Blog: Food My Mom Has Made Me

June 13, 2023

Some of my greatest moments of happiness consist of seeing the dining table with a steaming bowl of rice and whatever banchan (Korean side dishes) my mom has prepared for the family. When I was younger, she would often have to ask more than once for my brother and I to come down for dinner, as we were too preoccupied with teenage things. Now, as an adult, I study each dish and savor each bite and curiously ask my umma (mom in Korean), “How did you make that?” or “What kind of ingredient is this?” Before she answers my question, I ask her to pause and wait for me as I open up my Notes app. I take down a detailed record so that I can remember exactly what she said when I revisit the recipe later. For me, this knowledge is absolute gold, since I live across the country and can only taste my mom’s cooking twice a year. It’s in moments like these that I realize that food, to me, is about my family and ultimately the connection I have to my Korean heritage.I try to preserve and hold onto it as much as I can. 

It’s the piping jjigaes (stew in Korean), my mom’s kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), and her sneaky midnight tteokbokki (spice rice cakes) that connect me to the many facets of who I am. Growing up, I’ve had to tumultuously figure out how I can be Canadian and Korean at the same time—and as a result, it was inevitable that I would not be as Korean as my immigrant parents were. I can’t speak Korean as well as they do, I can’t read Korean as well as they do, I don’t carry the same Korean traditions they do, and yet it’s the food that prevails: I know the flavours and nuances of Korean cuisine as much as they do. So when it’s time for me to whip up a home cooked meal for myself or my loved ones, it’s going to be that steamy bowl of rice, a jjigae in a stone pot, and a variety of colourful banchan. At first, I remember feeling fake. I felt as if I was pretending to be a Korean person attempting to make a bastardized version of my mom’s cooking—but now, with practice and a ton of phone calls to my umma, it comes to me like second nature. 

For the rest of my life, I will be chasing to recreate the comfort of my mom’s dishes, wondering if I got it right. However, I know these attempts honor her. With them, I know, I will pass down my Korean heritage and love of food to my future children and their children. I think that is really profound and beautiful.