Food is universal & personal. It plays with our senses and gives us a taste of culture. Whether it’s scrapple, sushi, linguini or goulash – you’re biting into history and tradition.
Korean food has been emerging into the mainstream food scene. Watching friends discover kalbi, mandu, kimchi, bibimbap for the first time is like taking pride in my own daughter’s culinary adventure. “Good job! You tried it! Now five more bites.”
Korean restaurants are popping up outside of K-towns. I see modern kimchi fusions on random bar menus (please, stop). People are seeking out Korean barbecue and fried chicken. It’s becoming a thing. A good thing.
Something more curious to me is the burgeoning of the Korean chef. I don’t mean David Chang. He exists in his own echelon of kitchen god status. I’m talking about Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food, Kristen Kish of Top Chef fame and Marja Vongerichten, famously married to Jean Georges himself, although she’s half Korean and a Korean cookbook author in her own right. Even more interesting – they are all Korean adoptees. Adopted from Korea as infants into Caucasian-American families.
Each of them has been open about their unique adoption story. The common thread through their stories is how each of them turns to Korean food as a means to learn more about their cultural heritage. None of them grew up with gochujang, seaweed, gochugaru in their kitchen pantries or eating japchae, jigae or kimchi on a regular basis. However, I can imagine discovering these flavors and ingredients is like unlocking a part of their cultural identity.
Food has become their passion and chosen profession. Experiencing food culture – from what they eat to how and when – is a significant means to understanding Korean customs and traditions. Eating ttuk guk (dumpling with beef soup) on Lunar New Year or myeok guk (seaweed soup) for one’s birthday or after giving birth are all embedded cultural food customs. As in many cultures, coming together at the table and sharing a meal is an integral part of everyday life.
I am inspired by David, Kristen and Marja’s stories of finding truth and peace in their identity and cultural backgrounds. They’ve embraced their Korean heritage the best way they can, by getting busy in the kitchen. Their love of food mixed with their curiosity for finding a deeper understanding of their historic and ethnic layers creates their own special recipe that they can pass down in their own families.
Their food also brings an opportunity for people to gather around, share in a meal together and foster a conversation about diverse dishes and exotic flavors.
Lucky for us, David, Kristen and Marja share their recipes and dishes of their own creations. I hope I get the opportunity to indulge in their kitchens someday.
Now I’m hungry for some dduk buk gi.
What are some of your favorite flavors or cuisines? Is there a particular dish from your heritage that you find comforting or meaningful?