korean food

it's what's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

I recently celebrated Thanksgiving with my wife (of two months) and her family down in San Diego. Her mom arrived with her older sister, two nieces, and what felt like over a hundred pounds of food.

That hundred pounds turned out to be jars of different kinds of kim chi, various prepared fish, meat, and vegetables. What needed to be cooled was placed into a separate top-loaded fridge that seemed made to contain kim chi jars (or at least I’ve only seen them do that at her mother and sister’s places), and the rest in the normal fridge.

What proceeded for the next few days was not a sprint, but a marathon, of Korean food.

Ever since I started dating my (now) wife over a year ago, I’ve got a lot more exposure to the food of her upbringing, and I will readily admit to liking it. The flavors are clean, the meat is tasty, the kim chi is always a great accompaniment, and I love noodles of any kind (except cold ones I came to learn).

My main exposure to this cuisine however has been at dinner time, after work when my wife and I could meet up, or when she would host me at her place. What I was NOT prepared for was the food that I was eating for dinner (and coming away very full and satisfied from), was the very same food that is served for breakfast and lunch. At least that’s the way it appears to me. If you covered all the clocks and windows, spun me around three times, and showed me a table with Korean food, I couldn’t tell you what meal we were about to eat.

Now as we neared the 4th week of November, my three-day trial of consumption had begun. A 5'10" 150lb white male attempting to keep pace with sub 5'3" 110lb Korean women as they just devoured this food.

Every meal was Thanksgiving. Every meal was a feast. There were so many different dishes that it felt like if I only just sampled each one, I’d have already eaten enough for a full meal.

So I started coming up with strategies. I would eat a very small amount slowly in the beginning and let everyone fill up. Then, when everyone else would start to slow down, ramp up my eating so that as everyone else would be full, I would still have some room left to graze over all the offerings. My wife’s mom, who speaks very little English would look over at me, the last one still eating, and nod. In that moment, in an expression that transcends language, she approved.

I know as time goes on I’ll adapt more and more to this style of eating. Soon fish and rice will come to mean breakfast, whereas milk and cereal had before. The combinatorial complexities of meals will explode, and I’ll just be okay with it.

My wife graciously endured a summer of French cuisine, assaulted by butter and fat at every turn. She loved it mind you, just as I love Korean food, but what felt like home to me felt heavy to her, just like eating rice for breakfast, then again for lunch, and finally for dinner (and for dessert too!) feels to me.

This is the beauty of marrying into a different culture, it stretches you (I’m up 4lbs since marriage) and make your view of the world that much fuller.