Before we look at the storyline of the novel that is our focus for the current series, Minyeong Lee’s Flower Boy Ramen Shop (이민영의 “꽃미남 라면가게”), here is the TV series version of the book [mild language warning]:
I’m not entirely certain if the show was actually based on the novel or if it was the reverse, but I suspect the former is the case. I’m trying to avoid books based on TV shows for this blog, though sometimes they are a fun read and good for language students to use. However, I chose this book in spite of not knowing that for sure because it fits into my genre arrangement for this year’s schedule.
Continuing our discussion of the book title, let’s look at the second half of the title referencing the ramen shop. The story obviously is at some point about ramyeon, as ramen is known in Korea, and here is a post that discusses various popular flavors, “Top 10 Korean Ramyeon Noodles”:
Like many popular movies and shows around the world, this story uses food to comment on life and romance. In this case, it just happens to be ramen. Food becomes a way of illustrating class differences between some of the characters even as the ramen shop brings poor street kids in for a meal and a loving environment.
Here is a little background on the origin of ramen courtesy of Wikipedia:
The origin of ramen is unclear. Some sources say it is of Chinese origin. Other sources say it was invented in Japan early 20th century. The etymology of ramen is a topic of debate. One theory is that ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese lamian (拉麺), meaning “hand-pulled noodles.” A second theory proposes 老麺 (laomian, “old noodles”) as the original form, while another states that ramen was initially 鹵麺 (lǔmiàn), noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce. A fourth theory is that the word derives from 撈麵 (lāomiàn, “lo mein”), which in Cantonese 撈 means to “stir”, and the name refers to the method of preparation by stirring the noodles with a sauce.
Until the 1950s, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally “Chinese soba”) but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning “Chinese soba”) or just Ramen (ラーメン) are more common, as the word “支那” (shina, meaning “China”) has acquired a pejorative connotation. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen)
This site has a great glossary of various styles of Japanese ramen dishes:
Now that we know what kind of cooking is central to the novel, let’s look at who the main characters are:
Eunbi Yang, a 25-year-old woman studying to become a teacher whose father owns the ramen shop, Eunbi Foods.
Chisu Cha, an 18 or 19-year-old spoiled rich kid, the son of the head of conglomerate business Chaseung Group. He suddenly returns from America and is attracted to Eunbi.
Baul (possibly Paul) Kim, a brawling teen street gang member whose foster father is Pastor Kim. He also goes to high school with Chisu and Hyeonwu.
Hyeonwu Wu, an 18-year-old high school student who is Chisu’s good friend even though he’s not rich like Chisu.
Kanghyuk Choi, a 31-year-old half Japanese man who is the heir to Eunbi’s family ramen shop after her father dies suddenly.
Dong Joo Kang, Eunbi’s twenty-something female friend who is a teacher at a boys’ school.
Unlike the TV version, the book is split into six sections, and each section begins with a ramen recipe. Sort of. The six ramen recipes are titled “The Ramen of Destiny Cooking Method,” “Eunbi’s Ramen Cooking Method,” “Chisu’s Ramen Cooking Method,” “Baul’s Ramen Cooking Method,” “Hyeonwu’s Ramen Cooking Method,” and “The Ramen of Love Cooking Method.” It is unclear from just looking at the chapter recipes if they are supposed to be recipes created by the characters or reflecting the characters and plot.
In the TV show, Kang Hyuk heads the ramen shop and has his new employees Eunbi, Chisu, Baul and Hyeonwu partner up and study each other so they could come up with a special ramen dish that would appeal to their partner. They have to present their dishes to the group and Kanghyuk at two different times in the show. I haven’t gotten far enough in the book to see if that is what happens there, but these recipes do seem to follow that plot point.
The recipes seem like the real thing at their beginning, listing actual food ingredients, but they quickly turn into something more. For example, the “Ramen of Destiny” has an ingredient list of things like garlic, onions, anchovies, sea tangle and kimchi before adding “a slight smile in a teaspoon of tears.” Beneath the ingredient list in each recipe is a section titled “Notes,” and at the bottom of each recipe is the heading “Special Features.” The recipe directions in these sections follow the same pattern. The middle four recipes are attributed to four main characters of the book: Eunbi, Jisu, Baul and Hyeonwu.
Eunbi’s recipe includes ingredients like pork juice, red and black pepper, and onion, but a notable detail here is a word that plays on her name in the Korean, yangeun naembi, which refers to a nickel-silver pot that the ramen will be cooked in. Eunbi’s name is Yang Eunbi Korean style, so the play on words is apparent with the added middle syllable. Nickel-silver was commonly used for silverware and other tableware historically, according to the US General Services Administration website, as well as coins, other decorative objects and building features prior to World War II, so it’s appearance here could emphasize the antique quality of the pot Eunbi is cooking with. The recipe emphasizes her hot-tempered nature when describing the soup boiling and the dish’s spiciness before mentioning her tears and mistakes.
Chisu’s recipe emphasizes the class differences he experiences with Eunbi and the others. His ingredients include Grade-A beef, perilla leaves, bean sprouts, chili powder and cheese. The notes bring up the expensive price of beef that a poor person would not be able to easily afford.
Baul’s recipe includes chicken juice in honor of his nickname from school (“Crazy Chicken”), red pepper, red pepper oil, and chili powder. The rest of the recipe emphasizes the soup boiling up, the hotness of the dish, bursting out, addiction to eating it, and finally tears. This would be expected since Baul is even more hot-tempered than Eunbi and is a brawler, especially in the novel. The TV show didn’t make as much of his background clear, but Baul is quick to throw a punch when he gets angry, even around Pastor Kim, who doesn’t appear at all in the show. In the novel, Baul is shown in a confrontation with a street gang. However, I noticed in the TV show he seems to wear a t-shirt with religious references on it, probably due to Pastor Kim’s influence. He clearly comes from a very hard background.
Hyeonwu’s recipe emphasizes various seafood juices, tuna, onion and either fishing or English; there is a play on words that seems to reference the seafood ingredients while also referring to memorizing English vocabulary. I’m a little unclear here since his character is not yet that well-developed, and even in the TV show it seemed rather bland. The recipe is described as salty and plain but refreshing.
Finally, the “Ramen of Love” recipe prefaces the last section of the book, but I have to admit I find it really kind of anticlimactic with an emphasis on separation and goodbyes. That could fit with the ending of the TV show, but maybe this will make more sense when we get to the end of the novel. We will revisit this recipe at that time in order to make sense of it.
The recipes are a nice literary touch otherwise. Next time, we will start to look at the story itself.
Part two of a five part series.