŸ˜‚
I can eat and like both, but I think since I grew up eating spicy food, and then having friends getting me into the SUPER spicy food, now everything usually has to have some spice some way or another. I have my like 4 sauces with me anywhere I go, just in case, I might need to use them. 🀣

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Enjoyed reading your post! How fantastic that you were successful in making jjajangmyun. Best of luck on all your future recipes!

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@kitmiho What a lovely essay! I really love how you and your mum bond over meal making and what a good sister you are, to care for your brother. Reading this made me feel so warm and happy! 😊

I understand from my friends who make kimchi quite regularly, that the chilli powder is kind of necessary to get that kimchi flavour. However, just a little of it is really not too spicy.

I wish you all the best in your culinary endeavours, and may your tongue slowly acclimatise to the spicy flavours of those foods in our favourite shows! πŸ˜ƒ

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Thank you for sharing your story, @kitmiho!
May this be just the start of your culinary adventures in Korean food!
My family in Japan have told me that if a dish is too spicy, I should add some sliced cheese on top...
Now I buy sliced edam cheese when I have spicy ramen (black shin). Surprisingly it works and the flavor is great!
Maybe the cheese on the 4 cheese kimchi pancakes will serve the same purpose?

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I always put cheese on my rabokki and it drives my sister nuts. Haha! But for me, it makes the spiciness tolerable and makes the soup/sauce more creamy. :)

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Ahhhh, I credit Fantasy Couple for introducing me to Korean food. Sadly, I have yet to taste authentic jjajangmyeon. The last time we tried, we opted for the instant variety and it didn't taste quite right. Now my palate has expanded to several Korean dishes and jjajangmyeon remains to be elusive. Someday. Someday I'll have my bowl soon (gosh, I sound like Sae-woo from Wok of Love. haha!). :)

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It is so funny because Fantasy Couple is the drama that made everyone in my family want to eat jjajangmyeon. Especially my sister. 🀣 It's one of her most favorite Korean dishes.

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Haha I'm currently watching Marriage Not Dating and that snack shop they're running at the end of the series is so cute!

Jajangmyun is really not a spicy dish so I'd recommend ordering that at a korean restaurant for sure!

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I admire you making these things from scratch. I went to great lengths to finally find chungjang to make jjajangmyeon. I can't imagine going to the trouble of making the paste itself. Kudos.

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Hi, you should try baek kimchi recipe by Maangchi over at maangchi.com. It may taste different from its red counterpart but kimchi wasn’t always red. That might help you try kimchi. Another idea to explore is to make kimchi w/ the minimum red pepper powder and be sure to check them for the heat level.

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