When I was growing up in southern California, Korean food was weird to my school friends. In 4th grade, I went over to my best friend’s house for dinner and her mom made a big deal about making rice from a box to make me feel more comfortable. The box made me uncomfortable. It would have been strange to them that at my house I was snacking on seaweed, having soup for breakfast, fruit for dessert, or wrapping my dinner in lettuce. So, growing up, I kept two worlds with two palates: one at home, and one for everywhere else – they never intersected. I was both immersed and an outside observer to them both.
I bet any child of immigrants will understand – the food my mom and grandma made was good for at home, but that’s where it stayed. Going off to college was really the first time I found myself missing kimchi. I started to savor the Korean food I got to eat when I went home for breaks. This is when I realized how important my more private, homegrown, palate was to me.
Living in New York City, I sought out Korean food in special enclaves. By the time I got married there was even one suitably fancy Korean restaurant in SoHo for our rehearsal dinner (now there are so many more choices). As an adult, I have I loved exploring lauded restaurants, and am an above-proficient eater of diverse domestic and global flavors. I am pleasantly surprised to now count Korean food among them; moving my private palate into a more public sphere.
Maybe it’s this tale of two palates that is the reason I have always thought a lot about food. I studied nutrition science to understand how food works. I researched and wrote two books and countless articles to understand how food works. I went to culinary school to understand how food works. Now that I spend more time cooking at home than out at restaurants, I want to understand how Korean food works.
So many people today not only know what Korean food is (this is awesome – and much less explaining for me to do), they love it! Korean chefs have emerged to prominence and acclaim, and I have so many fun new cookbooks to peruse. All of these developments make this project possible.
How am I different?
I think the idea is that I am not. If your parents emigrated from their home country before you were born, you get what it’s like to grow up in two cultures at once. An obvious indication is what’s on your plate. Probably, they wanted a better life for the next generation (you, me). While they still cooked what they knew at home, they were ok with you learning about the foods and ways of their new country. They wanted you to fit in. They asked you to speak the dominant language (for me, English) at home. For many years, maybe you agreed with them. But now, as an adult, you want to celebrate all of your heritage. For me, my way in is exploring Korean food. I guess you can call me kimchi-curious.
Yes, I grew up eating Korean food (my grandmother even used to run a restaurant in Seoul), but now I want more. I want to know all about it and how to make it for myself. My guides: my mom, my taste buds, the internet, a bunch of awesome cookbooks, and my proximity to LA’s K-town.
Are you kimchi-curious, too? I invite you to join me in my explorations.
This project is a personal journey of culinary self-discovery, and it is not a healthy eating blog. That said, you may find me leaning towards healthier choices. After all, celebrating nourishing good eats is part of my profession. Plus, my mother made good use of the abundant fresh California produce to healthify her Korean cooking for us, so it’s truly part of my palate. Here’s to great eating!