Something was going on in my life, and it was becoming a problem. So much of a problem, in fact, that my husband and friend would have intervened, if not for the fact that there are only two seasons of it. I am referring, of course, to the South Korean drama (?) “Let’s Eat”, which is ostensibly about a sad pathetic young divorcee named Soo-kyung (season 1), but is really about Korean food. You see, she loves food (specifically Korean food, this is important), but she is so sad and pathetic that she has few friends to eat with. In her quest for finding food partners, she ends up meeting friends and even eventually getting a love life. Oh, and busting an evil serial killer and helping to fix up a troubled young man’s life and … you get the picture, maybe. Season 2 is about a different young woman in a different Korean city, but the same ingredients are there: the woman is sad and pathetic and loves food (specifically Korean), a sinister subplot, a seemingly perfect guy who is good on paper, a cute dog, an extremely cute young woman, a catty female co-worker, a convenience store, a dry cleaner, a food blogging mansplaining male protagonist who is inexplicably irresistible to all women, and truly incredible shots of Korean food.
“Let’s Eat” is valuable in that it shows you what the definition of sad and pathetic is in South Korean life, and that definition definitely fits me. Haha, jk. What is truly love about “Let’s Eat” is that it is food porn in its purest form. You know how you are watching a porno and the plots are the most useless, flimsiest contrivances possible, useful only in connecting the various sex scenes together? Pizza delivery guy when the husband is away, pool cleaning guy when the husband is away, cowboys going camping, blah blah you get the picture? That is “Let’s Eat”, where the scenes are just excuses for making the characters sit and discuss food, with a particular focus on the eating. I mean the actual eating, the slurping and exclaiming and chewing (mansplainer is an especially loud chewer), with close-ups for the food that are so detailed that I swear they use a special filter for them. It is here, not in Seoul, where I learned about black bean noodles slick with soy glaze, gelatinous cartilage coated in red chili sauce, octopus shabu. When I watch these scenes, I have to put my hand over my mouth, to catch the drool.
Like all great art, “Let’s Eat” can be interpreted in different ways. Trude, whom I’ve forced to watch every single excruciating/drool-worthy episode, sees “Let’s Eat” as an ode to female pleasure. I see it as a nationalistic celebration of things that are unabashedly Korean.* The food is perfectly tailored, George R R Martin-style, to each specific situation and character: sad-ass onigiri from a convenience store when the main character is stressed and alone; overcooked slices of liver at a dingy Korean BBQ spot when the mansplainer is sad; boiled chicken stuffed in glutinous rice, floating in broth on a rooftop with garden-fresh veggies when characters are just starting to get to know each other. Western-style steak at a stilted and pleasure-less meal with the losing suitor for the female protagonist’s affections. A molecular gastronomy dinner with a different, ill-fated Prince Charming. A “Thai” meal (which includes that most iconic of Thai dishes, PHO), where mansplainer gets to show off his Thai language skills. And in one of my favorite scenes, a bizarre Korean-Italian feast consumed almost entirely by a woman who has decided to give up on her diet because WHAT IS THE POINT (me every other day). Foreign food is invariably expensive and the settings uncomfortable, putting the characters in situations where they are ill at ease. It’s the Korean food — specifically the sort of down-to-earth food featured in bars and shophouse restaurants — that make the characters their happiest.
*(There are also more unsavory interpretations, like how it’s a cautionary tale about what happens when you’re female and single).
I have just spent 630 words blathering on about “Let’s Eat”. That is how much I love this show. I haven’t even gotten into how its examination of Korean food has given me an appreciation for the variety and freshness of Thai food. It’s also given me the strength of character to open the boxes of kimchi we carted back from the Kim Chi Museum in Seoul LAST JULY.
In fact, I love this show so much that I’ve run out of steam writing about what I originally intended to write about, and which I’ll save for next week. If you desire a taste of something more Thai food-related, why not check out a Thai cooking masterclass run by Spice Vagrant? I initially turned on the first season of “Let’s Eat” to help jog my memory for this post, but now I find myself yet again sucked in, and will have to sign off in order to re-re-watch it in earnest. Send help, someone, please.