Today’s post is a throwback sort of deal – surprise? 😁
Basically, not too long ago, JJ emailed me and suggested that I do throwback posts sometimes, to point you guys to older content that exists on the blog, but which you might not have discovered, because there’s just so much of it, now that the blog’s been around for a while.
AND THEN.. while I was auditing the site, checking for various things (like broken links, for one), I came across this post.
Not to toot my own horn, but I read this post, and thought, HEY, this is a pretty great topic, and a pretty good post – which many newer readers might not have come across.
And so, today, I bring you back to 2014 (gosh, has it been 8 years?!?), when I first published this post, where I talk about food as part of Korean culture.
I hope you guys enjoy.
Today’s post is inspired by a conversation with blog regular INTJ.
After I posted my review of Let’s Eat, we realized that our respective experiences of the show were like night and day, to put it mildly. While I enjoyed the drama a lot, INTJ did not enjoy the show. At all.
I’ve understood for a long time that as viewers, we all respond to dramas and actors differently. A drama that one person loves to bits could be completely meh to someone else. And, an actor that inspires love in one person could inspire irritation in another.
We all approach the world with our own filters, after all.
What gave me pause for thought is a follow-up email that INTJ sent me after our initial thought exchange on Let’s Eat. In it, he mentioned that he’s heard people around him say many times, “all Koreans do in their movies is eating.”
Well now. I’d never seen it that way before. This piece of information definitely made me think. And that, well, brought about a bunch of thoughts.
Given that INTJ’s mentioned several times before in other comments that he’s deeply interested in learning about the differences between cultures, I thought it apt to share my perspectives in a post.
Before I get into the post proper, let me state upfront (disclaimers!) that I’m not Korean. I’m Chinese by ethnicity, Singaporean by nationality. So, not actually being Korean, I can’t speak with real authority on the subject.
However, there are enough similarities between my own culture and Korean culture and our peoples’ relationship with food, that I feel that I can shed at least some light on the subject.
I also don’t claim to know everything about this topic, so if you’ve got more information and perspectives to share, please do. Coz as they say, sharing is caring. 😉
Also. The post has been edited – I realized that INTJ is a he, not a she! Oopsie! Sorry, INTJ. 😛
[END DISCLAIMER. HEH.]
When I thought about this whole “food as obsession” topic that INTJ raised, 3 main things came to my mind as factors that can help us understand the dynamics at play.
1. Pride in the Culture
I’ve watched more than 160 kdramas in the 7 years since I boarded the kdrama train, and one of the big things I’ve noticed is that Koreans are proud of their culture. It shows in the way not just food, but other things like clothing, traditional practices and history, are treated in dramas.
And our beloved kdramas showcase different aspects of the culture, in varying degrees of detail.
Sometimes, it’s clear that a particular aspect of the culture is a big focal point of the drama.
With food, we have shows like Dae Jang Geum (2003-2004) and Fermentation Family (2011-2012), where the loving and meticulous food preparation process is given the spotlight, and is a major force in the dramas’ storylines as well.
And yes, it’s not always about food. One drama that comes to mind is Family Honor (2008-2009), which features a family that lives in a traditional Korean house and takes painstaking care with traditional practices, ancestral rites in particular.
Often, dramas showcase aspects of Korean culture without making it an overt focus of the plot. One example that comes to mind is practically every family drama out there, which mostly showcase multi-generational communal family living.
In these cases, the dramas aren’t specifically trying to feature multi-generational communal family living as an aspect of Korean culture. Instead, it feels more like it’s incidental to the plot.
The focus is on the characters and their lives, and multi-generational communal family living just happens to be the way of life.
Perhaps one of the reasons that INTJ noticed many people commenting that “all Koreans do is eat in their movies” is because, like communal family living, eating is something that the characters do together.
It’s often incidental to the plot, but with communal eating being a big part of the culture, it’s inevitable that scenes featuring characters eating together would be relevant. More on that in my next point.
On a slight tangent, to be fair, not all kdramas feature a lot of eating, whether incidental or otherwise.
A fairly recent example is Mandate of Heaven (2013), where the characters barely ever ate anything at all. They were more preoccupied with other things, like not getting killed. And when they did manage to eat, it was only grass porridge.
2. Sharing Food is a Big Part of the Culture.
Eating together is a big part of familial relationships, both in Korean culture and in mine too.
Other expressions of love – like hugs, kisses, and words of love – are less common in traditional Asian culture. Instead, one of the big ways that love is expressed, is through food.
A father expresses his love for his family by providing for them, ie, putting food on the table. A mother expresses love for her children by preparing food for them. A child receives that love by eating the food.
And that’s also a way a teenager might rebel: by refusing to eat the food that has been prepared.
Food isn’t just food, in this case. It’s a language, almost.
Traditionally, a family eats together. That’s family time. That’s when most conversations happen. And even if conversations don’t happen, the act of sharing the meal counts for quality time.
It’s why eating together is such a significant thing in dramas.
In Let’s Eat, when the 3 singleton neighbors, who live alone and therefore do not have families to eat with, come together and eat together, it’s more than just friends eating together. At a deeper level, it symbolizes that they’ve become a surrogate family.
Other instances of characters’ relationships taking on additional meaning/going to new levels: Do Min Joon eating with Lawyer Jang and Song Yi in You From Another Star. And also, Park Soo Ha eating with Jang Hye Sung in I Hear Your Voice.
And what about the scenes where mothers show love to children by preparing food and watching their children eat?
So many of us were moved to tears at the scene of Young Do having a meal prepared by Eun Sang’s mother, with her watching over him and urging him to eat in Heirs.
Was it really just the food? No. Beyond the food, this was a scene of a love-starved Young Do finally receiving a mother’s love in one of the most common and mundane ways that Korean mothers demonstrate love. And it meant so much that it brought him – and us – to tears.
It’s for the same reason that Soo Kyung eats with extra relish the meal that her mother prepared for her in Let’s Eat.
Yes, Soo Kyung loves food, and in particular loves her mother’s cooking. But it’s also because this is when all the other nagging and other friction between them is put aside, and she is able to receive, in an unadulterated fashion, her mother’s love.
3. Historical Context
So why is it that, in Korean culture and my own, food is so important to family elders that it becomes a language of love?
I think the answer, or at least, part of the answer, comes from our historical context.
Interestingly, both Singapore and South Korea went from being Developing Nations to First World Countries within a short span of time; in fact, within a single generation.
Compared to other First World Countries where the process took place over a much longer period of time, spanning several hundred years typically, in both Singapore and Korea, the times of food scarcity, famines, food rationing and related hardships is still a fairly recent memory.
The older generation
The elders in our societies still remember growing up during times of war, famine and post-war poverty. When food is scarce, it’s literally all you think about, basically. And even when you’re no longer poor, food remains a big part of your consciousness.
You have a particular appreciation for the food that you do eat, and also, for the foods that you used to long for but couldn’t afford.
Case in point: To this day, my dad still talks about ice cream sandwiches that only the richest boy in school could afford.
And to this day, my dad and his sisters (my aunts), who grew up in post-World War II Singapore being told by their mother (my grandmother) that having food to eat is the most important thing in life, still hold that belief dear. Food is a big thing for them, even now.
The trickle-down effect
How does that affect the generations that come after? It shapes us too. This is what we learn as we grow up. Food is important. Food is to be enjoyed.
A common greeting in my culture is, “Have you eaten?” That’s literally the first thing that is often asked, as a greeting. In Chinese, the significance of the greeting is clearer.
The greeting “吃饱了吗?” translates loosely as “Have you eaten?” but literally, it means, have you eaten to the full? I believe it stems from those times of poverty and hunger, when it was a blessing to have eaten to the full.
I believe that’s also why we have a saying “吃是福” which translates literally to mean “to eat is a blessing.”
And this is probably (at least partly) why we appear to be a little obsessed with food. It’s an “obsession” driven by historical context, which has caused it to then become a part of our culture. And when it’s part of the culture, it ceases to be an obsession.
It becomes a way of life.
How does this show up in kdrama?
Similar to what I’ve described, it’s common to witness drama characters ask after each other if they’ve eaten. Parents of even adult children make it a point to ask if their offspring have eaten, even if they don’t live with their children.
On perhaps a slightly more subtle level, food is often used as an indication of social class.
Rich characters are often shown “discovering” foods like roasted sweet potato, jajangmyeon, ddeokbokki or other “common” foods, which they’ve never eaten before.
Remember Gu Jun Pyo in Boys Over Flowers and his penchant for fishcake skewers? Or more recently, there was Kang Ju our chaebol heir in Bride of the Century, who discovered roasted sweet potato.
It’s because these foods are considered “low-class” that our rich characters have never tasted them before.
While it’s often played for tongue-in-cheek cuteness, it’s also using food to close the social divide between the uber rich and the rest of us normal people.
What’s Your Context?
While watching Let’s Eat, it never occurred to me that it was odd for people to make such a big deal about food. And I realize that it’s because my own culture isn’t that different from Korean culture, at least in this aspect of our peoples’ relationship with food.
Which means that some interesting questions to examine would be: where do you come from, and what is your culture’s attitude towards food? What is your culture’s idea of family time? Is eating a functional thing, or a social thing?
Has food always been something that’s easily available? Is food scarcity something that is a recent memory for your culture, or is it something that’s such a distant event that it no longer has a distinguishable effect on your peoples’ attitude towards food?
In my estimation, the more different your answers from what I’ve described, the harder it might be, for you to comprehend Korea’s – and kdrama’s – “obsession” with food.
While not on the same topic per se, I found this video by Nichola from the My Korean Husband blog informative and educational.
In the video, she talks about things that you’d need to know if you’re planning to / thinking of marrying a Korean guy. In the course of discussing this, she touches on various cultural aspects which I found interesting.
One of the things she says that is relevant to our topic today, is how the ability to eat well is actually prized by Korean elders.
Therefore a prospective mother-in-law sharing a meal with her prospective daughter-in-law would be very interested to know if the prospective daughter-in-law is able to eat well. Again, that “food is important” attitude.
You can check out the full video here:
* In fact, if you’re a Westerner and you’re curious about Korean culture and how that is seen through the eyes of someone from a Western culture, &/or how the cultures are similar or different, the My Korean Husband blog is a great place to visit.
In conclusion, yes, food is important to Korean culture. It’s also important to my culture.
But does it mean that that’s all we’re about? No it doesn’t. And perhaps to the uninformed eye looking over kdrama for the first time, Koreans might appear to be a little “obsessed” with food.
But really, as with all things, it’s all about not jumping to quick conclusions, while learning to understand the other person’s – or in this case, the other culture’s – context.
Coz context really is everything, isn’t it?
Wow! I’m surprise to read people complain about food and eating in kdrama. Food is a love language in my county of birth. When I see people eating in Asian drama, I feel included though I’m from a different continent.
Lets eat 2 holds a tender spot in my heart. I moaned my way through the drama…my partner thought I was viewing a tawdry drama. I’ve watched it more time than I want to admit to…lol…usually on edibles.
I admire the role of food in Kdrama, I love the elaborate ones, as well as the simple bowl of noodles with a side of radish kimchi. One of my pet peeve in western shows is actors never taking a bite of the food when they are supposed to be eating. My fingers are crossed this representation of food and of eating never makes it into drama land.
@KFG (and @anyone else who’s interested)
We have the exact same attitude toward food in the African-American community. (Although many things are changing with this latest batch of millennials.)
Most non-black people do not know that “soul food” was not a choice. Soul food comes from trying to take left over slop and make it taste good. I, personally, was a bit of a spoiled city girl so was never made to eat soul food (ugh!) but my parents and most people love it. And they love the tradition of it. I appreciate that in my culture (even though I usually stayed outside the entire day when certain foods were being prepared that, quite frankly, stank up the entire house).
But yes, food is definitely a love language in the African-American family and for the reason that you gave – at one time, it’s scarcity.
In fact, a big part of my fascination with Korean drama is so many things in their culture that’s very similar to African-American culture. Things that only people who are descendants of slaves do.
That’s enough of that. I rarely address things that have to do with my culture because of the divisiveness that it causes, but I felt the need to weigh in because when people say about Korean characters “That son/daughter has been away from home for two years. Why is the mom not hugging him/her? She’s only saying ‘Have you eaten? I’ve made your favorite dish’.”
That mom has probably spent the last two days cooking and has been up since 4am cooking her kid’s favorite dishes. She has put all of her love into preparing that food and, believe me, her child knows it and feels that love.
“her child knows it and feels that love” … yes, and (probably) eats it even though the preferences may have changed in those 2 years far away from home (and under the influence of another culture) … simply because the child knows that it will please the mother (and what it means to her).
my question though: isn’t a hug a much simpler/explicit way of showing how the mother feels (simply because the first sense we use to explore the world outside the womb is touch)? don’t we all know how much more a hug can mean in one’s life? why apply the scarcity model to something that’s so simple to do? is it really that hard to say “i love you” if you really do? isn’t language meant to be a mean of clear rational communication in completion to the more emotional communication of touch? combining both, wouldn’t she (the mother) make it much more clearer for the recipient (the child)? wouldn’t they both feel much better having that explicit communication? do we really have to complicate our lives when life’s already hard enough for all of us?
We’re talking different cultures. Maybe in S.K., a hug is the more difficult thing. (I think that is changing somewhat with the younger generation in S.K.) But I’m just saying they may look at western culture as “Is all that hugging necessary? It’s gross. Why don’t they just show their love by feeding [the person] something good to eat.”
I’m not saying that’s what S. Koreans think (although, I know they frown upon public displays of affection, in general), I’m just saying it’s different and to apply what we think is better is wrong.
Who knows where customs start? I’ve heard of things like Chinese parents don’t compliment or brag about their children for fear it will anger the spirits and the child will die of some disease. (I don’t know if that’s a relic of the past or still goes on.)
The lack of physical intimacy in the presence of others may have an origin that we (and even Koreans) may not know but, apparently, for them it is valid and is the normal and right thing to do.
just to clarify: it’s not for me to evaluate what’s good/bad/better/worse, i wasn’t arguing (by stating hard facts), i just wrote down some questions/thoughts and nothing more (because imo even advice is basically indirect coercion) … everything else is up to the one curious enough to read.
My family is the hugging and saying I love you type, but they really love you if food is push on you. In the beginning my partner questioned my family food love language. Once he understood it, he was a little upset he didn’t get the food treatment for over a year. He got hugs from day one, but no one push food on him.
“To answer your question, the comments that INTJ shared about, were clearly meant in a negative way, and yes, it did sound like the remarks were rather blanket statements about Korean culture as a whole. Or at least, about Korean culture in kdrama as a whole. At least, that’s the impression I got from reading INTJ’s sharing” … negative? each of us is unique and that uniqueness is imo the most precious feature of our species. but even so, i don’t think that’s enough to force me to like something: liking is a subjective thing.
as an extreme example: i can see the uniqueness in a psychopathic killer … but i don’t have to like it, i have the right to feel sorry for him/her and death penalty is a no. there’s no such thing as good/bad culture, there’s only different … each with it’s own plus and minus points (by the standards of each individual).
as for me, i’d rather have a dialogue with a korean who believes in “Hell Joseon” (because even to that person there are surely a lot of good things to point out too) … than talking to a “blind person” who thinks there’s no better thing on earth than korean culture (because i can learn a lot more from a objective discussion). over time i have uploaded more than 1PB of east asian dramas and imo none of the people around the world who got them from me for free can really think that i have a negative view of korean culture (or asian culture, in general).
anyway, back to topic: in recent years it also seems to me that food scenes are more frequently used as a cheap setup (from a writing/production point of view) and that the very valuable “food=love” point of view (you so kindly detailed) is more and more forgotten … but maybe it’s just me.
INTJ!! Long time no see!! Great to see you, my old friend!
Just to be clear, the phrase I used “the comments that INTJ shared about, were clearly meant in a negative way,” is NOT in reference to YOUR remarks, but in a follow-up email that you sent me, you mentioned that OTHERS had made blanket remarks to you, about Korea. I was referring to those comments – which were part of the impetus for this post in the first place. I hope that helps to clarify! 😅
well, my rss reader checks your blog daily (since i don’t want to miss any of your great posts) … but my wife’s untimely death has made me much more reclusive than i was 8 years ago.
truth be told, i was bothered by their comments too. i knew those comments were very superficial (people rarely take the time to understand other people) and you provided a very good insight/response to those comments. using what i’ve learnt from you even helped me make some of them take a closer look at asian culture (aka not just their usual “Train to Busan is a great horror movie”). besides, getting people to understand the beauty in/of others is not always as simple as giving them a youtube link (for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5nRBBd5UoQ ) and thus i’m really thankful for your (very well written) posts on this blog.
Aww, thank you for keeping up with the blog posts, all this time.. I’m sorry for your loss, and I know that’s why we haven’t seen you in quite a while. Still, it’s heartachey to hear that the last 8 years have been reclusive for you. I hope you are as well as you can be, given the circumstances. Hugs to you, my dear friend. ❤️
Fun post – a re-read for me.
The first food-related thing I noticed in my early drama days was the action of taking a piece of food from a communal pot or plate and placing it on the rice of a beloved person. Kfangurl’s piece also explains why, in a show like Melo Be My Nature, when the Lunch Lady simple placed a fried egg on one particular person’s plate, it raised the eyebrows of everyone else watching.
Aw thanks for taking the time to re-read this post, @j3ffc!! You are such a sweetheart! ❤️ And yes, food, and how it’s shared, and how it’s given and taken, can be so rich with meaning!!
Like in Chuno for example, all those extra hardboiled eggs squirreled away in General Choi’s rice said A LOT! 😁
Fangurl – this was cool! I enjoyed reading this.
Ah, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, @phl1rxd! I wasn’t sure if you’d seen it, since you’ve been around the blog for such a long time, but then.. this WAS back in 2014, so it’s from my first few years of blogging! 😅
I love this post! I’m glad you brought it back out for the world to see! The let’s eat series spoke to my soul. Not to steal your thunder, but I also wrote 2 posts back in the day (on another blog site) about let’s eat 2 and 3. It would be an honor for me if you read them! https://freethekimchi.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/may-21-2018-dramas-and-food-and-then-there-was-lets-eat-2/
Nice posts, Ally. I love the LE series, all of it, and you relate nicely to them through personal viewpoint and experience.
Thanks for sharing your posts, Ally! I read them both, and enjoyed them both! I love how Let’s Eat 2 & 3 have resonated with you in such a personal way!
Of course, this begs the question: how did you feel about Season 1? 😉
One more thing about food. I noticed a post about “bread and salt”
The gift of bread salt and water in an Arabic desert context was a guarantee of safety and life for 3 days, even if the newcomer was a traditional enemy. I am afraid we have only scratched the surface with regards to food traditions.
Eskimo hunters share the spoils of a hunt along very rigid cultural customs. In Gertmany there is almost always a “stammtisch” a tribal table where members of that clan sit, with a bell suspended above where they ring for service and are traditionally served before any other diners. The list of these things is endless. https://www.google.com/search?biw=627&bih=270&tbm=isch&sxsrf=ACYBGNTnlurXwaEj99_QgnuAbgm4B-eUug%3A1574574380520&sa=1&ei=LBnaXa2lH8vSsAWCyZnYDQ&q=stammtisch+with+bell+above+table&oq=stammtisch+with+bell+above+table&gs_l=img.3…67800.76681..79876…0.0..0.100.1024.11j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img.A56Ifjm3Q5w&ved=0ahUKEwit6_3UkoLmAhVLKawKHYJkBtsQ4dUDCAY&uact=5#imgrc=wV_4b2tMM7FgzM:
My studies in University were languages and folklore. Wee followed food customs as a generational trail by seeing where the food was popular we could trace immigration. Firs thing to change with newcomers were the clothes. Next, in the second generation would be language in the home. Cooking is passed down mother to daughter and still exist alive and well in at least the 5th generation. A case in point would be the Welch miners who came to Hibbing to work in the Mesabi iron mine in the mid 1800s. Their dish a “pasty” was still made now in 2019 as in whales in the time they came. Feasts are recreated as exactly as possible ad ingredients are substituted only when necessary. So as you pointed out food binds generations, but also past homes and past memories. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasty
Indeed, food is rich with history and significance. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. 🙂
Knowledge is gathered to be shared. I feel privileged to have found you Kfangirl. In my old age I have become immersed in oriental cultures via music and films. At 77 years of age I find my memory slipping so I am trying to slow the rate of slippage thru learning a bit of new languages. Music can be a mnemonic I memorize] a song in it’s native language and then translate each word adding vocabulary,. My choice of the eastern nations is based on the fact that they are the farthest language from Indo-european. I stay with Hamasaki Ayumi and S M A P. I almost went to Singapore for Ayu-chan’s concert there as I have acquaintances there. from our shared interest in Ayu’s music. Please forgive and correct any typos as I wear low vision devices now to facilitate computer use.
Wow, I think it’s great that you’re continuing to challenge yourself and learn new things, even though you require vision devices to help you. That’s admirable, and I think more people would do well to learn from your example! Learning a new language is never easy, and I applaud your progress! I personally have enjoyed learning languages through the dramas that I watch, so I can understand the thrill of finally understanding more than at first! 😀
I constantly look at things like this also, great fun to see traditional things in use in everyday life.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOEq1uULnqQ
I would love to see a review of Mr. Sunshine. I have watched it 6 times now , and for me it is like peeling an onion. I have no Korean cultural background but have grown in understanding with each viewing. I learned about grammar rules a bit comparing princess GO’s speech to that of Yu gen. I was also amazed at the existence of nobi up to 1945. I can now see the reason for discord between Korea and japan vis a vie comfort women.
I confess to sobbing each time when things come to a tragic end on the train.
I am also a big fan of Park Bo young and have watched many things of hers multiple times. I confess also that , while it was a gritty slice of life, I do not think I can re-watch On Your Wedding Day. It destroyed me completely. I understand it is an artistic delivery of a script. I cannot help it at all.
Wow, 6 times! That’s impressive! I think I have only ever watched one Korean show 6 times, and that’s of my gateway drama Goong, for sentimental reasons. I know there’s a lot of love out there for Mr. Sunshine, but unfortunately for me, I found that I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as everyone else. I dropped out at around the episode 13 mark, because I found that I was having difficulty engaging with the show. I’ve found that drama-watching can be a very idiosyncratic, personal thing. Lots of folks could love a show, and I might not, and vice versa. This was one of those times when, try as I might, I just couldn’t get into the show like everyone else. 😕 If I ever do manage to go back to it and love it, I’ll be sure to post a review. 🙂
Park Bo Young is one of my favorite actresses as well. She’s very talented. I remember On Your Wedding Day had a very bittersweet, poignant ending. Have you watched A Werewolf Boy? It’s also one of those movies whose ending haunts one, long after the credits have finished rolling.
I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only one who felt that way about Mr. Sunshine. I know that many people loved it and that’s why I gutted it out to the end. But sometimes we’re just not buying whatever the drama is offering. Maybe it’s the overall story. Or the writing. Or the directing. Or maybe it’s our expectations. Or just our grumpy mood at the time.
Yes, you’re not alone, Alaskan!! I just couldn’t get myself in the same head- or heart-space as everyone else, with Mr. Sunshine. It just.. didn’t work for me, somehow. It’s good to know that we feel similarly!! ❤️
I’ve been watching k dramas for a while but never once considered it weird that most k dramas show quite a bit of eating. In fact, I LOVE it and Let’s Eat was one of my favourites. I am ethnically Bengali/Bangladeshi and although I live in the UK, my family and people around me have placed an absolutely huge emphasis on food. Like most other Asian cultures, ‘have you eaten?’ Is often a conversation starter. No party is a party if there is isn’t food. My weekends are all about where I am going eat- eveything else I need to do that day revolves around that. Food is how some shows care and love. I do agree food has more sentimentality and meaning and holds a bigger place than it often does in western cultures. It’s interesting to see how others see this.
Thanks for sharing, lavictoire! 😀 Yes, it’s so fascinating to see how different cultures interact with food, and how it’s become such a significant part of our lives especially here in Asia. 🙂
I fast forwarded through the Chinese drama, Cupid’s Kitchen, just for the amazing food and cooking scenes. The plot and the acting were pretty bad. But oh how I loved loved loved the food.
” wish I could find the page.”
I see there are articles on the live sysyem.
Having said that, there are probably similar scenes in asian movies/dramas, where food is used as a prop, but I believe it would be the rule. in american movies/dramas and the exception in asian ones. I must keep an eye on food scenes in movies/ dramas/ from other countries.
A round of applause for this post! It’s very well written. Food is one of the reasons I love kdramas so much.
Aw thanks December! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! 😀 Food’s very close to my heart too, and I definitely count the food scenes in kdramas a plus 😉
Can I just say, that It’s nice to see food being used. I don’t know how many tines I’ve seen on american movies or tv, where the food is not used.
That’s true! It’s something I never used to notice, but quite a few folks have pointed out that on American shows, the food is usually never touched, while the food in kdramas are often slurped up with pleasure. Come to think of it, it’s why I developed a taste for Korean food, and started to seek it out. It’s all coz these actors make it all look so delicious as they’re eating it! ^^
Well, of course there will be exceptions. I’m also not sure it’s a new thing or not. I don’t know well you are up on american movies from the 70’s. Anyway there is a famous one called Chinatown. I was listening to a dvd commentary with David Fincher and Robert Towne, who wrote it. They were talking about a food scene, and Finche was saying that it was nice to see people actually eating, because nowadays the people in charge don’t want the actors to be putting food in their mouths, because it doesn’t look nice,
anyway here is an example of a food scene, where nothing or very little is being eaten.
It’s from American Beauty.
The scenes where Kevin Spacey is supposedly eating (at the start and end of the scene are shot from a distance, so you can;t really see if there is anything he’s bringing to his mouth or not. There is also a scene where he looks like he’s going to eat something, but remembers to say something else.
NOTE. Food is used, but not for eating.
Hahaha! Wow, that scene that you shared is a perfect example of how, a lot of the time, food is used but not eaten in western shows. I’ve seen American Beauty, but that was ages ago, and I hadn’t noticed the way the actors always stopped short of actually taking a bite of the food.
I suppose with multiple takes, it can be taxing for an actor to keep eating scene after scene. Plus, it probably also makes things more complicated for the people preparing the props. How many plates of food need to be prepared for the estimated number of takes etc.
Still, as a viewer, I do like to see food being eaten rather than being used as props. It just helps to up the realism of the scene, for me. 🙂
ah, that’s right. I heard that “multiple takes” reason before. So does that mean that in asian movies/dramas, they don’t do mulple takes. Having said that, there are probably similar scenes in asian movies/dramas, where food is used as a prop, but I believe it would be the rule.
Hmm.. I’m very certain that there are also multiple takes in Asian dramas. If nothing else, they need to film the scene several times at least, in order to get the various camera angles that they would need. I guess the actors in Asian entertainment just work off the extra calories? 😛
And you’re right, there are definitely scenes where the food is used as a prop, even in Asian dramas. Generally speaking, it’s more common to have the characters actually eating the food. Which is probably why so many of us feel hungry watching those eating scenes; the actors make the food look so delicious! 😉
just thought I’d share these
Also it seems that at least in some dramas the cast and crew are not treated very well. So, maybe that food could be the first they have had a chance to eat.
Thanks for sharing, Martin!! I enjoyed the articles very much; very enlightening (and entertaining too)! XD
Yes, it’s sadly true that on some sets, the cast & crew don’t get treated very well. So that might explain some of the enthusiastic eating we see on our screens. 😛 Hopefully conditions improve as more and more kdramas are moving towards being fully pre-produced 🙂
Well. that’s just guesswork om my part regarding eating because they don’t get enough to ear beforehand. I’ve lost track of the page I read that in. If remember correctly, the article was asking why the first 4 eps of a drama were well done, and then they seemed to go downhill. It was to do with scripts arriving at the last moment. Othe stuff was mentioned. I wish I could find the page.
It’s ok, thanks Martin. 🙂 Yeah, it’s a sad aspect of the Korean drama industry, where the live shoot system causes the quality of many dramas to suffer. Thankfully, more dramas seem to be going the pre-produced route. Fingers crossed that this will not only improve the quality of the dramas and the conditions the cast and crew work under, but that it becomes a trend as well. 🙂
I beleve iris was preproduced, and road number 1.
I think the latter may have been one, I started but never finished.
At least, I have no rating for it.
Did I mention this before, the preproduced drama that I;ve only heard only good things about is cheese in the trap.
The live shoot is also so shows can be changed because of viewers reactions.
Is this good or bad. I would say it’s bad for the writers, who might have to change a show due to viewers reactions.
It’s good for the ratings.
Yes, there are kdramas that were completely pre-produced before airing, and I’m not surprised that Iris was one of them. I’m personally glad to see that more and more dramas are being pre-produced. I like to think that this will mean better conditions for cast and crew, and more narrative integrity and creative vision for the writers. It does seem like kdramas are taking a while to settle into the pre-produced groove, in the sense that pre-produced shows have generally not been big hits. But, I’m hoping that k-ent will get the hang of it and that it’ll become something of a new normal for the industry. 🙂
Personally, I think the live shoot is a bad thing for not only the cast and crew, but also for the stories that our dramas end up telling. So many dramas go off the rails and have illogical, rushed endings that it heavily outweighs the few times that they manage to make a better drama by responding to viewer feedback. In fact, the more they production messes with their original story to pander to audience fancies, the more the drama tends to go off the rails, in my viewing experience. 😛
It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.
Just to get back( sort of) to what this thread was originally about;food.
Recently saw an excellent hollywood movie “Spotlight”
10/10 for the movie, but 0/10 for the food scenes.
One sequence in particular had me laughing my head off.
Two actors, Stanley Tucci and Mark Ruffalo. Tucci is suppossed to be eating something out of a paper carton. He has a fork in his hand, or maybe a spoon. We see him from the front, as he dips the utensil into the carton. Then we only see him from the back. When we see him from the front again,he is supposedly after eating the food. This happens 3 or 4 times.
Lol. That scene probably was extra funny to you, Martin! I think folks who weren’t keeping an eye on the food and how it’s used in scenes might not have noticed it too much. For you though, that probably was eye-rollingly funny! XD I think since we’ve talked about this, I’ve become more observant to the role of food in scenes too. 😉
Yep, It’s not something I would have noticed before getting into asian dramas.
Anyway, here is a great food scene from one of my favourite non asian movies.
Tom Jones. (british)
I remember an old sit-com from the 60’s showed a character playing an actor filming a cereal commercial with a kid. They had to do multiple takes, and the adult actor became so stuffed and sick of tasting the cereal. He asked the child actor why he wasn’t getting full and the child replied, “I don’t eat the cereal. I only take a spoon with a sip of milk in it!”
I’m thinking that maybe the reason a lot of food is not eaten in American shows is the endless takes. My impression of Kdrama is that most of the time, it’s get the shot and move on to the next one because of the time constraints of the “live shoot” system.
Just my speculation.
I don’t think I’ve really noticed the amount of times food has been in the background of a lot of dramas. Actually I remember while watching one of my early dramas a death happening and in the background of the story, all the events leading up the funeral were played out. After guests came to give their condolences in the that room with the grieving family, the guests are welcome to a meal. I was astonished, for lack of a better word, that this happens in Korea too because growing up for a lot of my classmates serving a proper meal and not finger foods before/after a funeral is really uncommon. And in my culture and those similar to it, serving a meal after a funeral is a “must”.
I really enjoyed reading this because I can see a few similarities in some of South African cultures. Well I can’t speak for the entire country since there are different races and cultures represented in our population but, I can sorta speak from my observation of Black South Africans and I think a little that I’ve noticed in other African cultures. In particular how food and eating is treated culturally and the now vs apartheid time (the segregation of races groups in SA) effect on eating and food.
I actually find it so interesting how a number of things that are principles in Korean Culture are loosely the same in a number of South African tribes.
That’s really fascinating, Muffin, that there are distinct similarities between South African culture and Korean culture. Definitely, more than one might first expect. I mean, I personally get that many Asian cultures will bear similarities with Korean culture, since we have many similar roots. But to be able to see distinct similarities between Korean culture and another seemingly removed culture like South Africa’s, and it’s pretty inspiring that we are all more similar than we think! 😀 Thanks for sharing, Muffin! What a great insight! ^^
Ah!!!! A fellow South African K-drama obsessed person!!!!! I started to think I was the only one around. I am so glad to know that is not the case!!!
And I love your insights into the similarities with food culture. I’ve already had a few chats with kfangurl here in the thread about it, and I think that South Africa is such a wonderful mix of cultures that perhaps we’ve been able have more of a community food culture than many would suppose when first thinking about it.
A very very interesting article! I learnt a lot! I knew that food was important in Korean culture (didn’t really know about the other asian countries though) since I have a korean friend who always asked me if I’ve eat well. At first it was weird (“밥 먹었어? -Me: Why is he asking me that? Of course I’ve eaten I’m human” O.O). I’m french and I think that we considered meal more as a functional thing . Of course parents give the ‘best part’ to the children (like they’ll eat the part with all the fishbone and give the one without to their children) and I guess it’s a way to show their love. And of course we have from time to time big family/friends reunion around a meal (specially in the countryside. They like to share food to celebrate events like the harvest for example etc.) but it’s not as much as in the asian culture. We also suffer of food scarcity with WWI and II but it doesn’t have an impact on the youngest generation -who never know this period. That’s what I observed among my friends and family circle but I don’t want to make a wrong generalization…maybe food is only functional for me and my relatives^^
Even though I’m not that familiar with this concept of sharing food etc. it never bothered me to see it in Kdrama (it seems normal to me). Actually I’m happy to see lots of meal scenes^^ Always give me the desire to eat with them. I never thought it was an obsession.
Anyway I loved this article, that’s really cool to see a blog that also talks about culture etc. 😀
Aw. Yay that you enjoyed this post, cineclique!! 😀 It’s great to learn about one another’s cultures, and it’s so interesting to know that your culture is quite similar to what I described, yet to a different degree. And that degree of difference makes your culture different yet similar, yet unique. Very cool. 🙂
And I have to agree with you, seeing all the meal scenes in kdramas totally makes me want to eat with them. And if not eat with them, then at least eat the same food they’re eating. I never used to have a thing for Korean food until kdramas came into my life, and now, that’s one of my favorite cuisines! Funny how kdrama can actually change lives, eh? XD
I love love love the series. But I think my perception is in line with INTJ’s comment on this post: I have a perception that a large part of the Korean emphasis on eating well and the importance in showing appreciation for food is due to hardships faced by the country in the past. I also find this emphasis, as other commenters also noted, in extreme juxaposition to the focus on thin-ness. Americans love food too however, and women especially have a love hate relation with food, and certainly the American media places a high emphasis on unrealistic body images.
Aw, yay that you love the series! I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked it myself! 😀
You know, it occurs to me that in my culture, traditionally, it’s the chubby & fair that were considered beautiful. Chubby because it meant they had more than enough to eat. And fair because it meant that they were rich enough to not have to go out to work in the fields. So traditionally, in Chinese culture, that was the epitome of beauty. Today, the idea of thinness being the epitome of beauty has crept into our culture too, and yes, I know many women who struggle to balance their diets with their love for food. It’s a paradox, to love food and yet have to fight to stay thin. Of course, people who are naturally thin no matter what they eat (look at Lee Soo Kyung in Let’s Eat!) become the envy of everyone, lol.
Yes, in many cultures only the poor were thin and being chubby was a sign of wealth and beauty. As well as the fair skin-it was ‘low class’ to have a tan with many Northern European cultures as well as American until Douglas Fairbanks and Coco Chanel made it glamorous to have a tan lol
Great post! (Of course it is coming from you). While I had noticed that Koreans love their food, it has never struck me as odd, perhaps because I too love Korean and many other types of food. In fact, I would say that eating and preparing food is one of my favourite pastimes. It is not always my favourite when I am cooking just for me, but it becomes something more when I can cook for other people. I LOVE to feed people and have them feel satisfied and like they have tasted something so good they will want it again and again. I have been this way for a long time. My mom even let me invent a recipe for a pasta sauce when I was about nine, and even after that I was often in charge of creating pasta sauces for the family. Eating and preparing food has also been a HUGE part of my family’s life. When we get together (which is incredibly infrequently as we live in four countries, four time zones, and in six different cities), we most definitely cook and eat together. I have found that even when I am standing in the kitchen cooking, I will often stand like my mom does when she is cooking. My brothers all cook, and one of them loves to bake bread. My sisters cook as well. One of them is in medical school, but she has a penchant and talent for baking (she made the chocolate ganache for my other sister’s wedding cake, and decorated it too). In our family, cooking and eating are an integral part of our family unity and bonding. We also tend to invite other people over a lot for dinner and generally have a blast. Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years remember mealtimes at our house – a memory that I hear often is how my mom likes to throw tortillas instead of passing them. Mealtimes also often involve conversations that range from the absurdly hilarious to the intensely serious. And now that I live away from home, I try and repeat many of these things when I can. I think that food and family culture are deeply intertwined. And I am not Asian. I am a South African of European descent. And when I lived in Germany, we had many neighbours who also prized eating together. The Germans most definitely also love their food. So yup…that’s my little take on eating and culture and togetherness. And I think that the eating in Korean (and other Asian dramas) seems more organic and natural to me than most western film and TV making.
Thanks Dewaani, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And wow, it sounds like you’re quite the natural cook, having started so young in your mother’s kitchen! Even though your family doesn’t get together so often, it sounds like a very warm, lively, loving environment when it does happen, and that’s truly lovely.
A quick question I have, prompted by other comments on this thread, is, is food or conversation more of “the point” in such gatherings in your culture? Or would you peg it at 50-50? Coz Lady G mentioned that in NYC, while people love to get together over food, it’s more for the conversation than for the food itself. In my culture, it’s as much for the food as for the conversation, and sometimes, that can even tilt in favor of the food, even. I found that quite fascinating, that even though both cultures love getting together over food, that the nuances play out so differently 🙂
I don’t know if I’m so much a natural cook, as not afraid of cooking…if that makes sense ^^ My family are big on good quality food as well…we like to make delicious food. I wish we all lived a little closer, but we’ve ended up an incredibly globalized family.
I would say that for me and my group of friends (and my family) it is also 50-50. I think that for some it might not be. I remember that my group of friends and college and I would host gourmet food parties and eat and socialize. I am sure there are some who it isn’t 50-50 for though and maybe there is a bit more of a variation across the board…though I can’t really say. I would totally call myself a foodie or a food snob though…
Food snob?! XD Sorry, it’s just that there’s really nothing snobbish about you that I’ve noticed so far, so reading you calling yourself a food snob made me giggle. Good on you tho – it’s important to demand quality from the food you eat. I’ve been bigger on food quality lately, and have been happily eating superfoods and all those good things. 🙂
ㅋㅋㅋ I’m totally a chocolate snob in particular 😉 my friends in RL know how much of a food snob I am…I do eat junk food. sweets, etc. but they had better be high quality if I am going to put sugar in my body 😉
That’s perfectly sound logic, I think! Why put poor quality stuff in your body, especially if it’s a treat?? 😉 I eat some junk too, and I do like to keep it as high quality as possible. It’s just.. there’s only so far that you can go with quality when it comes to stuff like ramyun, Lol! XD
Lol. Too true. I like yo buy Shin ramyun and then add mushrooms and slice some zucchini into it as well. It is quite delicious! And I think moderation in all things is a good idea…but some things are just too yummy 😉
Oh! I already use Shin ramyun and add mushrooms (high five again!), but I never thought to add zucchini!! I should totally try that!! 😀 Thanks for the idea, it sounds yum! ^^
I’ve also done some green onions which is nice…I think next time I should add some kimchi too…
Oh! I totally have mine with green onions too – delish! And yes, if you have kimchi, it really amps up the soup. I tried that before too – really yum! 😀
ㅋㅋㅋ Oh ramyun! I just remembered some funny scenes from RM when Jong Kook really doesn’t want any ramyun in stuff and they put it in anyway. Love it!
Lol! Guess what? There’s some of that ramyun action in one of the Park Seo Joon RM episodes, dewaani!! 😉 See, now you TOTALLY have to watch those eps! XD
ㅋㅋㅋ I need absolutely zero motivation to watch some Park Seo Joon related! 😉
I had been so impressed with your response to the comment that was made in the Let’s Eat post and was going to tell you so when I thought better of it. To come back the next day and see you have expanded your thoughts into a post is really a treat. I agree with previous comments that you are very thoughful in your analysis like a cultural anthropologist. I enjoyed this read very much as I have all of your posts thus far and I must say you are quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. Keep up the wonderful work. Amy
Aw, thanks Amy for your kind and encouraging words!! 😀 I’m so glad you resonated with my response to the original comment, and also, that you enjoyed this post! It’s always great to know that my responses are serving other readers too, besides the original commenter ^^
Food and culture has turned out to be an intriguing topic indeed. When I realized the similarities between my culture and Korea’s – down to our historical context – I felt that sharing my thoughts in a post might be interesting. And now with everyone else’s responses and thoughts, it’s become even richer and more interesting. Conversations on the blog FTW! XD
I’m so glad you came on over to check out the blog, I’ve enjoyed our conversations, and look forward to more shared thoughts! ❤
My, are you an anthropologist?! Lovely, as usual! And a tad unusual too (in the sense of this not being your usual reviews (not that that’s a bad thing)! I guess I’m curious as to the original nature of the question/comment of “obsessed with food” and whether it sounded as if that was a) a negative thing and b) a broad judgement of Koreans as a whole. (And I’m not entirely sure what “obsessed” means since every culture in the world eats and is proud of its food.) And if I hv to read the Let’s Eat review to understand this, well,….you know I won’t do that yet! But anyway, you don’t need to answer this question.
Following from your points here, why food is prevalent in Kdrama is the kind of stories dramas tell as well, very often these are stories of family and relationships and of course, love (Confucian values). In emphasising familial bonds, and love between people, romantic and otherwise, it stands to reason that you’d see lots of meals being shared and lots of scenes around the dining table.
If you think about why eating isn’t as prevalent in US TV, and I’m talking about US because it’s just the form of TV I’m more familiar with, I’d say that Americans tend to celebrate the individual not the collective, which is directly related to how society is organised and understood over there. And as eating is a social thing, who has time to eat when you’re saving the world, or working, or chasing bad guys? But that’s of course a broad generalisation. I think if you look at say, ethnic groups in the US like Chinese Americans, or Mexican Americans, I would think food is a huge part of their culture. It’s just that you don’t tend to see their stories getting told as much. At the same time, there are entire channels devoted to food and eating, so Americans are “obsessed” with food, but purely as commodities to be consumed judging by how porny all the food shows make food look. Food is a”lifestyle” product, entertainment.
I think food is one of the cornerstones of any culture and you can tell a lot about who they are from what they eat and their relationship to food.
Tee hee. I’m no anthropologist, though I did take an anthropology module while at university! My professor would be proud, that I’ve got someone appreciating my attempt at anthropological analysis! XD
I don’t do musings posts very often, preferring to stick to reviews (& fangirling!), but when inspiration strikes, I do come up with the occasional musings posts. This is one of them. 🙂
To answer your question, the comments that INTJ shared about, were clearly meant in a negative way, and yes, it did sound like the remarks were rather blanket statements about Korean culture as a whole. Or at least, about Korean culture in kdrama as a whole. At least, that’s the impression I got from reading INTJ’s sharing, and that’s what inspired this post.
It’s interesting that you mention that American culture tends to focus on individuals instead of the collective. That’s a trend that I noticed in their food as well, in that there are very few types of meals that are made up of communal dishes. Most meals that come to my mind are made for individual servings. Like burgers, or steak, or fish and chips. If I’m not mistaken, side dishes are also normally individual servings too, like soups and salads. In that sense, your observation that our relationship with food says a lot about our culture and how we’re even organized as a people, is spot on!
Guhhh I’m dying because (and this is totally not a response to your reply but just a response to food-as-love-in dramas) I just saw Me Too Flower, and there’s so MUCH FOOD AS LOVE between the OTP that I’m DYING. So much trauma there (no family, no love), and then she cooks and serves him dinner, and she says grace, and he completely breaks down, and and–GAAAAAH. DEAD. Feels. Can’t. Handle. And then at the end, he’s the one who cooks and serves her a meal and says grace=HEALING!! Ding ding ding!!! *FLAIL* So PERFECT.
I’ll shuddup now…
Lol. I haven’t seen Me Too Flower, but I’ve heard that Yoon Si Yoon is great in it. And what you described sounds lovely and quite perfect indeed 🙂
My Kelsey used to always be INFJ through college, but now it’s I (N or S) (F or T) J. hehe… 😉 Guess I’m a bit more practical and level-headed than before… I’m Thai (Chinese-Thai I guess, my family there is well-off), grew up in the US but visited Thailand often during summer holidays. At least in my family, we love food! Meals, snacks, meals, snacks… fruits, breakfasts, a variety of yummy things are always around 🙂 I guess the food=love comes into play a lot, feeding our family and friends well is a joy and pleasure, and a responsibility to show care. We fight over the bill no matter who invited who, arguing with whatever tactics we can come up with, totally different from my husband (parents from Taiwan but grew up in the US, more Americanized than not), who says the inviter pays. I agree that it seems to be true across Asian cultures that food plays a huge role in relationships.
As for Americans not eating in movies… it’s different from some sitcoms where they might stuff their faces occasionally, right? So comparing with K-movies and K-dramas where people stuff their face for comedic and entertainment purposes, I think it’s because of the appearance. There seems to be a need to remain in an air of elegance and maturity. I think Asian cultures value the child in all of us a lot more. We love to eat and play and be cute. When you go shopping in Asia you see a lot of cute stuff everywhere. Pink piggy medicine containers. Fluffy brushes with pandas. Sanrio and other brands of cute stuff making everything from luggage to notebooks to jewelry to gum. Copies of cute stuff everywhere. Girls that hold hands. Guys that are affectionate with each other (but not so much with girls, whereas in Western cultures it’s more acceptable for girls and guys to be chummy and affectionate – we can see the influx of this in Asian culture, but I still see lines drawn). The overall feel is very chummy, compared to the coolness of American culture. Yes, US celebs might also do cute things but not at the level of aegyo… they will sport designer stuff, if it’s Hello Kitty it better be the younger crowd and bling bling and when they’re wearing hot pink designer workout clothing. 🙂 (look at the stereotypes I am thinking of!)
I think from what I’ve seen in European movies there is a little more blend of cool and chummy, like it comes and goes.
Anyway… I think we just associate food with everything. All kinds of relationships and feelings, meaningful events, etc. It’s also chemistry, good food messes with your mind 😀 (better food than alcohol)
Ah, that’s true here too, lyricalpeach, that people here tend to fight over the bill, and it’s not a big norm that the inviter pays. But of course, it’s situational too. If the boss invites an employee out to lunch, it’s a norm that the boss will pay for lunch.
Indeed, food is a big deal in almost all relationships for us too. From work relationships to friends and family, food is the thing over which most people bond.
As for k-movies and kdramas where people stuff their faces for comedic purposes, I think those comical scenes are probably fewer than the scenes of families sharing meals and of mothers watching their children eat. Although, I suppose it does depend on your drama diet too. If you watch a lot of comedies and not many family dramas, your mileage could vary. 😉
It’s interesting that you make a connection between the liking for cute things to Asians’ liking for food. That’s a perspective that I hadn’t considered before. I don’t know it it holds true in other Asian countries, but I don’t it’s the case where I live. We aren’t as into cutesy as the Japanese, for example, and we still love to eat. I’ve detailed my perspective on my culture’s emphasis on food in the blog post, so I won’t repeat that here. In terms of the Japanese, which is the country that pops first to mind when talk of love for cute comes up, they – the women in particular – eat very daintily and in tiny portions, even as they savor the flavors. That’s more ladylike than childlike, to my eyes, even though I do agree that the love for all things cute does make the Japanese ladies appear more childlike. I just don’t see it in their relationship with food, since I think of children as being a lot freer with their enjoyment of food and food portions. I’m curious which culture you had in mind specifically, when you made the connection? 🙂
Beautiful blog post! I loved it! I caught on pretty early into my K-drama that food was like a bit of ‘lifeblood’ in Korean culture. And you gave some wonderful examples. It was so refreshing and amazing to see all the eating that goes on in them. Real eating, not just props on the table like another comment stated. I’m American, so I will go beyond that culture and into NYC culture. Eating and drinking is social, people love to hang out over food and talk and talk and talk…and TALK. You can’t walk by any restaurant without it being packed to the gills inside and out. I think people in NYC go more for the company than the food itself.
Here in America, people make blogs and are proud to be called ‘Foodies.’ But perhaps in the Asian Culture, they would just be considered someone who likes food as much as the next person. lol
I personally think that there is a huge love-hate relationship toward food in America. One has to do with the fact that we were recently just labeled the most obese country in the world.…again! Being overweight myself, I can’t argue there. Everything is processed and pre-packaged and fast food. There’s such a daily grind, you don’t see anyone lovingly taking the time to prepare a full hot meal. Unless they are from a different era, or since America is a melting pot, from another country bringing their ways here.
Americans are obsessed with thinness and diets but the truth is we are getting bigger and bigger. It has more to do with the mentality also. Bigger is better, greediness, never having to grow up in starving conditions. (Unless you’re a throwback from the Great Depression!) Americans also want everything ‘NOW.’ And fast and easy. So why not food in the same manner? Of course it’s a killer on the body and health in the long run. And frankly, it makes eating far less enjoyable. As I’ve gotten older I noticed that.
There is one hypocrisy I must point out though: The Korean/Asian obsession with thinness amongst all this food. It’s sometimes like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. A lot of times in dramas it’s ‘eat, eat, eat’ but if the girl is 2 pounds overweight she’s teased un-mercilessly, even by the guy who loves her. It’s like fat-shaming, so why should she even bother eating all those delicious little bowls you lovingly prepared for her? Or that ‘steak and potato’ you see on the plate at the fancy-dancy restaurant the guy takes her to? That gets under my skin. But I don’t complain too much because you never really see ‘fat’ girls in dramas. Unless they’re the ‘friend.’ Or as I stated, the lonely girl at the table.
There is definitely a stigma about eating alone. I have felt it. It stinks. There were times when I lived by myself and literally cried over dinner because I was ‘ALONE.’ (Of course that goes deeper than just eating, but you know what I mean.) Maybe I looked like that chunky girl you described in ‘Let’s eat’ or the one sitting at the table all by herself in Fermentation family. My heart burns for those characters. I sometimes even lose my appetite and don’t bother to eat because of that feeling. It’s just an emotion that hits you for a minute when you listen to the silence and the sound of your own chewing. There’s no love, joy, or life to it. It’s just an act you need to do to survive. Why bother to cook up this beautiful hot meal with no one to share it with? So it’s no wonder loneliness leads to weight gain-you even see it in the drama, the girl goes for a tub of ice-cream because she’s depressed. Although sugar is as addictive as crack, we know that, but it really does mask a lot of loneliness. Read any former overweight person’s story and they all sound the same- I ate because i was…depressed, lonely, upset, etc. etc.
Of course you get people who swear up and down they love being alone and eating alone, I was one of them, but they’re also lying a bit. There’s nothing like sharing a meal with family or your friends. Maybe cooking for a friend and watching their expression to see how it tastes. I can understand that part of the Korean dramas because I enjoy cooking when I can.
But what I am sad about, because I see this in my own family, is that we are a family, but nobody eats together even if there is a hot home-cooked meal. One goes to the TV, one goes to the computer, the others in their room. The dining table becomes a place to toss things on, rather than a place to sit and eat a hot meal and discuss the day and just talk. I think many families in America are conditioned that way now. I don’t try to fight it in my family. But I always said if I ever have my own husband and maybe kids I will make sure we all eat together at the same time and enjoy each others company. Somehow I think this lack of family togetherness plays a part for a lot of breakdowns you see in family relationships. It’s sad.
Anyway, this was an amazing topic to touch on and thanks for sharing your own family experiences too. I enjoy reading them.
Aw, thanks Lady G! I’m really glad you enjoyed the read! 😀 It’s interesting that you mention that in NYC food is a social thing, and that people actually get together for food more to talk than for the food itself. Over here in Singapore, food is a social thing, but it’s slightly different in that people get together as much for the food as for the company. And depending on how serious you are as a foodie, the food could actually be even more important than the company. Shocking, I know! XD
Here, practically everyone takes photos of the food that they encounter and micro-blog it somewhere, whether it’s instagram, Facebook, or an actual blog. So yes, it does sound like almost the entire population here wouldn’t be too different from the foodie bloggers in America! We love our food that much! XD
The American love-hate relationship with food that you described was interesting food for thought for me. As I chewed on that (hur), I realized that while food quantity is also valued here, it’s not valued as much as flavor. People here don’t necessarily eat large amounts of food (although some people are perfectly capable of it, and do so on a regular basis), and go more for the taste of the food. People all have their opinions on where to get the absolute BEST *insert any local or non-local dish.* I realize too, that the amount of food we gorge on typically pales in comparison to American servings. So even after we feel like we’re stuffed after a meal, it’s likely to still be less food than we would’ve gotten in an American restaurant. Another example that comes to mind is Japan. I noticed that in Japan, the women love to eat, and ooh and aah over food a lot, but the food that they eat is almost always served in dainty, tiny little servings. They eat the tiny little bites and savor and revel in the flavor, but they don’t eat big portions. That perhaps helps to alleviate the problem that you highlighted, of thinness and dieting in the midst of all the food.
At the same time, you are absolutely right. A lot of people (at least here in Singapore) approach food with that difficult balancing act in mind: how can I enjoy my food to the maximum without making a big dent in my diet? As our society grows more westernized and adopts more of the western diet and dietary habits, we have a people that is also continuing to expand at the waistline (and other places too!). So yes, it’s definitely a growing problem. It doesn’t diminish our love for food in any way though! XD
It’s interesting that you mention the stigma of eating alone and how people tend to use food as a balm for loneliness, depression etc. I totally know what you mean, because I did go through a very lonely phase in my life. And just in case this is helpful to someone who might be reading this, I just wanted to put it out there: when you fix the loneliness, it’s actually very possible to enjoy eating alone. I no longer feel lousy and lonely, and I’m now genuinely perfectly happy to eat on my own. Sometimes I even prefer it, and eat with friends more to keep them company than for my own comfort.
While not all families that eat together end up staying together, you do have a great point, that family togetherness is a huge piece of the puzzle, and eating together as a family is part of the equation. I echo your sentiment. If and when husband and kids come into my world, I’d like to make it a family norm, to eat together too. 🙂
Flavor. That’s the nail on the head. I think America has lost it’s sense of flavor. Aside from the foodies, and cooking shows, on average we tend to mindlessly eat and eat stuff without paying attention to flavor. As I got older I started to, now I can’t stand bland food, everything must have spice and flavor. And I also got over the stigma of eating alone and learned to enjoy it. It depends on the mood I’m in. Nothing like getting settled in with a favorite meal after a long day, maybe even watching some K-drama. heehee. Interesting about Japanese women. They are a very dainty bunch to me (most times! lol) So they have learned the art of eating dainty with portion control. Good, rich and solid food in smaller portions, it’s so simple, but so difficult to do for Americans.
very nice and informative post! i knew all that, but now (besides what i say) i also have a link to show others.
“where do you come from, and what is your culture’s attitude towards food?” – Romania and i would say that food plays a big part in our culture too. traditionally, guests are greeted with fresh bread and salt … and afterwards served with the best food a household has to offer (even going as far as leaving the hosts hungry or eating leftovers). lol, a guest is like a god visiting us humble humans … so we were taught to go out of our ways to make every guest feel “better than at home”.
“What is your culture’s idea of family time?” – 3 meals a day were here family time too, but nowadays that usually applies only to dinner. we see food as a expression of love too … but at a much lower value since we easily can express it better trough what you’d call “skinship”. in case of strangers (aka guests), that’s likely to be misunderstood and imo this explains what i wrote before (about how we treat guests).
“Is eating a functional thing, or a social thing?” – hm, i’d say it’s more a functional thing. social gatherings usually include food, but the emphasis is more on everything else, not the food or eating. basically i’d say that in such situations food is one of the means to prolong the time spent together (hungry people are less likely to socialize) and only in very rare cases it’s one of the main reasons for a gathering.
“Has food always been something that’s easily available?” – to be fair, i’d say it was always something that was relatively available … i mean even strangers would offer you a loaf of bread and a glass of water without asking questions. variety of food, that’s something very different … something wich even nowadays can’t be compared to “all those bowls” we see in dramas.
“Is food scarcity something that is a recent memory for your culture, or is it something that’s such a distant event that it no longer has a distinguishable effect on your peoples’ attitude towards food?” – well about 25 years ago, meat was scarce and variety even poorer … and that’s why i think nowadays people here are obsessed about meat (as in “a meal without meat isn’t a proper meal”). but that also has started to change about 10 years ago … more and more people don’t think like that anymore and start to eat healthier (less meat, greater variety). younger generations care less and less about food (as in “yeah, i have to eat, it’s perfect if it tastes good, but i don’t want to waste too much time doing that”).
I’m glad you enjoyed this post, INTJ! 🙂 Particularly since you played a big part in how this post came about! ^^
Thanks for sharing your culture’s relationship with food, it was very interesting to read! The essential similarities (food is also used to communicate love) versus the differences (less importance placed on it because other forms of communicating love are common, food being more of a functional thing than social), and the different nuances that result in the respective cultures. Quite fascinating, I must say!
It really does help to bring out how much our histories and our cultures affect who we are, at a fairly fundamental level. 🙂
in case anybody wonders “why bread and salt?”:
a local tale tells us the story of a king who had three daughters and one day wanted to know how much they loved him. the eldest said “i love you as much as honey because nothing is sweeter in this world”, the next said “i love you as much as sugar” and the youngest said “i love you as much as salt in food”. the king was pleased with the answers of ther elder daughters but got very mad at the youngest since salt can’t be compared to the sweet taste of honey and sugar.
later on, a foreign prince visited the kingdom and, ignoring the elder sisters, he married the youngest princess. nobody could understand why the prince made that choice since all three were beloved and beautiful princesses. some months after the wedding, the king visited the new family. at the dinner table, while everybody was eating hearthily, the king couldn’t swallow anything. so he decided to taste the food that was served to the other people (food is individual, not communal) … and everybody else’s food was very tasty. it turned out the food was prepared by this youngest daughter (the prince’s wife) and she had used only honey and sugar, no salt … remembering how pleased the king was by the words of her elder sisters.
Oh, interesting story, INTJ! Thanks for sharing! It’s always great to learn more about one another’s cultures, and now we know an interesting story that’s part of yours 😀
Hi. That was a very interesting article. I posted a question elsewhere which went something along the lines of “Why are americans afraid to eat in movies and dramas.” What I was referring to are scenes where there is a load of food on the table, bit hardly any of it is touched. A typical scene might be where someone is bringing food to their mouth. Someone else says something. Then the person about to eat, answers, and the food never goes in. ISo I love the eating in asian movies and dramas. For the most part, people are actually eating.. I’m not saying people never eat in american movies. But I would say it would be easier to find 10 good eating scenes in asian dramas, than in american dramas. I guess you can say than in american dramas, the food is often just there as a prop.
I also learned about the love aspect recently. I had wondered why in a korean dramas I guess (I watch asian from other counties as well including china and singapore) but I’m not sure if i have seen the same situation in dramas or movies from those countries. I’m referring to (well a typical example comes from a drama, i watched pretty recently where a lady lays out a table full of bowls of food for this other lady, and I think later she does the same for her son. I just questioned why so many bowls, for just person. It was explained to me it was a sign of love. Your post has further enlightened me.
One other thing I noticed early on, is the noise people make when eating. In western culture, it’s polite to be quiet when eating. I’m not referring to conversation of course. Wheras in asian culture, the opposite seems to be the case. it’s like the more noise you make, the more appreciative of the food you are. Is this still the case, or is there any shift towards the western “quiet style”?Of course not all westerners eat quietly either.
Hi martin! I’m so glad you found the post interesting and that it helped to shed further light on Korean culture (well, and Chinese culture too). I’d noticed that too, that food in Western shows tend not to be consumed on our screens. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why INTJ’s friends commented that all Korean people ever do in the shows is eat. Perhaps in contrast to the minimal eating on Western TV, the amount of actual eating going on in Korean dramas just got magnified. 🙂
In response to your question, the degree of shift towards the Western “quiet” style of eating depends on how westernized the Asian culture in question is, I believe.
Singapore, where I live, is becoming quite westernized, and many of us respond to our food depending on the situation. If we are in a formal western dining sort of a situation, we would be appropriately quiet in our table manners. If we are in a casual setting with the same food, but with close friends, we would probably be noisier. Comparatively, most people would be relatively noisier at a formal Chinese wedding banquet than at a formal Western dinner, because it is culturally acceptable. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, more of more of us are becoming situationally aware and therefore adjust our table manners according to what the situation calls for, if that makes sense. 🙂
This is a lovely post. Very insightful and well-written.
Although food does not have particular importance in my own culture, I don’t see it as a weird thing that Koreans have a special relationship with food in their culture. Actually, I’ve always loved that aspect about Korean culture, because food is never just “food”. Like you pointed out, it can have so many different meanings. For example: eating alone refers to loneliness, eating with family members shows the close bonds between the family members, asking someone if they’ve eaten shows sincere care for that person’s well-being, and a mother preparing a meal for her children or a wife cooking a meal for her husband is an expression of love. Oftentimes, I find these moments in Korean dramas the most heartwarming because I can see that there is an underlying meaning to them. And I feel that scenes that involve characters eating or sharing meals together adds a sense of realism to dramas.
Aw, thank you Indigo! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂
You painted some lovely examples of how food is used as a language in Korean culture, and we do see all of these aspects come into play in our beloved dramas. I think it’s especially heartwarming how Korean mothers prepare food for their children, then watch over them as they eat, placing shredded fish or other banchan on their child’s spoonful of rice. There’s something so nurturing about that, and I never tire of seeing that play out on my screen. Also, you’re so right, that scenes of characters eating and sharing meals adds to the realism of our dramas (not that all our dramas are extremely realistic, as we know), but it really does give us insight into the workings of the culture, and that’s always nice 🙂
Food and eating is not just a way to achieve nutrition. It’s so much more than that. It’s a way to communicate love and care, respect and gratitude, to bond and to know each other more. Well, I think that’s it for Asians in general.
May I add, there is no Filipino party without food. That is why when Filipinos in the west are invited to parties by a person who knows our culture, they are told to eat before coming. 🙂
I’m no authority on the subject, but I do think that communal eating is a much more Asian than Western thing. In my culture (since that’s the one I’m most familiar with), shared communal dishes is the norm. In that sense, it’s rather similar to the Korean approach to meals. Sometimes, you get a one-person meal, like noodles, but the “proper” way of having a meal is with other people where you share big communal dishes. In contrast, I notice that communal dishes is less of a Thing in Western culture. While not always the case, I notice that most of the time, food is served in single-person servings. Like steak, or fish and chips. I could be wrong, of course.
But yes, long tangent later, I think that the communal aspect of Asian food is closely linked to the multiple things communicated by food that you mentioned.
And, that’s really cute, about Filipinos being advised to eat before going to a party in the West! Cute, but also very telling of some of the fundamental differences in cultures. 🙂
Oh right. It’s quite often than in Asia we see someone pick or try food from somebody else’s plate but I’ve been told it’s a no no in the West.