Food: Going Troppo

I needed noodles and the closest restaurant was 10 kilometres away — by boat. I had planned for my holiday well but had not anticipated this. Who could have? This was an emergency.

A ramyeon emergency!

Now I love noodles but rarely make them myself because I don’t have the cookware, my local takeaways are so much better at it, and because noodle leftovers are soggy, cloggy messes. Most of the time my noodle cravings are assuaged by waiting a day until they pass. If they don’t, it’s a quick phone call to my local Chinese (or a few quick taps of my delivery app — it’s 2018, you know).

To help tell this tale of unmet desire, dissatisfaction and a growing, gnawing need for noodles, I need to take you back in time to August 2017. It was winter and so I was miserable. Also, I had just spent a month nursing my father after his surgery for prostate cancer while simultaneously being there for my mother. Despite being in a nursing home, she was extremely upset about Dad’s illness and was panicking and threatening self-harm. But this is a food post so I’ll dance past that to the point where I decided to spend a month at “home” for some much-need R&R. For our family, home is as much a place as it is people.

There is an island: small, tropical, residential. Nothing special — it’s no Santorini or Majorca. It’s not the Australian Maldives. It’s just a small island off the coast where my family has holidayed for four generations. This is home. But it’s a home that’s a good 1300 kilometres away from where my parents now live and a further 1000 from where I now reside. It’s a home that only discovered coffee machines about fifteen years ago and where there’s still only three restaurants that bother opening during the week. None of these, to veer back to my original point, sell noodles.

Cheon Song-yi eats ramen in My Love From The Star
My Love From the Star

Having developed a more gourmet sensibility on top of its fish-n-chips on the beach mentality, you can now get soft-shelled crab burgers and seafood pizzas to go with your pot of beer. But no noodles.

Did I mention that there is nowhere you can buy noodles?

But, still, I had blithely and unwittingly packed my bags and driven for three days to take the ferry to this noodle-less hellhole. Once there I did the obligatory 13 trips to unpack the car — one for my clothes, two for the groceries, 10 for the alcohol — walked on the beach while the sun set, sat on the balcony overlooking the water with a gin and tonic, and then thought, “I might watch some dramas.”

I watched Descendants of the Sun, which I thought was pretty boring, and then I watched The King2Hearts, which I thought was a little silly, and then I watched Jealousy Incarnate because Jo Jung-seok is love.

I admit the ramyeon craving was starting to gnaw at this point. These people eat noodles a LOT. And I like noodles. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I was at the beach, so I had bought a lot of salads and fish and had planned to do the fish-n-chips thing at least once. My meals involved firing up the barbie if I didn’t get takeaway from the local pub.

I hadn’t packed the ingredients for anything fancy. I was hardly going to drive all that way with the contents of an Asian grocer in my car. Also, I was in a holiday home for people who BBQ six times a week. So there was one small fry pan and a large saucepan in case their guests were weirdos who wanted to boil pasta.

But, have you seen Jealousy Incarnate?

It’s not just that “eating ramyeon” is a euphemism for having sex in Korean. In the show, ramyeon is used as a signifier for relationships in the same way that Hwa-shin’s breast cancer is used as a symbol for his fear of intimacy. Lee Hwa-shin doesn’t just need to let Pyo Na-ri take care of his chest; he also needs her to cook him ramyeon because he doesn’t know how. He claims to know how but clearly doesn’t. Whether Na-ri can find the ramyeon at any particular point of the drama depends on her feelings towards him. And of course she finally feeds him ramyeon at the end when she seduces him.

Na-ri feeds Hwa-shin noodles in Jealousy Incarnate
Jealousy Incarnate

There’s a common element here. Take a moment to guess what it is. No hints. For those who have picked up Greasy Melo by the same writer, you’ll know what it is.

It turns out there is a Thai restaurant on the island that had Pad Thai on the menu. It was tucked back behind one of the beaches and open to dine-in only from 7-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

I went.

No noodles.

Was it insane to take the ferry back to the mainland to try to find noodles? Should I call a relative and tell them to come over and bring me noodles? Would one of the mainland restaurants get too upset if I called them and asked them to deliver to the island?

Now that was a truly crazy idea. There aren’t any decent noodle restaurants in that city anyway! I’d have to head south. It was only 2500 kilometres to my local noodle house.

Sae-woo eats jjajangmyeon with her horse in Greasy Melo
Greasy Melo

At this point, I headed to the supermarket to see if there was some way I could get the ingredients to make some decent noodles or at least to buy some awful Maggi instant noodles and eat them instead. While I was browsing the shelves, I noticed a small section of imported groceries for backpackers. It was a hodgepodge of cuisines and brands but there was something there called “Shin Ramyeon.”

Go-Anna finds ramen in The K2
The K2

Worth a try.

I was there a month. I sometimes wonder what that supermarket thought about me coming in and buying more Shin Ramyeon every day. I could give you an estimate of how many packets I ate but I lost count and also it’s embarrassing.

It all turned out okay anyway. Eventually, Hwa-shin and Na-ri got to “eat their ramyeon” and the show was finally over. I could relax and take a bottle of wine and a nice piece of fish to the BBQ on the beach like a normal person.

But next on my binge-watch list: Healer.

Better go to the supermarket again.


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