Guest Post: Lessons in Korean cuisine from my Korean ex

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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(photo by Alpha via
(photo by Alpha via

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.

(photo by Anna Lee via
(photo by Anna Lee via

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.

Svetlana is a book review blogger and enjoys reading unique literature as well as discovering AM/WF books. Her blog has something for everyone. She is still single.


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11 Replies to “Guest Post: Lessons in Korean cuisine from my Korean ex”

  1. @Sveta

    Like you I love Korean food and I was introduced to it while in China. There is a Korean restaurant near where I work so I tend to eat there 2 or 3 times a week. The popularity of Korean food in China has grown, I have seen lines of Chinese people waiting to try fried Korean Chicken ( supposedly this is the most famous and tastiest Korean fried Chicken in Shanghai).
    The popularity of Korean Drama’s has a lot to do with the popularity of Korean food.

  2. I also enjoy Korean food. However, one criticism I have with Korean cuisine is that it doesn’t have a great variation of flavours. Also, while the heat is not unbearable to me, the Korean chilli powder/sauce gives me diarrhea.

  3. Have no idea of the Korean dish you mentioned. But I do love hot, spicy curry soup noodle we have here that we call curry mee. With slices of fried tofu, veges and clams curry mee is heavenly. I do like kimchi though and the Korean glutinous rice they have for a staple.

  4. Sweet story! Like Sveta, I wasn’t used to (and didn’t like) spicy food until I went to China. The first time I ate a lamb skewer with spicy powder I wanted to die hahaha. Now I also enjoy Korean food. I am not a big fan of kimchi but I love toppoki!

  5. @MM, that’s so true about the popularity of Korean food based on dramas here in China. On the local news, they highlight Hangzhou restaurants and one place became popular because of a type of fried chicken popularized by a Korean drama!

    @D-Maybe, my husband, as much as he loves certain Korean foods, does occasionally get diarrhea from the really spicy or heavy sauces. I showed him a photo of the food Sveta loves and he grimaced! I think I would try it, though.

    @Ordinary Malaysian, curry mee sounds so divine! And vegetarian friendly (as long as you could make it w/o the clams)!

    @Marta, OMG, I think you wouldn’t be the only one who couldn’t handle those lamb skewers. My husband usually can’t eat them either, especially the ones with any kind of spicy powder — like the ones that give food a peppery flavor. In fact, he can’t even eat pepper, it gives him diarrhea.

    I was a fan of kimchi for a while until I ate a bad batch at a local store. Haven’t tried toppoki though…now you’ve got me curious! 🙂

  6. I totally agree with you on how an ex or significant other can change the way you eat!! Before college, I only had Thai food in addition to Chinese and Vietnamese. Then I met my ex, and was introduced to a whole bunch of diverse restaurants. My family seldom went out to eat to save money… So after being exposed to all these restaurants, I eventually took a food culture class during college. Then at the beginning of this year, I started a foodie blog! =)

  7. @Jocelyn, the Korean drama you’re referring to must be that cheesy one with the alien. I can’t believe it was such a huge hit in China… It just goes to show how lacking in taste the Chinese people are.

    By the way, the Korean oxtail soup is delicious! I highly recommend it.

  8. It’s true that people can influence your dietーespecially a partner or close friend. Even though both YJ and I have picked up some of each other’s foods, I will never be able to eat his natto-meets-kimchi concoction (though I love kimchi and I’m neutral about natto!)… Mixing two really smelly things together like that just doesn’t do it for me.
    I also love toppoki though! (YJ likes it too, but hasn’t seemed to learn yet that his stomach definitely doesn’t like it at all… ^^;)

  9. It’s funny, as it has happened with my husband, although we seemed to have “switched” taste buds over the years. He used to hate spicy while I loved it. Now I can tolerate it but he can scarf down hot peppers, wasabi, etc. same thing more or less happened with sugar–he didn’t much care for it before and now he guzzles coke while I turn my nose up at the stuff.

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