After my mom died, I was so haunted by the trauma of her illness I worried I’d never remember her as the woman she had been: stylish and headstrong, always speaking her mind. When she appeared in my dreams, she was always sick.
Then I started cooking. When I first searched for Korean recipes, I found few resources, and I wasn’t about to trust Bobby Flay’s Korean taco monstrosity or his clumsy kimchi slaw. Then, among videos of oriental chicken salads, I found the Korean YouTube personality Maangchi. There she was, peeling the skin off an Asian pear just like my mom: in one long strip, index finger steadied on the back of the knife. She cut galbi with my mom’s ambidextrous precision: positioning the chopsticks in her right hand while snipping bite-size pieces with her left. A Korean woman uses kitchen scissors the way a warrior brandishes a weapon.
...My kitchen filled with jars containing cabbage, cucumbers, and radishes in various stages of fermentation. I could hear my mom’s voice: “Never fall in love with anyone who doesn’t like kimchi; they’ll always smell it coming out of your pores.”
I’ve spent over a year cooking with Maangchi. Sometimes I pause and rewind to get the steps exactly right. Other times I’ll let my hands and taste buds take over from memory. My dishes are never exactly like my mom’s, but that’s OK—they’re still a delicious tribute. The more I learn, the closer I feel to her.
One night not long ago, I had a dream: I was watching my mother as she stuffed giant heads of Napa cabbage into earthenware jars.
She looked healthy and beautiful.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Love, Loss, and Kimchi
Michelle Zauner writes in Glamour: