Just because you break up with your boyfriend doesn’t mean you have to break up with his cuisine too.
Sveta and her Korean boyfriend parted ways several years back but she continues her love affair with the spicy flavors he once introduced to her — flavors that she never expected to crave. It’s amazing how a relationship, even when it’s over, can influence you in delightfully positive ways!
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Recently I went to a Korean restaurant with a Chinese friend. I had a craving for a spicy Korean dish called Ddeokbokki which includes sliced rice noodles, fish cakes and vegetables, and is flavored with a sauce called Gochujang. My Chinese friend ordered a mild dish with pork, while I ordered Ddeokbokki.
As the cooks were making our meals, I wondered, Did they think that I ordered the mild pork while my friend ordered the spicy Ddeokbokki? The servers even assumed I couldn’t use chopsticks — they handed me Western-style utensils when they brought the food to our table — and they weren’t the only ones.
“Do you know how to use chopsticks?” my Chinese friend asks me.
“Yes,” I reply as I pick them up and dig right into the Ddeokbokki, to the astonishment of my friend.
I break the egg and spread it over the dish, just like I learned how to do years before. Later on, I pick up a small piece of fish cake called odang, which was covered in red sauce, and encourage my friend to try it. “It’s really good.” I’ll bet nobody in that restaurant imagined that I would introduce my friend to Ddeokbokki.
As I continue eating Ddeokbokki, I have to laugh at how much my tastes have changed. Who would have thought that a girl who couldn’t stand spicy food before 2008 now craves Korean food and even likes it? If you had told me in my early twenties that I would learn to love Korean cuisine, I would have shot you an incredulous look before launching into the many reasons I wouldn’t enjoy Korean food. After all, the Russian cuisine I was raised on — salads, potatoes, vegetables, chicken and beef — never included spicy foods like Ddeokbokki.
But then in January of 2008, I met Elliott, an international student from South Korea — a man who I ended up dating until September 2010. While we ate a lot of American food when we were together, Elliott also started introducing me to spicier Korean cuisine. He even taught me how to use chopsticks because his apartment didn’t have any forks or spoons.
It took me a long time to get used to the spiciness of Korean food. At first, when he would make spicy ramen noodle soup, the inside of my mouth felt like it was on fire and I needed to have lots of water to quench my thirst. Sometimes I wasn’t even able to finish the soup. But despite that, I kept on trying it. Finally, on this one day in March 2010 when I was eating this spicy noodle soup, I mentioned to Elliott that it was a little bland and even added kimchi to the broth. He laughed and told me that I was behaving just like a Korean! That was the moment I realized I had truly fallen in love with Korean food forever, beyond all of my expectations.
I am reminded of the Yiddish saying “Humans make plans while God laughs,” which means that things never turn out the way you expect them too. That includes the foods you come to love and even crave in life, like a little Ddeokbokki.
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