I’m home. I’m lucky I have two places to call home: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A., and Seoul, Korea. Brooklyn has its obvious charms, particularly the absolute joy of living alone without one’s parents, but as I get older, being at home with my parents in Seoul has its own incomparable sense of comfort and ease. There’s the twin bed I slept in from the age of 9 through high school graduation, the little yard I used to run around with our dog, and most of all, the ugly, ornate, wood table on which I ate so many of my meals growing up.
Before I left New York, my mom called to see what I wanted to eat for my first meal when I arrived home. I knew if I gave her even the slightest encouragement, there would be an almost-obscene amount of food waiting for me. So I said to her over and over, I really can’t eat that much just getting off the plane, just a bowl of my favorite Korean soup will do.
It’s hard for me to describe what 배춧국, or baechutguk, tastes like. How would your average American describe the taste of mac and cheese, of meatloaf? (Meatloaf, incidentally, remains one of the most bewildering food items to me.) It’s a fermented soybean soup, made from doenjang, which is a more aggressive, Korean version of the Japanese miso, with a beef broth-base, in which sliced Napa cabbage is simmered until it’s tender and delicious. That’s really it. You can throw in some minced garlic and green onions to add a bit more bite, but you don’t need much else. With a bowl of rice and a few small plates of banchan, maybe some spicy, chewy anchovies or black beans cooked in soy sauce and sugar, it is the perfect meal for someone who has been traveling for almost 24 hours.
I didn’t take a picture because I was too busy basking in the warmth of my mother’s love. But here are some pictures of a spicy 나물, namul, of greens dressed with garlic and sesame seeds, with fresh homemade 김치, kimchi, in the background.
And then there is my sister’s favorite food of all time, Korean braised short ribs with chestnuts, or 갈비찜. I ate all this for lunch the next day. I am lucky that my mother is who she is, and that I am her daughter.