My husband Junkyu and I have been married for over a year, and we still face bumps in the road when it comes to deciding on what to eat. We aren’t alone – many people I know who are also in international relationships face the food obstacle sooner or later, and it isn’t always easy to get around.
Food has a lot of cultural significance, and certain cultures, Korea included, place high importance on eating ‘family style’ with everyone around the table eating the same things. But food is something that affects us emotionally. When we are sick or having a bad day, we may try to cheer ourselves up with comfort food. However, my husband’s idea of comfort food is kimchi stew and mine is pizza.
My husband grew up eating three home-cooked meals a day, even into his adult life. He was raised eating healthy, home-cooked meals with a variety of ingredients. He enjoys eating big meals with lots of different dishes on the table at once. He craves kimchi in any form and his spice tolerance is high.
I was the type of person who would order the exact same thing at a restaurant. I moved to Japan and had to try octopus, cold noodles, okonomiyaki, and all sorts of things I’d never had before. Then I moved to Korea and had to get used to another array of dishes. Kimchi, spicy chicken, bugs, and blood sausage. It certainly ripped me from my comfort foods but that doesn’t mean that I was cured just like that.
I used to be scared of cooking, but I am a lot more calm and collected now when faced with a growling stomach. I’ve learned to make some of my comfort foods like tacos, chicken pot pie, fried chicken, etc. Korea isn’t the hardest place to find ingredients, but it was difficult learning where I needed to go to get certain things I needed. I still sometimes can’t find peanut butter in the first few stores I try.
My husband loves cooking and is good at throwing things together. He watches cooking shows and reads online recipes whenever he’s hungry, and everything he makes turns out good. He’s learned (and sometimes taught me) to make Korean chicken stew, spicy pork stir fry, kimchi pancakes, and spinach and tofu soup. I’ll happily eat those when he makes them, and I’ve made them for us occasionally, but when I’m home alone, I always reach for what I know. Sometimes on the weekends, too, we’ll make separate lunches just because our cravings are so different.
I’m completely fine with us eating different things – it’s like going to a buffet. I don’t see the harm in eating different meals together if both of you want to eat different things. However, Korean culture places a heavy emphasis on eating the same meal together. Sometimes my husband feels sad or frustrated that I don’t want to eat the same thing as him. I understand that, and he knows that it’s just his culture that makes our different plates rub him the wrong way, but sometimes when he points out that we aren’t eating the same thing, it makes me feel like he doesn’t think I’m trying hard enough or something.
Korea is awesome and I love living here and the food is delicious, but I like to eat Indian food and Chinese food and spaghetti and pizza sometimes when I’m in the mood. He doesn’t get in those moods like I do. He doesn’t have a “cheeseburger” mood – he has a “kimchi stew” mood. And that’s fine. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect us at all. We both have to accept the fact that we like different things. We both try each other’s food, but I’ll usually make tacos on a night that I know he’ll be working late, and he eats Korean food for lunch if he can.
We have both learned each other’s language, and although we still have the occasional snag in communication, the language barrier is not the thing that stands between us. It’s food.