I usually get my K-food fix once a week, always at a Korean restaurant. But since the onset of the pandemic, I found myself stuck in this house with my own cooking, which I hate, three times a day. I can only eat so many sandwiches and and bowls of pasta.
At first, I tried to satisfy this insatiable craving by looking at Korean food photos on Pinterest, once until 4am. More recently, I mustered courage to consider making Korean food myself—and not the restaurant kind, the soul-satisfying hard-core kind my mom made when I was a kid. Mind you, I have never made anything Korean in my life. I took to Amazon and started ordering gochu garu, gochu jang, daengjang paste— anything Korean I could get my hands on— ugh for 10x the price— but no matter. I’m desperate for it.
My kids complained at the first whiff of the strange new cooking in the house: “mom!!!! what is that SMELL!? Ew gross! MOM!” Well… that sounds familiar. My kids are half Korean, but you wouldn’t know it. I realize I failed to show them enough of their Korean side.
My pandemic takeaway, among many, is that I’m becoming my Korean mother, and in all the ways I had always criticized. First, this lockdown is revealing my undeniable Korean-ness. Well, at least my undeniable need to eat Korean food.
I often shunned my Korean roots growing up and as a young adult. At best, it was just a part of my figuring out how to belong in an all white world — everything we ate at home was weird and different. At worst, it was straight-up self hatred. With each passing day of this lockdown, I think more about my mom and find myself transported back to what seems like deja vu scenarios, except my kids are saying the things I said to my mom. Sorry mom.
But better late than never. My mom would be so proud if she saw me pickling garlic and peppers in enormous jars like a proper Gyeongsang-do ajumma!
The corner of my kitchen now dons the same giant jars of weird things in brown liquid I remember made me cringe growing up. But today, I feel deep pride as I look at these those jars.
Another thing about my mom is that she never threw away any food; she simply could never bring herself to do it. We had to throw out old food behind her back. It drove me crazy. She grew up in Daegu Korea during a time of famine, I got that. But it is as though she has lived in constant preparation for the next famine or apocalypse.
Today, I get her. I am lucky to still have a job and can work from home. But there is definitely some financial uncertainty setting in and people are losing their jobs around me. I find myself saving leftover food, turning off the lights, and nagging my kids the same way she did. I have yet to use a paper towel and wash and dry it for reuse, but this pandemic is changing me, so that may be next.
Here’s the recipe I used to make my Korean pickles. Check out all of Kimchimari’s great recipes at kimchimari.com.
Kathleen D. Lee is a Los Angeles based Human Resources manager and a mother of two kids and two rescue chihuahuas.