[Dramas and food] I came for the drama and stayed for the food
by Guest Beanie
Because This Life Is Our First
Food fulfills one of our most basic needs and it defines us in multiple ways. What we eat may reveal our heritage, our economic status, and more. How we eat can reveal our own individual quirks and traits. Who we eat with could reveal, or maybe even define, our relationships. It’s a pretty complicated mixture of sustenance, psychology, and connections but simply put, food is fundamental to our lives.
What happens though, when your own connections to food get hit with the dietary equivalent of the Truck of Doom?
Shut Up Flower Boy Band
The traditional foods of my culture are simple and bland. One of the most common concoctions combines an inexpensive protein, noodles or potatoes, a can of “cream of” soup to bind them all together, and some sort of cracker or chip crushed and sprinkled atop the whole mess to add even more salt and a bit of crunch. The resulting hotdish, as it is called by my people, has many variations. Recipes are prized, saved, and collected in local church cookbooks. Easy to make, filling, and a stretcher of food budgets, it’s clear why hotdishes took hold. Even as a child though, there were times while watching a serving spoon slop the slightly grayish glob of noodles, tuna, and peas (mom was daring!) on my plate that my stomach would churn with dismay.
Though hotdishes of most kinds were never on my favorite foods list, I continued tradition, and served them to my own enthusiastic family. They were, after all, easy, cheap, and most importantly well received. I would sometimes experiment and try to make dinner more healthy…but would usually end up conceding defeat and succumbing to the wishes of my family’s palate. Invariably I would find myself once again with a glob of creamy, noodley hotdish on my plate. As always, I would pick up my fork and eat.
Until one day, I couldn’t.
For a variety of reasons, food became a complicated source of discomfort and fear, and I no longer knew what I could safely eat. So I pretty much didn’t, for months. A lot of months. Even when given the assignment of adding a new food to my diet, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm and instead would find reasons to put it off, or to reject the new food altogether. The smell was nauseating, it tasted bad, it didn’t taste at all, it felt gross in my mouth–or I was just plain afraid it was too closely related to an already identified “bad” food. Food, that binder of family, tradition, and comfort, was now only a source of stress, anxiety, and dread.
Alongside my battle with food came a raging case of insomnia, so I began to fill the long hours of the night with Korean dramas. I watched countless characters slurp up bowlfuls of noodles, wrap barbecued meat in lettuce, and balance pieces of kimchi on spoonfuls of rice. The food in dramas was almost another character, each dish and gesture at the table fraught with a societal weight and meaning that slowly became clearer to me with each episode.
Sometimes the sights and sounds of heartily eaten meals only caused my stomach to churn even more. Watching the jajangmyeon battle between Eun-chan and Min-yeop almost made me click stop on Coffee Prince forever. Luckily, the lure of Gong Yoo was stronger than my disgust.
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon
But then one evening, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon’s Min-hyuk found himself in a hospital room recuperating from a knife wound in the gut and surrounded by Bong-soon’s noisy family. It was not Min-hyuk that caught my attention though, nor was it Bong-soon and her family because the drama was beginning to lose my interest, and I was watching out of habit and to fill the hours. That is, until someone brought out a giant metal bowl of… I leaned forward.
What is that? I thought.
There was rice, there were vegetables, there was a sauce, some kind of oil. When hands reached in and started to mix it all together, I had another thought. That looks good.
That looks good.
For the first time, in a very long time, I wanted to eat, and I wanted to eat that giant bowl of bibimbap.
It took a while before I could actually eat a bowl that resembled what I saw on screen. One ingredient at a time, I worked my way towards finding which ingredients I could use, and what might have to stay out of my bibimbap. Gochujang was a revelation that rocked my taste buds and opened up a new world of heat. Sesame oil is now a close friend. And a fried egg on rice? Yes, please. All those different Korean side dishes? Oh my gosh, where have they been all my life?
These were flavors and textures that didn’t just not make sick, but they were interesting and good in a way that I had not experienced before. For the first time in a very long time, I looked forward to a meal. I looked up recipes and searched stores and markets for ingredients. I made kimchi fried rice after the Coffee Prince, Han-gyul, cooked it for Eun-chan. Thanks to Goblin’s Sunny, I always have pickled radish in my refrigerator for a snack. And though I have yet to make omurice, when I do, I might just try it with raw onion in homage to Se-hee in Because This Life Is Our First.
My family doesn’t always share my enthusiasm for gochujang, sesame oil, and the stacks of side dishes, but that’s fine. We can sit at the table and eat the foods we each like. The important thing is I am sitting at the table again, and that’s something every drama writer knows is essential. While my dinner might not be bound together by a can cream of mushroom soup, the new contents of my bowl are helping to repair my health and my relationships as I renegotiate my way through meals.
Korean drama gave me food back. It might not be the food of my childhood, and it might not be the food that others around me want to eat, but it brought back hunger, taste, and satisfaction. Most of all, that simple bowl of bibimbap pushed away the fear and it gave me foods to love and share with new friends. So, despite the dietary Truck of Doom’s best attempts, my drama doesn’t have a bad ending.
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