Crash-landing on Korean food

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 10, 2020

Man-na: The fictional Captain Ri makes noodles from scratch and barbecues meat on a coal briquette for his South Korean guest   -  ISTOCK.COM

Bibimbap, kimchi and soju can’t be far behind once Captain Ri, from a popular Netflix show, enters your life

* Captain Ri (played by actor Hyu Bin) in the show Crash Landing on You makes ramen noodles from scratch

* Kimchi making, as shown in the Korean drama, is an important community activity in North Korean villages

* Bean sprouts soup and dried pollack soup are shown as hangover cures

Imagine this: You are in enemy territory (given the current state of foreign affairs, you have plenty of options to choose from). You are hiding in the village home of a kind-hearted army captain who, for some inexplicable reason, doesn’t want to hand you over to the State Security Department. And, while you complain about the lack of hot running water and scented candles in the rural abode, your host makes you a bowl of ramen noodles from scratch. He garnishes the soupy broth with a fluffy omelette cut into rolls, radish and chillies, and serves it with a smile hanging to a corner of his delicious lips.

You may now open your eyes, pinch yourself hard and let out that sigh that’s travelling up your throat. And please don’t go paragliding during a tornado in the hope of landing — crash-landing, rather — in the arms of a man who will take you home, cook for you and let you throw tantrums. Watching 16 episodes of Crash Landing on You on Netflix is safer.

Love interest: North Korean army man Captain Ri takes a tunnel to reach South Korea in order to protect Yoon Se-ri (left) from gangsters   -  IMAGE COURTESY: NETFLIX


The fictional Captain Ri, the dishy North Korean ramen maker who also barbecues meat on a coal briquette for his guest in distress, is just a click away. A gamut of Korean dishes is also a click away these days, thanks to smartphones and food-service aggregators. If you’re as smitten by Ri as yours truly, you won’t let a pay cut stop you from getting your fix of bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables, meats, eggs, mushrooms and gochujang paste), pork jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce), fried chicken in a sticky and sweet chilli sauce (take a walk, KFC!) or kimbap (Korean sushi roll).

You may also start your day with a bowl of congee (juk in Korean), stir-fried spinach and pickled cucumber and radish. You may also end up drinking soju (an alcoholic drink made from rice or sweet potatoes) till dawn, just to test the efficacy of bean sprouts soup or dried pollack soup as hangover cures. And when you find yourself eating fruit salad with chopsticks, know that your Ri-fication is complete. You may then apply for citizenship to any of the two Koreas.

But until it’s safe to travel again, you can adopt certain lifestyle changes to keep Ri — a role played by South Korean actor Hyu Bin — close to your throbbing heart.

Buying cabbage is the first step. Get yourself to the nearest vendor and tell him that he cannot sell the vegetable to anyone but you — at least until you board the flight to Korea. Once back home, take a pickaxe and shovel and start digging a pit, big enough to hold a few jars of kimchi. In the show, the kimchi cellar in Ri’s house is also a hiding place for Yoon Se-Ri, his South Korean guest, when the special forces run a surprise raid. But we’ll stick to the basics. With the pit out of the way, proceed to gather the women — only the women, as per North Korean village tradition — in the hood. Tell them you need all hands on deck to make kimchi for your gluttonous soul, and use a screenshot of Ri to lure them to the kitchen. Like the women in Ri’s fictional military village, they, too, are likely to swoon over him as they pickle the cabbages in fish sauce, garlic, chilli peppers and salt. If their adulation for the man makes you jealous, cool yourself down with Korean beer.

Once the kimchi has been sent to the pit to ferment, bring out the eggs from the fridge. Put the water to boil, add a pinch of salt and then the eggs. Set the timer to 8 minutes and 27 seconds — enough room for you to watch two “#swoonworthy” videos on YouTube. When the alarm goes off, remove the eggs from the stove, drain the water and transfer to a bowl. And then, one by one, roll the eggs from left to right on the kitchen counter, maintaining a light pressure on the shell with your palm. The membrane will loosen itself without a fuss and you will realise that you have been peeling eggs the wrong way all your life. Why 8 minutes and 27 seconds? Because that’s how “Picky Princess” Se-ri loves her eggs. And Ri loves Se-ri. So much so that he takes a tunnel, used for storing salted shrimp during war, out of North Korea and reaches South Korea in order to protect his love interest from gangsters.

I can’t promise that the six-foot-tall Ri will come looking for you or me because of the little egg trick. But when a bunch of worried friends follows him to Seoul — said to be enemy territory for soldiers from North Korea — they often hang around restaurants that sell fried chicken and beer. As you season fried chicken wings with sweetish garlic-soy glaze, close your eyes once again. And draw your breath as you sprinkle sesame seeds and chopped spring onions on the food. Let your imagination do the rest of the cooking.

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Published on September 10, 2020
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