Mom’s Relationship with Food
I’ve talked about my mom’s cooking before but feel that I need to devote another post to it so you can truly understand how her cooking has impacted my life. Mom loves to feed people. My siblings and I all likely share the same earliest memory, which is our mother chasing us around the house with “just one more bite!” of whatever food she’s made for us. It’s a sexist cliche, I know, but I honestly will never see her happier than when she’s in the kitchen whipping up a meal for us.
In addition to being an ace Korean food chef, my mom also cooks many delicious ‘western’ meals. At family gatherings, her dishes were always quick to empty while jealous Caucasian women watched in the background, begrudgingly eating while their own bland dishes sat untouched and collected a glossy, filmy sheen. If you visited our house and she was home, you didn’t leave hungry.
Eventually our friends caught on and would “randomly” show up around dinner time to catch a good meal. Mom was more than happy to have guests over, though. Even if she didn’t know you, she’d still make you eat. (Case in point: one time Mom fed leftover spaghetti to some delivery guys who were dropping off a package, and they happily ate it.)
Naturally, my mom went ridiculously out of her way to make meals just the way her kids liked them. She’d sooner die than let any of us go underfed, so as a result I got away with being a little asshole when I was younger because I was a picky eater. Since she worked nights at the Ford Motor Plant, a regular sight for me whenever I’d come home from school would be a separate plate covered in saran wrap that was labeled with the following message:
“Rebecca. Eat. Good. No onons.”
(The word “onions” was always misspelled.)
She made my school lunch for me every day through my senior year of high school. My friends were insanely jealous – one was always quick to point out that I had “the best lunches” out of anyone else. When my brother John got the stomach flu and told her he couldn’t eat anything, she still showed up at his house with a bag full of McDonald’s and force-fed him a Big Mac. She makes house calls regularly, stopping by to say hi to him and his family and to drop off some food that she made earlier that day.
My mom especially loves getting non-Koreans to eat Korean food, and she has hooked many a round-eye on it in the process. Kimchi is usually the litmus test. As John so aptly put it:
Every girl I ever dated was offered kimchi in the same fashion as peyote was offered to the White Man by Native Americans. If a girl accepted the kimchi, then she got her foot in the door. If she didn’t? Then she was too “something” – “That girl have a big nose.” “That girl too big butt.” All while sneering the whole time.
She is delighted beyond belief that my boyfriend’s dad loves kimchi and makes me re-tell her how he used to make kimchi every once in a while, and whenever he did my boyfriend’s mom would make him store it in the garage fridge because it stank so much. Every time I tell her this story, which she’s heard a dozen times by now, she laughs her little Korean no-butt off.
I recently had a conversation with Mom about Jason’s lack of enthusiasm for kimchi, but she wasn’t willing to give up on him.
Me: “Yeah, Jason doesn’t really like kimchi.”
Mom: “No? Why not?”
Me: “He’s not a fan of things that are pickled.”
The disappointment in her voice was palpable.
Me: “But there’s this kimchi quesadilla dish at a nearby Korean-taco fusion restaurant, and he likes that. So he sort of likes it when it’s in stuff, but he doesn’t like it by itself.”
Mom, perking up: “Oh, okay! That’s how starts!”
Me, laughing: “What, like the kimchi quesadilla is a gateway drug?”
Mom: “You make him kimichi fried rice, he like it. Then pretty soon he eat kimchi all the time!”
But above everything else, the one thing my mom loves even more than cooking food for you is watching you eat and enjoy it. The exchange typically goes like this:
Mom puts food in front of you. You take a bite.
Mom, with a big smile: “You like?”
You: “Yes, delicious!”
Mom, satisfied, nods: “It’s good.”
You: “Yeah, it’s so good.”
Mom, affirming: “It’s so good.”
You: “Yeah, it’s great.”
Mom: “I cooked it slow.”
She’ll then go into a long story about how she picked out the ingredients, what she did with them, and the process of cooking it…none of which is in chronological order.
You: “Yeah…it’s great! Tastes so good.”
Mom: “You like, right?”
She will never call you out on eating too much, especially eating too much of her food. To her it’s the ultimate compliment. She didn’t grow up with a lot to eat, which is probably why as an adult she’s always been so eager to share what she makes with everyone. She has brought food to her doctors, physical therapists, coworkers, my brother’s coworkers, my teachers, you name it. But despite all this talent and generosity, her dinners for herself are often simple, one-pot Korean meals quietly cooking off to the side, which she’s all too happy to slurp down as my siblings and I go to town on a pork roast or a pile of mandu.
My mother’s love of food has shaped me into the person I am today (both literally, when I’m not watching what I eat, as well as figuratively). I’ve outgrown my pickiness and willingly embrace all types of cuisine. I’ll try anything and everything (except mustard–eff that ess) and simply love food, both eating it and cooking it, with a burning passion. I eat my meals faster than anyone I know because I grew up with a mother who kept piling more and more food onto my plate before I could even finish my first helping. I remember every time I slept over at a friend’s house or went somewhere for dinner, their parents would gawk and marvel at the skinny half-Asian girl who politely asked for seconds and thirds. (Thank science I’ve gotten into endurance racing; otherwise, I’d be the “chunky half-Asian girl” and would incur the wrath of my mother for being too fat.)
I will always, always love my mom for instilling a love of food in me. If I had one day left on Earth and had to choose my last meal, without hesitation it would be a Korean feast prepared by my mother. Her food is delicious, comforting, loving, happy, and has brought my family together under one supremely yummy common bond. Thanks, Mom. You and your food are the best.
…Except your baked goods. They are awful.
*Note*: I had to republish this post after my hosting company accidentally ate it. I was able to recover the content but not the comments.