Bibimbap, Kimchi, Jjigae, various Banchan
Food is one of my favorite drama genres. When you watch a lot of dramas, one after another, it is easy for all the languages and cultural nuances to fade into the background. Food is always a reminder that I am watching something unique about each of these cultures and there is always something new to learn from them.
Here in America food is not often a part of television shows. When I was new to Asian drama watching, I was absolutely thrilled that they had entire dramas that revolve around food. I wanted to spend some time to reflect on the role of food in Japanese and Korean dramas. Food has been used in many different ways in Asian dramas but here are 4 ways I like to categorize them.
Food as a comedic element
My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2010)
Food and eating scenes have often been used in comedic settings. In Korean shows, it is not uncommon to see individuals devour large quantities of food. The most memorable one was in one of my first dramas, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho. The heroine is a fox and has an voracious appetite for meat, specifically “cow”, as she likes to call it. The comedy that ensues as the, broke hero, tries to keep up with her insatiable hunger was a significant part of plot and definitely the most humorous.
Another drama, where food played a major role, was the Japanese comedy 1 Pound no Fukin (2008) about a boxer whose greatest weakness is food. We learn that, despite being a good athlete, he often loses matches because he is unable to concentrate on the match when he sees food. A big part of the drama is about him trying to overcome this challenge.
Food as the backdrop or setting
Oh My Ghostess (2010)
Sometimes food becomes part of the background or setting of the show. In these cases, large parts of the show, takes place is restaurants or bakeries. Making food might not be the focus but there is always food around. Both Oh My Ghostess and Flower Boy Ramen Shop are set is restaurants where one lead teaches the other to cook.
Flower Boy Ramen Shop (2011)
Antique (2001) is one of the most visually appealing food shows out there. A combination of good-looking guys, delicious looking pastries, with a hint of mystery. The recent popular Japanese drama, A Girl and 3 Sweethearts (2016), focused on the business aspects of food where all main characters were involved in different aspects of running the restaurant.
Food for Pleasure
Let’s Eat (2013)
This might be my favorite use of food in dramas. Sometimes eating scenes are used to show the pure pleasure of enjoying good food. Let’s Eat is the one of that first dramas that come to mind when a K-Drama fan thinks of the genre. This show is often called “food-porn”. Just as it sounds, you get to watch people eat delicious food for 16 episodes as they argue about how each meal is best enjoyed.
Splash Splash Love (2015)
This is one of my favorite dramas. Splash Splash Love isn’t about food but it has some of the most memorable scenes of individuals enjoying food. This is a time-travel love story about a high schooler who ends up in the Joseon Era. She spends time teaching the king mathematics. In two separate incidents, the girl introduces the king and the queen to modern, instant food. The looks of surprise and enjoyment on their faces as the king tries instant noodles and the queen tteokbokki (Spicy rice cakes) are absolutely precious.
As K-Drama fans might notice, both these dramas star my ultimate K-Pop bias, Yoon Doo Joon of Highlight, a real-life foodie. I find so much pleasure in enjoying a good meal so it makes me greatly happy when I see others feel the same way.
Food as the Heart of the Drama
Finally we have those shows where food is the heart and soul of the drama. These are dramas that really represent the food culture of these places. It provides the viewer with insight into the role of food in the lives of people. Here are three dramas that have taught me a lot about food.
Fermentation Family (2011)
Fermentation Family is about a restaurant that specializes in kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Every episode begins with the story of a different type of kimchi and the parallels between the dish and the lives of the characters.
Shinya Shukodo (2009) is one of the most well-known Japanese dramas and has spanned 4 seasons. It is about a diner that opens at midnight. The eatery has no menu and features only one dish per night. Every episode tells the story of one of the diner’s patrons as it relates to that night’s special dish.
Gochisousan (2013) translates to “thank you for the meal.” It tells the heart-warming story of one’s woman’s love and passion for food. The drama follows her life from childhood to old-age as she moves from one region of Japan to another and tries to incorporate both cultures into her cooking.
The essence of the story is captured by a quote, “To crave for food is to have the will to live; the stronger the craving the greater the will.”
These are just some of the dramas that have watched. There are so many more to watch. I am always happy to get to at least know about some of these foods that I might never have a chance to experience in real-life.
Do you like food dramas? What makes them so enjoyable to you?