The New Platform for ‘Social Foodies’

It was a warm afternoon in early April when I spoke with Arthur Brenninkmeijer, the amiable and perceptive founder and creator of SpotDrop, a new app revolutionizing food recommendations to be more interactive, helpful, and authentic. I quickly discovered that Brenninkmeijer’s vision of SpotDrop goes beyond solving a culinary conundrum but offers a new way to connect with friends in a personal way. 


A senior at Boston College, Brenninkmeijer’s interest in creating SpotDrop ties closely with his multicultural background and love for exploring different culinary scenes. French and Dutch, Brenninkmeijer grew up all over the world, including Brazil and parts of Europe. Having lived in Europe, Brenninkmeijer explained that it’s easy to “travel from city to city and from country to country,” which put him in close proximity to “a lot of different cultures and a lot of different food scenes.” When exploring new areas, Brenninkmeijer sought to eat where the locals ate, attempting “to stay as far as possible from tourists.” To this end, Brenninkmeijer often turned to his friends for authentic food recommendations. However, he mentioned the process to be “painful” since it often required manually calling or texting people who may be busy, “taking a screenshot of a conversation to remember the place’s name” or “adding the name of a specific restaurant” to a folder or note. In other words, there was not a seamless, easy way to access friends’ food recommendations. 

He faced the problem once more when arriving in Boston for the first time and being “overwhelmed by how much choice there was” in the food scene. Brenninkmeijer sullenly admitted that he “didn’t do a good job of keeping track” of his friends’ recommendations, which led him to “completely miss out on everything that my friends have told me” to check out. However, inspiration struck Brenninkmeijer when he saw a prime opportunity to “build something new” that addresses this recurring problem. Thus, the idea for SpotDrop was born the summer after his freshman year. He chose to study at Boston College to “pursue my interest in startups and entrepreneurship,” which provided a basis to launch his foodie-fueled idea. After years of hard work with a team, he launched SpotDrop on the App Store in February 2022, and pitched it at Boston College’s Accelerate@Shea Demo Day in April 2022.


What is SpotDrop? Brenninkmeijer explained that SpotDrop is an app where users can view “different restaurants, cafes, bars and nightlife experiences that your friends enjoy” on the platform by posting “spots” and following friends. When a user posts a “spot,” they have the option to attach photos and write a review for their friends to see. Value comes from seeing real recommendations from people that users choose to follow and trust on a personal level.

Brenninkmeijer solidified SpotDrop’s mission with an example. Say “you’re going to New York one weekend, and you know that your friend Abby goes to New York all the time… You can open spot drop, go to Abby’s profile, and then see the places that she’s been to [that] she would recommend her friends” to go. Brenninkmeijer believes that the heart of SpotDrop lies in offering “a much more personal recommendation because it comes from someone that you know.” He finds it “fun” to think about that “knowing that the reason I’m here is because my friend Abby added [a post] on SpotDrop.” There’s a “certain level of connection” in that experience that is “quite special,” Brenninkmeijer mused.


What makes this different from food influencers on social media? Brenninkmeijer revealed that platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, while very helpful and engaging, are not “curated for a foodie’s journey and experience.” As a result, such platforms often fall short on “key features” and “information that foodies look for.” SpotDrop caters to the foodie experience, targeting digitally-savvy and social young people. For example, it has a “a map feature that can be filtered based on exactly what kind of cuisine you’re looking for.” In addition, SpotDrop is partnering with OpenTable and will soon offer users the option “make reservations at different restaurants” through the SpotDrop app. Therefore, “Spot drop is just a bit more curated to the foodie side of things” and takes a foodie’s journey closer to actually eating at a recommended restaurant.

As for platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp, Brenninkmeijer underscored three ways SpotDrop is different: authenticity, subjectivity, and sustainably engaging.

First, the recommendations and content from these platforms comes from strangers, missing the personal connection piece that makes SpotDrop different. “SpotDrop is building a platform where the only content I see is from people that I’ve chosen to follow,” Brenninkmeijer emphasized. “Hopefully, users will be following people that they “know and trust” so they therefore “will know and trust the recommendations” of people they follow. Recommendations are founded on authenticity and trust.

Second, Brenninkmeijer scrutinized the “one-size-fits-all” approach of such platforms. “What might be a great restaurant for me… is not necessarily a great restaurant for you,” since taste and experiences are subjective. Instead, he advocates for recommendations based on people users choose to follow and trust, which is different for every person. This informs why SpotDrop doesn’t have a “star-rating” feature. 

Lastly, Brenninkmeijer finds a “gamification approach,” often seen with points or badges, as unsustainable for long-term platform strategy. “The incentive that we decided to go with people posting on SpotDrop is just being able to engage with people’s content.” He built in incentives similar to other social platforms, including commenting on and liking posts. Brenninkmeijer’s goal is to take the existing incentive model and “optimize it” for foodies in a way that is unobtrusive.


SpotDrop seeks to offer an authentic experience to the user. What this means is that upon opening the app, there will not be a “For You” or “Explore” page that bombards the user with information. Instead, the user only sees the content from people they follow. So, “if you download SpotDrop, and you don’t follow any foodie, and you don’t add any of your own places, the app is going to be empty.” Currently, there are a few Boston College foodie accounts recommended (including Gusto!) upon downloading the app just to get a user’s journey started on the relatively newly released app.

The overarching premise is that “we want to make it so that every time you see a picture or spot or something on SpotDrop,” it relates to “someone that you’ve chosen to follow, because that’s really what’s going to keep SpotDrop personal,” Brenninkmeijer affirmed. In the future, the platform might consider recommendations from friends of friends in less explored geographical areas, but SpotDrop plans to keep itself as personal as possible. “We definitely don’t want to be a platform that pushes content to users without it coming from a source that they decided to follow.”

Brenninkmeijer mentioned that SpotDrop’s key mission of curating a personalized food experience is constant, but the app development itself is ever-evolving. After all, it’s there to support the foodie’s journey. “We really are building an app for our users,” Brenninkmeijer stressed. As a result, constantly testing and implementing user feedback allows SpotDrop to offer a more frictionless experience with each app update. 

Ultimately, Brenninkmeijer finds value in connecting with friends in a deep way. What better way than food? “I really want SpotDrop to also be a platform that fosters genuine connections with people you already know,” Brenninkmeijer shared cheerfully. It adds “a new way to connect with your friends,” since “food and experiences are such powerful things,” he concluded.

The next time you struggle to remember a deep-dish pizza restaurant your friend recommended you check out in Chicago, consider downloading SpotDrop. Not only does it save time for all parties involved and is easily accessible, but forges a new connection between friends. Perhaps walking a mile in a person’s shoes is not the only way to really understand a person. Eating a plate of their favorite food at a place they love could be just as informing and of course, delicious.

Cover photo courtesy of Eataly Boston


Solodko Patisserie: An Exclusive Interview

Solodko is a Boston-based patisserie that offers classy and delectable desserts. Ilona Znakharchuk founded the business while studying at Boston College, and runs the patisserie with her sister, Irina. To learn about Solodko’s past and present, I interviewed Ilona, the bubbly and introspective owner. I learned about her fascinating business and culinary journey, and by the end of our chat, also ended up craving a scrumptious slice of Ukrainian honey cake. 

“It sometimes surprises me to see how far we’ve come because when we started, I didn’t think that three years later, I would still be doing this,” Ilona reflected. “And I plan on continuing to do it.” 


Ilona always had a passion for baking from a young age. Ilona and her older sister Irina, were born in Ukraine and moved to the United States as children. Ilona would often visit Ukraine to spend time with family and friends, and mentioned that she had a friend who owned a pastry shop there. “I was always just in awe of her desserts because I couldn’t find anything similar to what she had here, in the States,” Ilona shared. Inspired by her friend, “I started just playing around in my kitchen and experimenting and she helped me with a few of her recipes that she was kind enough to give to me,” Ilona added. “And that’s where it all started.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Solodko had its sweet beginnings in a dorm room at Boston College. During her sophomore year of college, Ilona would bake delicate desserts to share with friends. Macarons were her specialty, and she did not shy away from unique flavor combinations. In fact, her blue cheese, walnut, and pear macaron flavor was well-loved. Upon noticing her talent, her supportive roommate urged her to start a business and even made an Instagram page for her to commence her journey. At that time, Ilona chose the name Conditer for her baking business, which means “pastry chef” in Ukrainian. “That was my nickname in the family,” said Ilona warmly. For trademarking reasons, she later changed the name to Solodko, the Ukrainian word for “sweet”. 

Ilona started off posting a few pictures on Instagram and was shocked at the positive response. “Before I knew it, students started reaching out to me and placing orders. And I had a little bit of a freak-out moment,” Ilona admitted. However, she soon formulated a routine to manage her influx of orders. “I would go home on weekends and I would bake, and then I would come back to campus Sunday night,” where she would deliver the desserts, mainly macarons, with Irina’s help.

The next year after gaining more hands-on experience, Ilona pitched Conditer in Start@Shea’s Accelerator Program at Boston College. This program helps entrepreneurs realize their goals by offering helpful expertise, networking, and funding. The accelerator program let her “have more of a vision and a plan for how I want to move forward with this in the future.”’ She described this as the point where baking was no longer something on the side — Ilona was all in. 


After graduation, Ilona rebranded Conditer to Solodko. Currently, Ilona and Irina both work full-time jobs and spend their evenings attending to orders from customers in greater Boston. Ilona described Irina as her “right hand.” The sisters complement each other to deliver on quality consistently. “She’s there to help out and that really gives me the time and the freedom to carry out our goals and our vision,” Ilona said, mentioning that “background work” should not be underestimated. “Without her, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything that I do in terms of the business,” Ilona concluded. 

Despite their busy schedules, the sisters’ dedication to Solodko never wavered. “There were concrete steps for making the business a fully operational legal food entity,” to which Ilona gave examples of sub-leasing a commercial kitchen space and formally registering the business. They also revamped the menu to cater to their schedule and working capacities. 

“We started off primarily making macarons just because those were convenient for the Boston College student population. After college, we transitioned from macarons to different desserts.” Solodko moved to eclairs and other pastries, and then to cakes. Ilona found that “it’s easier to make one large cake and deliver to one customer than to make fifty eclairs and deliver them to ten different locations across Boston.” Since time was precious, they had to be efficient. “We had to tweak our business model a little given that we are working full-time jobs. We have limited time in our commercial kitchen and limited time to deliver.” Desserts like macarons and eclairs were more demanding than cakes, which “wasn’t sustainable” for the long-term. 

Photo credit: Solodko

Ilona points to significant people in her life and baking career who helped her develop her culinary skills. Ilona shared that Solodko’s cake recipes are actually from a pastry chef in Eastern Europe, which offers something new to a largely American customer base. In addition, Ilona interned at Jonquils Cafe & Bakery on Newbury Street. She worked with a pastry chef who “taught me so much that I now use in my day-to-day life of running the food business.” This includes culinary tips and tricks and how to pivot “when things start going wrong in the kitchen.” Ilona shared that “without his expertise, and without my experience in that cafe over the summer, I wouldn’t have had as much knowledge as I have now.” Solodko’s menu reflects Ilona’s baking acumen learned from talented pastry chefs, her Ukrainian background, and her own personal techniques, style, and creative flavor pairings. 

Currently, Solodko’s menu consists of a variety of cakes, cake jars, cakesicles, and assorted tarts. In particular, Ilona pays homage to the classic Ukrainian honey cake, honoring her roots. The honey cake is “a very popular Ukrainian cake flavor, called medovik in Ukrainian, so that has to be there.” 

Here are some of Solodko’s flavors, as listed on the website: 

“Mango Passion Fruit Coconut: Almond sponge cake layers with mango passion fruit confit, a coconut soak, and a light cream” 

“Raspberry Chocolate: A fluffy chocolate sponge cake with raspberry confit and a light vanilla cream” 

And Ilona’s favorite flavor that she highly recommends to customers new to Solodko: 

“Berry Vanilla: Vanilla sponge cake layers with mixed berry confit and a whipped cream cheese frosting” 

Ilona also recommended the custom-tarts: “This seems like a small dessert but you have up to three different layers within the tart itself and then you have the topping.” In one dessert, “you get a lot of different flavors coming at you all at once.” From cakes to tarts, Solodko offers something for everyone. 

As much as flavors are important, aesthetics matter as well for Solodko. The business exudes elegance in branding, from dessert decoration to website design. “We focus on things to be as delicious as pretty.” Ilona said simply. “And that’s important for us. So, I think that did definitely emphasize our branding and our style.” Ilona wants her desserts to embody a “timeless classic aesthetic through time.” For Ilona, too much going on is “overwhelming” and can take away from a breathtaking visual. “I feel like there’s beauty in simplicity.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Because Solodko cakes are custom, design is a balancing act between customer expectations and patisserie standards. Ilona walked me through the design process with an example. A customer reached out to Solodko for her daughter’s birthday, and shared ideas about the cake. “She likes leopard, she likes pink and she’s very feminine,” the customer said about the daughter in question. “That gives me right away something to work with,” Ilona articulated. She will then find inspiration on the internet and in life around her, “like nature, art, and fashion.” She looks at the work of pastry chefs and artists as well, and weaves her favorite aspects of those cakes into the final product, all while respecting artistic integrity. Ilona found that when customers hand over the reins to her in terms of design, the result is often impressive. “Sometimes those are the cakes that come out absolutely beautiful [because] you’re given the full liberty to execute your vision.” 

As for the items that are non-custom, Ilona “developed a style that works best for us in terms of aesthetics and time requirements. And that’s what we usually stick to.” For example, most of the eclairs, whenever on the menu, “are decorated with whipped ganache on top, piped in different patterns. We find that that’s the most comfortable for us to work with, especially when there’s a very large batch of eclairs that we have to make.” Ilona’s reasoning was practical. “You wouldn’t want to decorate each eclair in a different way because that’s unsustainable. And I think in business, you have to find a very smart balance between what’s artistic and creative and what’s sustainable.” 

Towards the end of our chat, Ilona contemplated on her years of trial-and-error, learning, and growth both as both a business owner and a pastry chef. “Every time I do something with the business and I take a step back and look at it, it’s a testament to the fact that… things that start out little can become big, with consistent hard work.” 

Ilona emphasized the power of persistence in achieving her goals. “You just should never give up on your dreams even when things don’t go according to plan. Because, as in anything that ultimately ends in success, consistency is key.” 

For the future, Solodko is looking to get its own commercial space, take more wedding cake orders, and open a cafe. Ilona sees this as an opportunity where she can expand their menu and definitely bring back their highly-requested macarons. No matter what the future holds, one thing is for certain: Solodko desserts are as aesthetically exquisite as they are indulgently delectable. Don’t be shy — help yourself to an irresistible slice of Solodko honey cake! After all, we all need a little sweetness in life.

Cover photo courtesy of Solodko


Purple Rice

In Seoul, I sought to carve out a place I could return to even if for a little while. Who knew it would be a noodle shop in Sharosugil? In the fall of 2021, I was an exchange student studying business at Seoul National University (SNU). When I wasn’t studying, I was either playing soccer as a member of SNU’s women’s football team, exploring Korea, or eating good food. Sharosugil (샤로수길) was my go-to area for “good food” since it was a short walk from where I lived. It is a neighborhood in the district of Gwanak-gu (관악구) that attracts foodies from all over. As an American interested in food all over the world, I soaked up the sights, sounds, and flavors of Sharosugil like a sponge. The area is brimmed with a diverse set of restaurant choices (Korean, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Mexican), cafes (teddy bear shaped desserts, sulbing spots, coffee) and other curious eating establishments (a restaurant that only sells shrimp bowls). A mixture of independent and chain eateries, there is something for everyone.

Given Sharosugil’s location near Seoul National University, college students comprise a substantial portion of Sharosugil visitors, including myself. Navigating the neighborhood’s packed streets, it is common to see twenty-somethings sporting school varsity jackets and sleek backpacks while clutching iced Americanos even in the frigid cold. So, I was genuinely taken aback on the rare occasion I saw a baby in broad daylight. Child in the wild. 

Considering my proximity to the area, I frequented Sharosugil when I wasn’t eating in the campus cafeteria or exploring other parts of Seoul. Sometimes I ventured into Sharosugil with friends to grab a bite or study in a cafe, and other times I went alone. Hidden gems aren’t often listed online, so I scouted potential treasure the old-fashion way: just walk in. My basic understanding of the Korean language facilitated the ordering process, but I always had a translation app handy. It was thrilling—so many adventures!

The most memorable experiences often had two main components: food and people. 

It’s so fresh!  My Korean soccer teammate told me about her time living in China over lunch: noodles, hot Mapo tofu, and stir-fried tomato and egg. The owner left to buy tomatoes as soon as we placed our order.

What’s the WIFI password? We were studying for finals while Christmas carols blasted through speakers at midnight. My Uzbek classmate shared with me his upcoming trip to Dubai as I sipped on an Earl Gray tea that was too hot for my liking. 

Small world isn’t it. My first ever matcha latte in a tiny, vintage-inspired underground cafe that made me feel warm inside. I happened to run into my bomber-jacket clad Indonesian friend who had dreams of working for a fashion magazine. 

Towards the end of the semester, I had checked off nearly all the top Sharosugil restaurants that were on MangoPlate, Korea’s version of Yelp, and then some. The area was familiar, too familiar, so much so that I noticed even small changes like the sign plastered on the gate near a rustic dessert cafe.

Area Under Investigation: Do Not Enter

As an adventurous college student studying abroad, I prioritized exploring and trying new things. I often visited restaurants only once so I could continue to try new places. At the same time, I sought warmth and familiarity through connections. Back home, family and friends were where I felt most comfortable. It didn’t necessarily matter where I was, but who I was with. After all, having grown up in different parts of the country, my physical “home” was always changing. I realized early on—forgive the cheesiness—that home is indeed where the heart is. I was lucky to make lifelong friends in Korea who were “home” to me, including my soccer teammates and other exchange students. My Mapo tofu, Earl Gray tea, and matcha latte memories have precious people attached to them. Little did I know, my experiences at a particular noodle shop inevitably took a share of my heart as well.

* * *

“You’ve got to try this place,” a copper-haired British exchange student told me as she sent me a text with the restaurant’s details.   

[Naver Map]

Eommason Noodle Soup 엄마손칼국수

(Noodle Soup, Dumplings)

☆ 4.4 • Visitor Reviews 40 • Blog Reviews 22

Located just at the edge of Sharosugil. Easy enough. I took her advice and went on a chilly October evening. The outside appearance of the restaurant was unassuming, unembellished, and small. If I hadn’t intentionally made my way there, I might have missed it. I translated the menu board fixated outside the establishment and decided on seafood kalguksu (knife-cut noodles). The only person working in the restaurant was an elderly man who I assumed to be the owner. After I stepped inside, he took my order and gestured to me to take a seat. 

The interior wasn’t anything particularly memorable—standard restaurant layout. There were only about six rectangular tables, four seats at each. No decoration whatsoever. A lone student was eating at the table behind me, watching a video on his phone. The small television mounted on the wall caught my attention—a soccer game. Or as the rest of the world calls it, football. Players in red uniforms passed the ball to each other. Commentators rapidly analyzed the play in Korean. I recognized a few words that my team used regularly in practice. The rest I hadn’t learned yet. Even so, what I loved about the sport was that skill and passion transcended language barriers. 

I had a clear view of the kitchen while the owner quietly cooked. Open-concept preparation. The owner moved nimbly and every action was purposeful in the construction of the dish. He brought out the seafood noodle soup in a medium-sized steel bowl and kimchi in a shallow dish. Eat well, he said. Soccer commentary I could barely understand filled my ears and perfectly chewy noodles were submerged in a flavorful seafood broth. I was content.

* * *

I disregarded my “one-time” restaurant rule and found myself sitting at the same table, in the same spot a week later. The other owner, the wife of the elderly man, greeted me inside. As usual, I put down my contact information on a piece of paper for contact tracing. 

Saamia (사미아)         010 XXXX XXXX     •     Gwanak-gu (관악구)

An entertainment show was on the television this time. I had no idea what was going on, but I admired the video editing skills. Between the sound of raindrops hitting the street outside, low-volume television chatter, and occasional clinking of utensils in the kitchen, it felt real. I was eating by myself in the restaurant, but I wasn’t alone.

The owner prepared my order speedily and again, a metal bowl once again greeted me. The shrimp in the steaming hot seafood kalguksu stared at me. I can handle clams with chopsticks, but shrimp? I struggled to peel the shrimp with my metal chopsticks. I had gotten better at chopsticks overall, but shrimp was simply a new level. I was convinced that by the time I had successfully peeled the shrimp, the soup would have gotten cold and my hands would be cramping as if I had taken an exam by pencil for three hours straight. 

Good thing I didn’t have to worry about the impact of hand cramps too much for soccer. Of course, my throw-ins might be a little lackluster thanks to shrimp shell induced cramping, but the magic is in the feet as a forward. However, stubborn seafood posed a considerable foe in my quest for a peaceful meal that rainy evening, my one and only priority.

Seafood Kalguksu

Photo credit: Saamia Bukhari

I made eye contact with the owner and as if she heard my internal plea for assistance, came over swiftly. 

How do I…? I began to explain my struggle in Korean, but she quickly caught on and asked permission to show me how it’s done. Yes please.

This is how. She put on gloves, brought a separate bowl and expertly peeled the shrimp with her hands. She worked slowly so I could observe each step of the process (visual learners unite). I’ll never take peeled and deveined shrimp for granted ever again.

Thank you.

While her demonstration may not have improved my shrimp peeling chopstick skills since she used her hands, I was thankful for her help. I enjoyed a more peaceful dining experience thanks to her shrimp peeling abilities.

As I steadily finished my noodle soup, the owner asked me if I wanted rice to finish the meal. I agreed since I love rice. She placed a very small, round metal container with a lid on the table. I looked at it curiously and opened it carefully. Purple rice. The result of white rice and black rice cooked together. I had never seen it before but the combination of the two types of rice yielded a unique purple color. She gestured for me to mix the soup with the rice to help finish the meal. She later replenished the rice to ensure I had enough. 

Before I left, she lightly scolded me. Your jacket is so thin!

She wasn’t wrong. Even when I checked the weather app an embarrassing number of times, I still managed to underestimate the weather. At least I lived closeby. I might freeze, but I’d thaw eventually.

I assured her I was okay. She wasn’t convinced but smiled with her eyes. Purple rice was on the house.

* * *

The owners recognized me every single time I stopped by. They introduced me to their two cats. One owner sometimes offered me free dumplings and quietly refilled my water. The other always had complementary purple rice on standby and commented on the importance of staying warm in the winter. I never knew their names and they never knew mine. Perhaps that information wasn’t important. At what point is a stranger no longer a stranger?

In the big city, the more novel the better. I did something new every day, visited new places, met new people. I carved a tiny nook for myself on the edge of Sharosugil. I tried different menu items and my newfound favorite was kaljebi, a combination of hand-pulled noodles and knife-cut noodles. My hand occasionally hurt from peeling the shrimp with chopsticks, but I loved seafood too much to let that deter me.

Sometimes I went when it happened to be busy. Oftentimes I was the only person in the restaurant. I brought friends along to try the place. I liked that it closed around 10 p.m. so I could help myself to some warm, satisfying food after soccer practice. It was casual enough that I could stroll in with my gear. It was nice to be there. It was a place I could return to. 

* * *

The day before I left the country, around Christmas time, I felt compelled to close the chapter. I couldn’t just leave without some sort of acknowledgement. I was running short on time yet quickly stopped by a local bakery and picked up a freshly baked, medium-sized cinnamon swirl cake. Can’t get more festive than cinnamon. Was it a holiday gift? Goodbye gift? Thank you gift? I Like Your Food Gift? It could be all of them at once. I embellished the box it was packaged in with some red ribbon to add to the holiday cheer. I wrote a card in Korean with my friend’s help and attached it to the box. Toasty in my purple coat, I walked straight on the sidewalk for about one hundred meters, crossed the street, and entered Sharosugil. After five minutes, I eventually reached the restaurant. 

Trying not to look creepy, I peered through the window to see if it was a good time to step in. The owner was inside making kimchi. The television was turned off. A much elderly woman with gray hair sat nearby; she was probably the owner’s mom. When I opened the door, the owner’s face lit up and she gestured to me to come in and sit at my usual table.  I didn’t have much time. In broken Korean I explained that I would be leaving. I handed the cinnamon swirl cake to the owner’s mom since the owner was physically occupied with kimchi making, which is a very labor-intensive process. The owner’s mom looked touched. Yet it was the first time I had ever seen her. Soft-spoken, she said words that I couldn’t understand and then embraced me in a tight hug. I was caught off guard but hugged back. Behind her, the owner bid me farewell with a smile. Take care.

Cover Photo courtesy of Saamia Bukhari

Quick Bites

Ode to Hotteok

I was an unassuming passerby, merely meandering through the endless stalls in Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Square. I was a sponge to the environment, soaking in the unintelligible crowd chatter, slight October breeze, and the different smells: sometimes seafood, other times street food. Having eaten freshly cooked clams for lunch just half an hour prior with friends, I was not particularly hungry. We were on what I like to call a “digestion walk” — the casual stroll after a meal, usually done in high spirits. Little did I know that life had more in store, that the day was just about to get even better (as if fresh seafood for lunch was not enough). Even while I was “full,” there was a special 호떡 (hotteok) shaped space in my stomach;  I soon found that the sweet Korean snack carved a permanent place in my heart as well.

Our relaxing digestion walk took a sudden pause in front of a street food stall in the middle of BIFF Square. A blue, red, and green striped canopy offered the stall shade on the mildly sunny day. The top of the canopy read in Hangul, in large white font: 씨앗호떡 (ssiat hotteok). Seed hotteok. 1,000 won (which is less than a dollar). My hotteok-loving friend encouraged us to try it out. I couldn’t wait.

While studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea, I had tried a variety of Korean street food. Hotteok was surprisingly one I had not experienced until a couple months in. Because hotteok is incredibly popular, it can be found anywhere in Seoul (so I didn’t really have an excuse for waiting that long). However, visiting Busan for its annual film festival in October presented itself as a prime opportunity to try ssiat hotteok, a version only found in the southern city. 

The only information I could use to discern the characteristics of this intriguing street snack, having never tried it, was by observing the seller’s preparation of it. Here’s a video of how ssiat hotteok is made!

The vendor, a kind-eyed elderly woman, was lightning fast, having mastered the recipe. She shaped flexible dough into circles, spooned in a light brown mixture in the middle, and gathered around the edges of the dough to form a ball and secure the inside mixture. Watching her prepare hotteok was mesmerizing — so fast yet fascinatingly precise. 

I later learned that the dough was made of flour, yeast, milk, salt, and sugar. Sticky and flexible, it served as a secure encasing for the filling when shallowly fried. The filling consisted of a mixture of brown sugar and ground cinnamon. The vendor fried the balls in oil on a large grill and pressed them flat into disks. Hotteok was done cooking when it was lightly golden brown on both sides, after being turned over occasionally. The vendor then cut a slit in the middle of the disk to create a pocket for additional filling. In true Busan-fashion, the vendor generously stuffed the hotteok with seeds including pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

What makes Busan-style hotteok so distinct is this inclusion of the variety of seeds in the inside (hence called ssiat hotteok). Other preparations of hotteok around the country also add chopped nuts like walnuts, peanuts, or almonds. Some don’t add filling beyond the standard cinnamon and sugar mixture, as hotteok preparation can vary city to city, and even between vendors of the same city. A couple weeks later I even tried matcha hotteok! There is something for everyone.

Vendor frying hotteok.

Photo credit: Saamia Bukhari

The vendor carefully placed the hot and fresh ssiat hotteok in paper cups. Time to dig in.

Biting inside the hotteok, the gooey sugar and cinnamon syrup immediately greeted my taste buds and oozed out. It was piping hot. Should I have waited a couple of minutes and let it cool down? Maybe. But I couldn’t resist. The seeds doused in the sticky sugary goodness offered a textural element and crunch. The density of the fried dough cut through the sweet inside. It was divine. The perfect post-lunch dessert.

Hot and fresh hotteok.

Photo credit: Saamia Bukhari

Upon first chew, I immediately concluded that it topped my Korean street food rankings. It was unlike any other sweet street food I had tasted in the country: an impeccable balance of crunch and sweet, an elite dough to filling ratio. Dangerously addictive. And under a dollar? An absolute dream. At that moment, my life was divided into two parts. B.H. and A.H.: Before Hotteok and After Hotteok. Was it really that impactful? Yes.

Standing in the shade, the three of us held our hotteok preciously, as if they were going to grow wings and fly away at any moment. We ate carefully to not get burned from the hot, gooey sugar, though I still managed to despite my best efforts. I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness, a certain contentment felt when experiencing good food with good friends. At the same time, there was an underlying, heart-tugging sadness, as each bite inevitably meant getting closer to finishing it. However, the memory will remain as fresh as the hotteok made that afternoon. Busan’s mid-day warmth, film festival excitement, adventurous friends, and of course, ssiat hotteok… together these seemingly separate elements planted the seeds to a wonderful day.


The Home Test Kitchen

Balancing Creativity and Calculation in Cooking

Teaspoons. Tablespoons. An assortment of measuring cups including ¼, ½, and ¾. A timer on standby. A printed out recipe or well-loved cookbook lying on the counter with hand-written annotations in the margins. All set to cook.

In the midst of the pandemic, about 54% of American adults report cooking more, with 75% saying they have become more confident in the kitchen, according to 2020 research by HUNTER. Naturally, with this rise in cooking, a rise in searching up relevant recipes is sure to follow. In fact, 34% of adults surveyed shared that they are looking for more recipes. This can range from healthy recipes, recipes for how to use existing ingredients in one’s pantry, or just searching for simple, practical recipes. Recipes give solutions, guidance, and instruction. How might one’s relationship with recipes affect their approach in the kitchen? There is certainly a practical element of cooking (sustenance for survival), though individuals decide the extent to which they choose to be explorative when cooking. Stick to the recipe? Veer off? Try something different? This differs on a person-to-person basis.

Personally, I have always approached cooking in terms of measurements, precision, and planning. Following a recipe to its definite measurements offers a sense of security and repeatability. If I repeat the same sequence of steps in the same manner, a good product is guaranteed every single time. After spending hours in the kitchen, working with all sorts of ingredients, who would not want a palate-pleasing outcome? 

There is no harm in following recipes down to the footnotes. However, in my effort to shoot for only positive outcomes, I realized something deeper at stake: my fear of failure. My pursuit of perfection suppresses my creativity, innovation, and freedom to experiment in the kitchen. I soon discovered there comes a point when depending on solely measurements becomes limiting instead of liberating. My grandmother’s style of cooking helped shift my perspective to welcome more experimentation.  

My grandmother, who I affectionately refer to as “Nanidear,” keeps the precise measurements mostly for baking. Everything else she measures her own way. Eye-balling it, a handful of this, a pinch of that but it really isn’t a “measurement” as I previously understood it. It is cooking by taking context into account, changing up ingredients based on what we already have, trying something new by modifying a base recipe, adjusting accordingly, or having fun with it. “Made with love,” as Nanidear says. And boy, is her food heavenly. Cooking with her allows me to contemplate the role of calculation and creativity in preparing food.

On a chilly mid-May day (New England weather is like this), Nanidear brought me into the kitchen to show me how to make Hyderabadi chicken korma. “I want you to make it,” she told me with a smile. Ah, the classic “learning by doing.” No printed out recipe here. 

Bewildered since I didn’t know the exact specifics of the recipe, I hesitantly took out ingredients I thought would go in the trusty pressure cooker. Chicken (obviously), Desi yogurt, ginger garlic paste, fresh mint leaves, almonds, assorted spices, oil, fried onions… I’ve watched my mother make the dish hundreds of times, but somehow I felt unsure without a recipe to cling to for safety. 

Image address from Tea for Tumeric

My grandmother then directed me to put all the ingredients in the pressure cooker. “Uh… how much of each ingredient do we need?” I asked. Nanidear knew I was a stickler for measurements, so with a twinkle in her eye she urged me to try my best without measuring tools. I had to figure it out myself using only a wooden spoon and my hands. I carefully placed each ingredient in the pressure cooker with how much I thought would be needed. All Nanidear would say was “a little bit more” or “that’s enough.” I was challenged to really scrutinize what I was putting into the pot, and “feel” how much was best in order to understand how the proportions of ingredients work together. So if I was changing the serving size from small to large, I would know how to adjust accordingly. 

Since this version of cooking chicken korma is done using a pressure cooker, it is simple in that all ingredients go into a single pot. Once all the ingredients were in and well-mixed, we turned on the stove and let it cook. “That’s it?” I asked. “That’s it,” she nodded, then added “So easy, right?” She was right. It was easier than I imagined. Not to mention, I didn’t have to wash a pile of different measuring cups I would have otherwise used. Yay.

After a couple of steams, we opened the lid to check on the chicken. This is where the variable nature of the pressure cooker comes into play. It is imperative to monitor the meat to ensure it is cooked all the way through. A recipe gives guidelines, but everything between each step is up to the cook. Not everything is written out, so developing a “sense” is critical. 

Nanidear shared with me that depending on the chicken, heat, cooker, and other factors, cooking time may be longer or shorter. She decided to increase the cooking time to allow the flavors to meld together and chicken to become tender. No korma dish will finish cooking at the same exact time. Therefore, it is important to adjust as needed depending on the context. 

Once the dish finished cooking, Nanidear opened the lid. The comforting, delicious smell of korma instantly greeted me. After Nanidear tasted the gravy, she pulled out our metal spice box to add a little more red chili powder. I tasted it. It was absolutely divine. Prepping the fresh naan and basmati rice is all that was left. 

My grandmother inspired me to view step-by-step recipes as tools to help with the direction of a dish. Not getting so caught up in the measurements as before, I welcome experimentation, and thus, the possibility of failure. However, it really isn’t a failure but an experience to reference in the future. Knowing how to adapt in different situations, like Nanidear changing the cooking time of the korma or adding more spices to taste, is a skill in itself. 

In my experience, destroying self-imposed pressures of perfection invited a sense of playfulness and creativity. Not only did I discover newfound freedom, but also strengthened confidence and trust in my abilities. Perhaps with more Americans embracing cooking as a result of the pandemic, attitudes towards recipes can welcome adventurousness and experimentation, like I am warming up to.

Of course, every person and circumstance is different. Calculations are necessary in many dishes, and straying too far from a standard can transform a dish into something completely different—for better or for worse. Recipes and instructions have merit. However, in dishes where there is some leniency, perhaps seeing a recipe as malleable instead of fixed could invite new creations. 

Experimenting outside a recipe can have its perks. For example, chocolate chip cookies were invented in the 1930s by Ruth Graves’ hard work testing, developing, and perfecting the cookie we all know and love today. A home test kitchen is born when calculation and creativity can intermingle. Both elements can exist and open the door to new possibilities. What is your next concoction?

Featured Cover Image by Williams Sonoma


Foods From Fiction

For food lovers, there’s nothing more fascinating than seeing scrumptious dishes in films and television shows. Or reading about meticulously baked treats or lavish spreads of food in books. Immersive cinematic experiences in film or encapsulating writing styles in literature can make it feel like the audience is right there with the characters and food. But why stop there, as a mere viewer? What could be more satisfying than actually creating and tasting the dishes yourselves? To not consume media solely by flipping pages or staring at a screen, but instead leveraging your tastebuds (and culinary skills!) to transport yourself to a given fictional universe? Yes, that’s right. Recreating food from popular media can help bring us closer to our favorite media pastimes in a captivating way. 

The idea of creating food inspired by movies and television shows is not new. Binging with Babish (Babish Culinary Universe), a YouTube cooking channel created by Andrew Rea, seeks to “recreate the iconic and obscure foods from your favorite movies and TV shows.” With quality film production, culinary creativity, attention to technique, and a side dish of humor, Rea’s channel has amassed over eight million subscribers. Step-by-step, viewers can learn how to recreate dishes from all sorts of shows and movies, from the “Krabby Patty” from SpongeBob to “The Sloppy Jessica” from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. With the help of recipes from Binging with Babish and other chefs and creators, here are five different recipes inspired by television shows, movies, or books. Which fictional world will you dive into today?

1. Kevin’s Famous Chilli inspired by The Office

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Kevin: “At least once a year I like to bring in some of my Kevin’s Famous Chili. The trick is to undercook the onions. Everybody is going to get to know each other in the pot. I’m serious about this stuff. I’m up the night before, pressing garlic, and dicing whole tomatoes. I toast my own ancho chiles. It’s a recipe passed down from Malones for generations. It’s probably the thing I do best.”

We’re starting this list strong with an iconic scene from The Office. Kevin Malone cooks up his famous chili and brings it to the office to share, an annual tradition. In a tragic turn of events, Kevin spills the huge pot of chili on the floor. But just because the office couldn’t enjoy his dish doesn’t mean you can’t.

Recipe: Binging with Babish recipe with video

2. Ladoo inspired by Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

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Avid Bollywood movie watchers are no stranger to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, one of the most popular films in Indian cinema. “Ladoo” is the childhood nickname for Rohan, one of the characters in the film that helps unite his divided family. This name comes from ladoo (also written as laddu), a sphere-shaped Indian sweet that comes in all sorts varieties. Try your hand at making ladoo, a delectable accompaniment when watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, especially during festive scenes when the dessert appears.

Recipe: Dassana’s Veg Recipes’ Motichoor Ladoo recipe

3. Kronk’s Spinach Puffs inspired by The Emperor’s New Groove 

image courtesy of finction-food on Pinterest

One of my all-time favorite Disney movies, The Emperor’s New Groove, is incomplete without Kronk’s passion for cooking. Kronk is the loyal yet oblivious henchman for Yyzma, the royal advisor to Emperor Kuzco in the movie. During a memorable scene, Kronk frantically cries “My spinach puffs!” when he realizes he forgot to check on his puffs cooking. You too can experience the happiness Kronk felt with perfectly crisp, delightful spinach puffs.  

Recipe: Binging with Babish recipe with video

4. Jjapaguri inspired by Parasite

image courtesy of

Parasite is a South Korean comedy thriller film that won numerous awards, including four at the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. The film features a dish many foreign viewers were curious about upon seeing: Jjapaguri (Ram-Don). Jjapaguri is created by combining two instant noodle brands together (Chapagetti and Neoguri) and sometimes adding steak (as featured in the film). However, the dish’s placement in the film is more than a tasty and creative noodle concoction. Instead, it poses as a metaphor for class inequalities with the depiction of expensive steak resting on top of cheap noodles. Celebrate the remarkably layered and well-produced film with a bowl of jjapaguri.

Recipe: Korean Bapsang’s recipe with video

5. Butterbeer inspired by Harry Potter 

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“Harry and Hermione made their way to the back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree which stood next to the fireplace. Ron came back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot Butterbeer. ‘Happy Christmas!’ he said happily, raising his tankard. Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, quoted in article)

Harry Potter fans know Butterbeer is a classic beverage popular among Hogwarts students. While you’re mostly likely a Muggle reading this, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a magical pint of Butterbeer like a true student in the world of wizardry. 

Recipe: Favorite Family Recipes’ recipe 

Next time you watch a movie or television show, or indulge yourself in literature, remember that you too can help yourself to mouth-watering meals along with your favorite characters. Bring food to life in your kitchen with your own adaptations, or through inspired recipes from creators like Binging with Babish. Blur the lines between fiction and reality as you travel universes. After all, you are the main character of your own life. Seize your story.


Steps in Sustainability: Boston College Dining to Restaurants

Boston College’s dining hall is primarily à la carte—students select food items and pay for each item. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has adapted to include mobile ordering and grab-and-go options. This is different from other dining hall styles where students pay a flat rate upon entering the hall and have access to an unlimited amount of food. 

Boston College’s dining hall approach makes it so that about 60% of students take food to-go. Because of this trend, Boston College Dining wastes significant plastic, paper, and non-recyclable materials students use to carry food out. To help combat this problem, the dining hall ran an experiment in the fall of 2018. Two Boston College dining halls ran a pilot test of a reusable to-go container program.

The program, called Green2Go works like this:

Students must first pay a nine dollar, one-time fee for a single green container and receive a green carabiner, indicating participation in the program. Second, students bring the container to a participating dining hall to fill with food. Third, students drop off the used container at the dining hall. Lastly, students use the carabiner to exchange a new container, repeating steps first two steps in the cycle.

These boxes are BPA free, microwavable-safe, and are made of 50% recycled plastic. While there are certainly environmental benefits to buying into this college’s program, there are areas for improvement in its operation. For example, the current to-go containers are still being supplied in addition to this reusable alternative. It also costs students to participate in the program without offering an incentive, which may be a deterring factor. In addition, if a student forgets or loses the container, they must pay the fee again. Both the structure of the program and its marketing are critical elements in this experiment.

image courtesy of BC Dining

The Heights writer Riley Ford comments that for Green2Go to be successful “it is imperative that this initiative is properly publicized and incentivized to increase participation… many students will not want to go through the hassle of changing their current habits if information about the new program is not well-broadcasted.” It’s worth exploring improvements and opportunities of the program in order to accomplish its mission in an effective, accessible manner. Nonetheless, Boston College Dining’s sustainability efforts with the Green2Go program is a huge step in a battle to limit waste. Since fall 2018, the university has expanded this program to additional other dining areas on the campus, increasing the potential for a positive environmental impact. 

Sustainable containers expand beyond universities. In the restaurant industry, there is a rise in online food delivery and mobile ordering, catalyzed with the pandemic. To accommodate this trend, the world has seen an increase in take-out packaging. Some restaurants implement packaging similar to that of Boston College’s Green2Go. These include eliminating single-use plastics since take-out containers are notorious for ending up in landfills and containing chemicals detrimental to health. This can take the form of reusable takeout containers, compostable products, and reusable box programs such as OZZI and Go Box. Implementing sustainable practices occurs beyond the individual or institution level as well. 

image courtesy of BC Dining

In some cases, it’s the city. Berkeley, Calif., uses legislation to protect customers and the environment. Their law, which went into effect Jan. 2020, requires restaurants to provide food containers that are certifiably compostable and free of added chemicals. Additionally, they must charge 25 cents for disposable beverage cups. By July 2020, restaurants can only provide reusable foodware on their premises, with exceptions for “certified compostable paper tray/plate liners, paper wrappers, napkins, and straws” and “recyclable aluminum foil is allowed for wrapping/forming items” according to the Berkeley Single Use Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance. The goal of the ordinance is to “assist businesses with the shift away from environmentally harmful single use disposable foodware and toward reusable foodware.” City requirements like Berkeley’s put responsibility on businesses to be more mindful of the environment. 

In relation to the restaurant industry in particular, The National Restaurant Industry’s 2018 “State of Restaurant Sustainability” states that “about half of consumers say that a restaurant’s efforts to recycle, donate food or reduce food waste can be factors in where they choose to dine.” Thus, many restaurants today have started employing sustainable practices to help the environment and draw in environmentally-conscious customers. Some areas besides packaging including local sourcing, food waste, lighting, water usage, equipment, and food waste to name a few.

One thing to note about these environmentally friendly practices: it’s an investment. Greener practices often mean higher initial costs to reap long-term financial and environmental benefits. A U.S. news article by Megan Rowe gives an example about Coasterra, a fine dining Mexican restaurant in San Diego that “invested about $1.5 million on extensive solar panels that generate about a third of the restaurant’s energy needs. The owners, Cohn Restaurant Group, estimate it will take about seven years to pay for the panels, but view the installation as a hedge against rising electric rates.” Solar panels are neither feasible nor affordable for every restaurant, but in Coasterra’s case, the owners found it the best option considering the restaurant’s needs and the potential profit from its developments. The panels were installed by HMT Electric in San Diego, as the owners of Coasterra stressed importance on the local factor. It’s also a prime example of how ideas of investing in local businesses and long-term sustainability can overlap to promote both community and environmental good.

The trend towards increased sustainability is already taking shape across institutions and industries. Boston College Dining’s Green2Go program is just one example of an active, environmentally conscious system. For the program to sustain itself for the long-term, constant assessment and appropriate adjustment is essential. After all, effective, environmentally-friendly practices in a university context are only as powerful as they are accessible and actionable.

image courtesy of BC Dining

Cover image courtesy of BC Dining