by Caroline Hahm • Photography by Leah Overstreet
It’s fascinating to me how Korean food has slowly made its way into the mainstream American palate. I remember growing up on Long Island, in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood, and being one of the only Asian kids in my entire school. I used to be embarrassed to have my non-Korean friends come over in the event that my grandmother was making something “weird” or “different” and possibly offensive to the noses of my friends—such as the smell of kimchi (which I like to refer to as Korean sauerkraut) or doenjang, a kind of fermented bean paste like miso that’s used in soups, stews and sauces.
I’ll never forget the time one of my older brother’s friends opened the refrigerator, immediately shut it and exclaimed, “Oh my god! What is that smell?” My brother coolly responded, “Oh...that’s kimchi,” like it was no big deal. As for me, I chose the cowardly road and attempted to shield my non-Korean friends from anything different as I tried to assimilate as quickly as possible.
I distinctly remember begging my mom to buy Wonder bread, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Oscar Meyer bologna so that she could make me a sandwich every day instead of a bento box of rice, bulgogi (grilled marinated meat) and kimchi. Now, many years later, I’m proud to introduce my friends to the tastes, smells, traditions and experiences of Korean culture, and I’m grateful to my mother and grandmother for instilling in me a love for gardening and cooking.