My mom had a full, traditional Korean dinner on the table every night for my dad when I was a kid. My evening meals consisted of fluffy, sticky white rice paired with rich, spicy Korean jigae. Noodles, tofu, and a variety of banchan rounded out the steady diet of strong flavors and spices.
As a second generation Korean-American, I longed to be like my friends. I desired dinners of pizza, burgers, and French fries! Embarrassed by the strange smells of Korean food, I attempted to hide my dinners as much as possible. Going away to college was a welcome relief; D-hall offered traditional American fare that allowed me to blend right in with fellow students.
Imagine my surprise when I would experience flares of homesickness that included missing my traditional Korean foods! It took a few years, but I have since become comfortable in my Korean heritage and foods. I most definitely favor the spicy, strong flavors of my youth and I love having a good Korean meal. I look forward to times when my mom takes over my kitchen to cook up my favorite dishes.
I want to expose my own children to the foods I grew up with, which presents a challenge since I am clueless how to do so. I never had to prepare my own Korean dishes! I keep my kitchen stocked with some basics: soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, soybean paste (doenjang) and hot red pepper paste (gochujang). Every few weeks, I prowl around the local Lotte to purchase ready-made banchan and other favorite foods such as dubu, mandu, kimchi, gim, and dduk. I can even hold my own when it comes to a marinating and grilling the well-known Korean dish bulgogi for special occasions. But it’s the every day main dishes I find myself helpless to prepare: the spicy jigaes that I love. I worry that my kids’ tastebuds won’t be awaked to the rich, fiery tastes of Korean foods. It physically pains me to order and pay for a Korean dish at a restaurant. Every now and then I call my mom in a frantic attempt to have her talk me through making something I am dying to taste. It’s just never the same.
And so I hang on between visits from my mom, making do with what I can find at Lotte. Sometimes I stare longingly at Korean ajummas, hoping they will take pity on a poor Korean-American gal who didn’t appreciate her Korean foods when she was a youngster.