Food for the Soul: Little Forest

By Tiffany Simms

Based on a Japanese manga, Little Forest is the story of a young woman, Hye-won (The Handmaiden’s Kim Tae-ri), who is hungry for food. As Asian Movie Pulse describes the film, “She is hungry for tasty real food, for soul food and for answers she cannot find and therefore she will eat her way to happiness.” After a bout of living in Seoul, she grows tired of city life and convenience food and moves back to her childhood village because she’s "hungry.” Hye-won says, “Instant food didn’t fill me up. I meant it when I said I came back because I’m hungry.”

In an interview with View of Korean Cinema, Director Yim Soon-Rye said, “The film features sixteen dishes, which amounts to three or four dishes per season of the year.” She continued, “I also wanted to show that Korean drinks, like makgeolli, or dishes like rice cake can be cooked and made at home, so I chose them for the film. Also, some dishes are related to my own memories of my mother—like tteokbokki that the character of Eun-sook wanted to eat in the film. Kim Tae-ri’s character Hye-won used the materials from near her house, from her field, so the dishes were selected on that basis. As for the acacia flower fritters, I actually made those before, and some dishes I actually learned to make through the course of making this film. For example, I learned how to make makgeolli; I tried three times before, but I failed every time. With makgeolli, timing is very important, but I was always a little too late, so it got fermented already—not all of these dishes are easy to make.”

Although most of the dishes are Korean, you will find that the prepared food is meat-free, despite the prominence of meat in Korean cuisine, with the exception of katsuobushi. This is due to Yim reflecting in her work as she identifies as an animal rights activist and “fish vegetarian.” So, if you are a vegetarian who has wanted to explore Korean cuisine but have struggled to find meat-free options, this film can be a helpful exploration!

If you have become a fan of food-based entertainment in recent years, like popular K-dramas, such as Let’s Eat, you will enjoy this film. It goes beyond the surface of the mukbang or ASMR style of entertainment as it shows Hye-won farming and purchasing the ingredients, preparing the dishes, eating, and feeding it to her friends. Filmed in Ether says, “Despite its simplicity, there is meticulous attention and care in the way the camera follows how food goes from the land, is prepared and finally consumed and shared with people, that it’s easy to see that the care we have for our food is a metaphor for how we treat ourselves and others.” Afterall, as Hye-won’s mother says, “Cooking reflects the heart.” In this film, food acts as a metaphorical and literal binding agent for all. Food has the power to be “nourishment for the body and soul.” At the heart of Little Forest is that message and it communicates it through a large menu. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most memorable dishes from the film, including some of our favourites from Korean cuisine.

Fried Acacia Flower Fritters

Possibly the most intriguing dish of many in the film—fried flowers. If you would like to experiment and try for yourself, here is a recipe.

Kongguksu (콩국수)

Soup for the summertime?! Unheard of! Except in Korea, there is a refreshing chilled soup: Kongguksu, a soy milk soup. If you would like to learn how to make it, check out Maangchi’s recipe here. If you would like to make it like Hye-won’s, just swap the wheat flour noodles for cucumber noodles.

Sirutteok (시루떡)

Hye-won prepares it as a Three-Layered Rice Cake. Though not exact, this recipe is a good one to get you started. They show quite a bit of clips of her preparing it in the film that may make it possible for one to go by making it from just watching. The film’s food stylist Jin Hee-won told Korea Joongang Daily, “The three-layered rice cake was the most demanding. I didn’t know how sensitive rice cakes react to temperature. We shot the scene during the winter, so the cake kept freezing and then defrosting. We had to shoot the scene at least fifteen times until we had used up all of the rice flour that we had taken to the shoot.”

Spring Flowered Pasta

Quite the fancy and aesthetically pleasing dish, oil pasta with apple blossoms on top.

Chestnut Preserves

If you’re a bit nutty and love chestnuts, you must try this! This recipe is specifically inspired by the film. Be like Hye-won and give it a try for yourself!

Crème Brûlée

Obviously, it is not a Korean dish; this is a classic French dessert. It is featured in the film for a couple of reasons, but most importantly because the mother enjoyed experimenting with cuisine. The director, Yim, explained the other reason to View of Korean Cinema, “The dishes presented are mostly Korean, but there are also some dishes like pasta or crème brûlée. Those dishes were used because the target audience were young females, so we felt they would find such dishes attractive.” Check out Alton Brown’s recipe for the dessert with the Food Network.

Sujebi (수제비) and Chicory Fried Flour

You may recognize this dish from Let’s Eat 3 as well!

Mmm, I would really like this on a cold rainy day. A popular traditional Korean soup is hand-torn dough/noodle soup. If you enjoy Kal-guksu (칼국수), you'll enjoy this as well as the flavour is very similar. Learn how to make this dish with Maangchi.

Cabbage Sandwich

Basically, ⅓ Inkigayo sandwich! It is just cabbage salad in between two slices of bread. A simple but satisfying sandwich for days on-the-go or for a picnic on a warm day.

Tteokbokki (떡볶이)

One of my favourite Korean dishes! It’s spicy rice cake. Learn how to make it here with Maangchi’s recipe.

Stuffed Onion

There are many ways to make this dish; here is one recipe to help get you started!

Pajeon (파전)

This is scallion (green onion) pancake. Want to try it for yourself? Check out Maangchi’s video on how to make it.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

Can’t get enough of savory pancakes? Possibly paying homage to its Japanese source material, Hye-won’s mother makes this for her when she is a little girl. This dish is prepared during one of my favourite scenes from the film. The name “okonomiyaki” comes from okonomi, which means "how you like" or "what you like," and yaki means "cooked." Although it’s Japanese, it may remind you of a Korean dish because it is quite similar to yachaejeon (야채전). You can learn how to make it yourself here! Simply, it’s a cabbage pancake and it is definitely worth the try.

What is your favourite dish from Little Forest? Which one will you attempt to cook? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Tiffany Simms

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