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Daily Challenge: A moment in your day (this can be just a photo or both a photo and words)

Because her mom would cook it for her and her siblings when they were young.

And her grandma would cook it for her mom when her mom was young.

And you’re pretty sure that her grandmother’s mom would cook it for her grandmather when she was also young.

So you sit in her apartment with another friend, ready to eat this homemade bulgogi and kimchi, glad that she’s making a traditional dish before she leaves for the entire summer. You’re not sure how much you can help, so you sit and just smell the marinated beef, the pickled cabbage, the spicy sweet bean paste, and even the crisp lettuce just waiting to blow away your mind and tastebuds.

She teaches you how to cut the lettuce, spoon some of the bean paste in, cover it with rice, then the beef, then the kimchi, and then roll it into a little wrap. The warmth in your hand is baffling; all that effort for this little pocket?

The first bite is incredible.

The second bite is even better.

The third bite confirms it all; home-cooked korean dishes were a good choice tonight.

A swig of the shiraz you chose pulls the entire meal together, and also proves that you’re an adult.

You all start talking about food your parents would cook, the food they smuggled back into the US after a trip to the homeland, the recipes that were handed down from parent to child, the recipes lost before a parent could teach their child the secret.

Like sinigang, the sour fish stew that your mom would always cook when you came home from college.

Or the paçskis that your grandfather would smuggle in a laptop case while claiming to come to the US on ‘official business.’

You know that your grandmother’s kimchi was incredible, but she never got around to teaching someone how to make it before she passed.

You’d learn that your friend’s family would eat adobo with banana, something that sounds unsettling but you knew you had to try.

Or there’s always when your mom would tell you that you’d spend eternity picking up all the grains of rice you didn’t eat before you could go to heaven, or that you would just go straight to hell if you threw away bread.

Every now and then you’ll get a craving for something your family would have, something your parents would cook, and realize that this is partly what made home, home. As a child, you ate because your parents put food in front of you, and it passed as nothing more than just another responsibility you had on top of homework and cleaning your room: eat what the people who pay for your education and clothes put in front of you.

It’s not until you’re on your own, attempting to cook for yourself when you finally recognize how much these adults put into the fish and dough and pasta and peppers and cakes. When you try to recreate the dish yourself and it just doesn’t taste right. Not like the way mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or auntie or uncle used to make it. Sure, you’ll get the recipe or maybe even learn it first hand, but there’s a point when you think of your kids and you feel sorry for them: your cooking will never be as good as those who made it before you.

You then wonder if their cooking ever was an attempt to recreate the dishes taught to them.

And so on, and so on.

It’s not until you’re nearing the end of your friend’s bulgogi dish when you think, Hot damn, this is still really good. Who cares if it wasn’t as good as her grandmother’s? You’d never be able to tell.

This, you all say, this is love. Food is love. The act of feeding, of putting together ingredients in hopes that someone will feed off of the work and effort you put into the dish, of making sure their stomachs were full. The sense of longing the food creates when it’s no longer around, no longer readily available, no longer a part of our lives away from those who took care of us. While family was what made home home, food was the key to that house. It allowed you to re-enter, to visit a memory of a time so simple and pure that you were too young to recognize it.

One bite, and you’d feel their love warming you, putting a smile on your face.

This, you hope, is something your children will too experience. The hunger, the longing, to recreate something you did to make them feel at home.

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One thought on “Bulgogi

  1. Pingback: Every Day | Suit & Dimes

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