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[Dramas and food] When food equals affection

Long before my K-drama days began, I had this theory that it was essential for films and TV shows to have their characters eating at some point in the story. In my mind, it gave the story an authenticity and warmth that was otherwise missing. Whether that’s true or not (the theory remains unproven), K-dramas are a genre where there’s certainly no lack of food. Cooking, eating, food shopping, restauranting, delivering food, gifting side dishes, craving food, binging food, and more — I can’t think of a drama that doesn’t have a character consuming cup ramen or banana milk at the very least.

In some K-dramas (like the Let’s Eat series), food is the story, but in most dramas, food just acts as tool to help tell the story better. Food can be used to embellish a moment or an emotional state, like the feisty (and usually upset) heroine sitting in front of a bowl of bibimbap in dramas like Full House and My Name is Kim Sam Soon. Food can also help illustrate the bonding between characters as they gather over food, whether it’s a bowl of udon like in Romance is a Bonus Book, or the fateful soju drink-a-thon. But the thing I really love about food in K-dramas is that it’s also a way of displaying affection.

Since food is such an ordinary thing, and a daily event in our lives (hopefully!), there’s something special about when it is used to express emotions and affection towards another person. Because I’ve thought about it a little too much, there seems to be three main ways that food shows affection in K-dramas: gifting, sharing, and preparing. Sometimes they all roll into one, but often they’re separate and distinguishable from each other.

Gifting is the most obvious way to use food to show affection. Dramas are full of cake-box gifting, cold bottled beverage delivering, and everything in between. I love how a simple vending machine energy drink can mean everything from “Hello, please notice me and my mega crush on you!” to “I see you’re troubled/upset/lonely — let’s have a chat about it.”

The idea of sharing food can take a lot of different forms in K-dramas as well. From meals shared in smoky restaurants or at the outside picnic tables of the neighborhood convenience store, sharing a meal is one of the primary ways characters (and real people!) bond.

But there’s an even more literal kind of food sharing that goes beyond having a meal together. It’s not so much the “Here, have half my kimbap roll” sentiment as it is using food to show care or concern for another person. Back when I was a K-drama novice, I remember being so touched by the way characters would serve each other food, putting choice pieces of fish, radish, kimchi, on another person’s bowl of rice. I learned pretty fast that this was a lovely display of affection. Most often, it’s a bit of a maternal behavior, but I’ve noticed everyone from bosses to oppas doing this, and even children doing it for their parents.

Gifting and sharing food can be useful as props and actions to reveal affections between characters, but neither of them beat the ultimate way that food shows affections in dramas: by preparing food for another.

In K-dramas, preparing food for someone is more than being polite or hospitable. In dramaland it means love. Preparing food for someone is rarely seen as something other than an act of care, concern, and affection.

How many K-drama mothers have we met that painstakingly prepare (and sometimes deliver and fridge-stock) truckloads of banchan, or just kimchi, for their child who’s living out of the house? For lovers, or even the occasional “some” couple, there’s the wonderful homemade porridge for a swift recovery from a fever. Or perhaps a broken leg, broken heart, or even amnesia. Powerful stuff, that porridge.

Home-cooked meals are always full of the heart and intention of the person preparing them. In the recent drama That Psychometric Guy, the heroine’s aunt brings homemade lunch boxes to the police station, and they are coveted by everyone there. Whether it’s a delivered lunch box, or a breakfast sweetly prepared and left under a food net, food prepared for another person always has some important emotion behind it.

One of my favorite ways that K-dramas dig into this even more is with the attention paid to a mother’s cooking. Many a lonely heroine comes to mind, and whether she is missing her mother or not, a meal that reminds her of her mother’s cooking is the next best thing to actually having it. For heroines that are able to go home and actually have their mother’s cooking (whether by bus, taxi, or time warp, like in Go Back Spouses), they are both comforted and recharged.

Classic drama I’m Sorry, I Love You topped the chart with its depiction of the power of a mom-cooked meal. In the drama, though the hero (So Ji-sub) never has time to reveal himself to his mother, he’s able to ask her to make him some ramen. It’s a rip-your-heart-out scene, even for a melodrama, where he sobs over this bowl, too overcome to even eat. I love how strongly this scene shows the power of preparing food for someone. Something as banal as a bowl of instant ramen can hold someone’s entire heart ransom.

Storytelling done well makes us think about life differently, or draws attention to things in our everyday lives that might have been passing us by unnoticed. For me, not only has my taste for certain foods been impacted by years of dramas, but so has the notice I give to food. While the concept of food as a way to show affection had been present in my own life, but I don’t think I fully appreciated or recognized it. Paying attention to it in stories brought it into better focus.

While drama food is probably most responsible for introducing international viewers to a new cuisine, and then making us crave certain foods uncontrollably (hello, fridge filled with kkakdugi) — I also love that food in dramas can touch our hearts. From the warmth of a home-cooked meal, to food that’s prepared, served, or handed to you with love, K-dramas shed a lovely light on how we use food to show affection.

 
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Another beautiful and touching write up, @missvictrix 🤗🤗
This emoji 🥰🥰🥰 is the perfect representation of this beautiful post of yours, I think

You first captured my heart through your use of the screen cap of Bok Joo stuffing her face (I love a girl who loves to eat and isn’t self conscious or afraid to show it!!), then you further solidified your capture of my heart through this, and I quote you:

“In K-dramas, preparing food for someone is more than being polite or hospitable. In dramaland it means love. Preparing food for someone is rarely seen as something other than an act of care, concern, and affection.”

And then, after what you said here— “...I love how strongly this scene shows the power of preparing food for someone. Something as banal as a bowl of instant ramen can hold someone’s entire heart ransom...”— my heart is now yours— hook, line, and sinker... Don’t mind me, I’m just in my little corner, crying tears of joy, and love, and appreciation for all the food and all the beautiful hands that have made it ❣️❣️❣️❣️❣️❣️😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭

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I agree that food has really a big place in kdrama and shows perfectly affection. In a lot of scenes, the first question will ask parents is "Have you eaten?". I think it's very interesting, it replaces our "how are you?" And whether the answer is yes or no, they're ready to give all the food they have :p

I like the pictures @missvictrix chose : Cheese in Trap (and my second lead syndrom) and Come and Hug Me (the brother was so touching as character). It made me remind of Healer, when he ate breakfast with her family.

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I didn’t understand the romantic notion of sharing ones food until I watched a kdrama. My husband did long before kdramas so when he saw it the first time, he made sure I noticed it. I rolled my eyes. But the more I watch and see it, the more I’ve seen it done. Turns out my parents do it too. But we’ve trained it out of them because my kids hate to be told what to eat (which is what it looks like to them). Here eat this, I’ll put it on your plate so you can’t refuse! I guess I have to spin it that it’s because they love them. 😜

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Great article and summary of our viewing pleasure...may i add another way food use in k-drama?..is for comedic effect..i.e, not exactle a banana peel (although one drama did but cant recall which one, was it my private life?) comedy visuals can be the amount of food that is in the fridge (filled or empty) , and what kind of foods are eaten (either high brow or low brow) as well as stuffing someone else's mouth with a lettuce wrap! On a separate note ... Food is love in our culture and we (i) tend to do it overboard, sadly, misguided love in the U.S.

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I like when characters eat or food is used to show affection somehow, it is natural and it's also a big part of their culture.

However I have to say something else. I can't stand people stuffing their mouths, it's disgusting, especially women. I don't know any woman that does it, but in kdramas it is often shown as cute. I would like to know if that is possible in their daily routine or if it's just something silly like wristgrabing and water splashing faces, something real people in Korea don't do.

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Yes, talking with mouth full, seen so many times in dramas...

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smacking food is pretty gross, but the 'especially women' part doesn't make any sense to me. every culture eats differently, too. my dad's fam is nigerian and sometimes it drives me nuts. i think part of it is also when a girl isn't ~afraid~ to eat. but we don't have to look dainty when we eat and i think a big part of that is showing enjoyment for the food

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I know, equal rights, maybe it's cultural norm but I can't help but feel it's uglier when a women has no manners eating.

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u do u. hopefully u can let that go one day cos it's 0 difference

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Maybe it's not because society told me that. Maybe it's just because women are prettier and more delicate, so it's uglier if they behave like that. People are sometimes too quick to think about feminism not everything is about that. Should we sit like man just because we can?

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Since I am neither pretty nor delicate, I guess I get to eat how I want. Lucky me. Sorry to the other 99% of women who apparently can't even eat without being held up to some ridiculous social standard of femininity.

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@leetennant goodbye, i just saw the comment to me cos of your reply. i really can't LOL. i'm not delicate either. i hope we will be okay

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@lixie

i'm not thinking abt feminism but i am thinking that since the majority of users are most likely women or part of some gender and sexual minority, this website is predominantly those same people, maybe we should try and change our mindset. we can do whatever we want, and that's the beauty of it.

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"Should we sit like man just because we can?" wow, beanies come from all sorts of backgrounds but is this 1830?

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@leetennant
@boughtabride

I think you won't believe me but I always support equal rights and I do consider myself a feminist. That doesn't mean I don't think women and men are different, and that doesn't mean better or worse, just not the same. I wasn't saying women need or should want to be pretty or delicate, I don't even consider myself to be that, just that they are naturally softer, for lack of a better description, so it seems weirder if they eat like that.

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@vivanesca

I don't think you understood the example, sorry i didn't explain properly. And no, I don't mean women have to follow any kind of old-fashioned standard, it's just about having different bodies than men. We do move in different ways sometimes just because we have breasts, we do use different clothes if we want, just because we have different curves we might want to show the world.

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I don't stuff my face with food in front of people but while eating my favourite food prepared by mom when returning home I'm like a pig. I'm like a person who didn't eat for ages. I would have indigestion afterwards but I don't mind because at that moment we're two most happiest people in the world - me and my mother.

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This article also made me think of food use in Chief Kim, with The Glutton, being JunHo's character nickname (psychopath mokpo glutton 😗) . when the two leads reconcile, the one question, as i dimly recall, Chief Kim asks his boss was, how could you throw crackers at me when we first met, you didnt even know me? Of all the things that Glutton did to him, that was the worst humiliation haha....food was a great motif in that kdrama, even a candy bar being used to employ a GPS to help rescue JunHo.

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I also realized food helped a key plot point in Chief Kim....the _lack of affection_ for The God of Distribution. The Ramen spilled across the cover of the bookjacket, and then turning it over when the very unaffectionate Ethics czar was appalled...led to finding the secret files of Chief Lee...hmmm food for thought...

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We have two fundamental biological drives- the first is to grow and the second is to reproduce, ...and they are inextricably tied together (which is why one of the worst things you can suffer as a human is to be a parent unable to feed their child)....

On a happier note, this is why romances, but especially food-driven romances will always succeed in resonating with us!

(.....Taken from lecture #54876 to daughters on navigating coupling.....)

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it's soooo cute. different type of love languages whether platonically or romantically. i know if someone is giving someone else food in a show, it means something! it's not the same here so at first i was like breh why are all these people so happy someone is putting chicken on their plate! but it's like being cared over. i love it when my friends are like "we found this vegan place especially for you!" like it makes me feel really loved !

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also absolutely bare minimum but i love seeing whole families prepare food in dramas or reality krn shows because it's a team effort and it's not just the mom. everyone does it, everyone helps, everyone is going to enjoy it, and everyone is going to eat! it's a necessary basically life skill and food is such a JOY (or it's supposed to be!)

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In my family, every Saturday night we had pizza night. And it was the one night of the week where everybody in the family went into the kitchen and made pizzas together. It's still one of my favourite family memories. Recreating "pizza night" is aspirational for us, with everyone living in different cities and countries. But when we do get to have one, we just love it.
Even if we all fight over who has to make the dough (the most thankless job that nobody wants).

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this is so cute. i hope you guys can do it more and more over the years. growing up can be so lonely esp with doing your own thing...being with the people you love the most is so nice. those little things make all the angst of life worth it tbh

i cannot believe you all made your own dough omg like forreal cooking

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We have pizza night on Sunday! In my family it was roasted chicken for Sunday lunch until I stopped to eat meet. I messed up the whole meal thing! Oh, my bad!!!

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i love this! when i was younger we had lobster nights but if we were to pick it up it would be a no cause i'm not a meat eater either :)

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@boughtabride Wow a lobster night! That's a treat!!!

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The breakfast scene (episode 4) of Bridal Mask, when the two brothers ate together was one of the most memorable "food" scenes for me. (It still chokes me up when people try to eat, but can't because they are either crying, or about to cry.)

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When I was in Taiwan back in the 70s "Have you eaten?" was a standard greeting. I used to joke with my students that it was a throwback to the days of poverty and occasional famine when that was a legitimate question.

Also, when I was visiting someone's family sometimes someone would put food in my bowl just like kdramas. I mostly didn't like that because some inexorable law of nature decreed that they would have different tastes in food than I did.

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Some of my favorite drama staple scenes are when the heroine's parent gives the hero a piece of food on their spoon. Maybe because my parents do that, but it's so heartmelting every time.

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@missvictrix You're right about the food thing in movies and TV series! My son is 4 and he keeps asking me why in movies and TV series they never eat? And it's true, there's rarely something like normal eating or sharing food in children's stories unless it's the main subject like in Ratatouille. When he saw a dinner scene in Meet the Robinsons je was asking me to make him this spaghetti with meatballs. I did it for him and I've never seen him swallowing spaghetti plate with as much pleasure. He could finally be a part of this imaginary world! For me it's sometimes a challenge because my man asked me once, while watching Detective Montalbano to make him one dish of Sicilian motherhood love. I didn't know the name of the dish and I was looking for it for a whole night until I've found it and I'm making "arancini di riso" now sometimes when motivated because it's so time consuming like Korean food. When my father tasted "kouign amann" while visiting me here in Brittany he had almost cried out of joy - he was like "It's the same like my mother was doing while baking bread!" His beloved mother died quite young, little bit after her retirement and he has his secret meeting with her whenever he's having this traditional butter cake from Bretagne. 2500 km distance between our homes reminded me that there're no borders when there's love involved and Food is Love...

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How not to like a Kouign Amann? Butter + sugar (a lot of both), it's perfect !

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I like it! I love to cook for others, but since I cook jummy, you made me think about wether I do it for love or affection or I do it for me, to receive praises... it may be something to meditate on a personal level.
But going back to our k-dramas, I also love LOVE the food component. I come from south America and in our soaps, characters barely eat, go to the toilet or sleep in front of the camera... the story is mostly being told through tons of dialogs (many of them nonsensical), and some action. Romance is told through words and lots of unnecessary skinship... you watch it, but your heart doesn't flutter, you don't feel almost anything and you barely can smile (or even have a good cry). You cannot feel those characters are real. Kdramas is the opposite. Apart from being insanely handsome, they are so real you feel you can touch them, and because of that, relatively good storytelling in most cases, music, scenography, good acting, etc, you can really feel things while watching a kdrama. And that is why I don't watch American productions anymore😉

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so much depth and emotions you have poured through words in this write up.
believe me if i say... I never ever observed all the thing you have written above more than just actions. Not even once I thought that putting a fish piece or kimchi on someone's bowl could hold such deep meaning... i used to think its as simple as letting them know its there to eat not more than that. and then sharing food... oh woww... now i have to do some serious kdrama watching to not to miss such subtle yet emotional scenes.

Thanks for sharing.

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In the series "My Secret Romance", the male lead finally mustered up to have a face to face with his estranged mom. The scene culminates to a truly touching scene when his mom revealed she has learned about his love troubles and how she supports him no matter what. The lead male couldn't contain his sobbing as his eating his mom's abalone porridge. It was so heart warming to see this grown man cry because he felt his mom's love after decades of separation.

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