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[Dramas and food] I came for the drama and stayed for the food


Because This Life Is Our First

By egads

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.


Coffee Prince

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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Thank you for writing this personal drama, @egads. I'm glad you got your love for foods back.
Reading this, I realize how lucky I am to be born in a Southeast Asian country with its endless variety of foods.

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That was Perfect!

I'm glad your health getting better.

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Lovely piece, @egads! I really enjoyed your first paragraph, there talking about all the ways food identifies us. It made me think of two things.
1. The Thanksgiving episode of The Torkelsons. The family only eat pb&j sandwiches in October so that the mom could spend over 200 in a shopping trip in November and get a free turkey.
2. I forgot. Shrug.

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Oh my gosh, I can relate to that Torkelsons story. We never went to those lengths, but I do remember reminiscing about what my favorite meals were as a kid, and my mom saying those were the ones she made when they were scraping the barrel and she had to find the cheapest way possible to feed all of us. I never knew.

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Ot is a great post. I'm glad you are feeling better.
I need to look up a recipe for bibimbap it just looks so good ( though Strong Woman Do Bong-soon grossed me out in parts) whenever it is on a drama. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen anyone eat it in any bowl smaller than the big silver serving bowl.

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The giant bowls of bibimbap are both enticing and intimidating.

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What a lovely post @egads! I can related to this so much. I had to completely change my diet for health reasons too (I was brought up on cheese), and Korean food - and side dishes of course - have been fantastic for me.

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Thanks @cloggie. Avoiding cheese is almost like avoiding air sometimes, but Korean food really has been a life saver because even though it looks complicated, it really isn't. Those Korean ahjumma's knew what's up to preserve and cook a variety of vegetables to get them through good and bad times.

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Bibimbap forever! Thanks for a lovely essay, @egads!

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Thank you.

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Lovely post!

Now I'm hungry for Korean food... And ramyeon too.

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Always. I wish someone would deliver.

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Yay to being healthier and enjoying more food @egads! πŸ₯³

The smiley omurice pic made me smile..and now I want a smiley omurice. Hehe

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:)

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This is SUCH a well-written piece @egads ! Very heartening to hear that you've repaired your relationship with food this way.

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Thank you. Though I would be remiss to not give a nod to the Dramabeans editor. They deserve a lot of praise for improving some very clunky prose.

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Who knew that a bowl of bibimbap could do such wonders? It happens to be one of my favorite Korean food.

Your description of a hotdish reminds me of a wonderful movie I've watched many years ago - Babette's Feast. Before Babette, a former head of a very famous french restaurant arrived at their home, two Danish sisters had been surviving on some sort of boiled fish, bread and soup.

I'm glad that you are feeling much better and I marvel at how dramas are not just food for the souls but also for the body!

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I don't mean to completely disparage hotdish, there are some that are good. Some.

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Thanks for sharing your personal story... and I'm glad that you found food which makes you happy again. Kdramas are healing in many ways πŸ˜€

I'm actually loving bibimbap as well, though not the traditional form - I have to be in the right mood for gochujang... and I usually don't mix (heresy! πŸ˜†) and enjoy the tastes separately.

What I love is the IDEA of bibimbap 😁 That you mix rice with whatever you like (or currently have at home). These days my favourite mixture is half avocado (cut in blocks), dried tomatoes and pine nuts. And I either add a bit of the garlic olive oil from the dried tomatoes or colza oil. I also had a period with cabbage / iceberg lettuce and sunflower seeds, sometimes flavoured with spring onions... or pickles 😁. There is no limit to bibimbap! πŸ™‚

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Btw, I'm a soup person... and now thanks to kdramas I also like to have a bowl of rice next to my soup...

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Sometimes my bibimbap is whatever I happen to have on hand that day, but I think that's the beauty of it, you use what you have and what you like, and it's good.

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They published it!!! I do like a good bowel of bibimbap. Not my favorite Korean dish, but still good! I end up putting way too much soy sauce in it! I need Gochujang nearby every meal! I can just mix it with rice with that fried egg and do really simple dish that is filling on days that I’m eating my myself! I’m glad they published this! I tell my gluten and wheat and milk allergic patients to eat traditional East Asian foods which are all naturally gluten and lactose-free for the most part! I’m glad you found foods you can eat and enjoy, all through kdramas!

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I hope they follow your direction @ally-le, it really does make food choices much more interesting and enjoyable if you aren't just looking for substitutes, which tend to be over-processed and not very good anyway.

I've also been venturing into some Middle Eastern foods, thanks to @waadmay reminding me of some of the foods a childhood friend's family used to serve that I enjoyed.

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I would gladly prepare some for you anytime , hopefully I can be able to meet you to do so πŸ˜…

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What a beautiful write up @egads. I'm constantly astounded by the countless ways in which dramas have affected or impacted so many of our lives. I'm also very glad you got your love for food back, and that you're here on dramabeans, sharing your story with us. Thank you.

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Thanks for reading @greenfields. It is astounding how the myriad of ways these dramas that we love (and sometimes want to strangle) have influenced so many our lives.

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The best food porn in a recent drama was Wok of Love.

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What a lovely essay, it makes me feel all warm inside 😁
And I'm glad to find a kindred spirit, the jjajangmyeon battle in Coffee Prince put me off jjajangmyeon forever!

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I think it was Wok of Love that finally made it look good. But yeah, that was a really gross scene.

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Thank you for sharing this egads!
I'm so glad that kdramas bought back your appetite for food and that your health has improved.

I love how creative Korean food is, no ingredient goes to waste and the flavours are so different to what I'm used to.

The only thing is that I'm craving bibimbap now 😍

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What a wonderful post @egads, thank you for sharing! I'm so happy you've found foods that made meals enjoyable again!

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I don't know what it is about bibimbap, it just always is good no matter what's in it. I even tried mayonnaise in it once (because of Reply 1988) and it was still good.

Love your writing, as always!

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Bibimbap is magic is what it is.

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No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't imagine what on Earth "hotdishes" looked like. So I googled a recipe and... Good Lord. That is not my food. Not at all. Do so many of them really have 'tater tots'? (also had to google 'tater tots').

I'm so glad you found something to excite your love for food again. It's so hard when you have to do something and don't enjoy it.
This was such a beautiful and brave piece to write.
Thank you.

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Tater tot hot dish is a beloved form of food. My kids LOVED it. Me? I would make it and eat toast for dinner that day.

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awwwwwwwwww i loved this write so so much.... how a drama from a far distant country could bring back your hunger your love for food your enthusiasm to sit on dining table is such an epic tale of its own... we can have a kdrama dedicated to it alltogeher...

thanks for sharing your story... its so well written and had your emotional touch.

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Just lovely. My first significant foray into cooking Korean was bibimbap. And I have now evolved to be able to reach down to the essence of bibimbap which is - whatever is in the fridge - leftover can be added in, with whatever veg is available (saw that in a seaman btw) it tastes awesome with rocket and mixed salad too! Got that idea from another drama where they picked veg from the garden plot and just threw everything in.
The magic is gochujang and sesame oil.
Yum!

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My smile became bigger and bigger as I read through each sentence! I remember you talking about that fateful SWDBS bibimbap that gave you your taste buds back! As expected, I immensely enjoyed it :)

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Thanks for writing this. I read it to my husband who has his own battles with food and he appreciated the honesty about having difficulty with food and the things that does to relationships

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@egads I'm sorry it took me forever to read and respond , I love it .
All hail to the food we love πŸ’œπŸ’œ

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