SG...will I ever taste my mom's home cooked meal again?
"I need to taste the difference of the bitter so I'll know it when it's sweet." Swoope, "We Go On"
If you have seen the movie Ratatouille, you will recall the fate of the main characters drastically change when a food critic instantly is transported into the fond memory of eating his mother’s version of the chef’s French comfort food offering. All the critic’s bias and prejudice against the simplicity of the dish are washed away in the memory of his mother’s cooking. My mother really wasn’t an enthusiastic cook as the main characters in that movie (she would have admitted to that herself), but around the end-of-the year holidays I spent taking in the smells of the beef broth from the kitchen looking forward to the meal and guests later that day.
Her go-to dish was a Korean soup that she simply called guk bap (translated to soup rice) because I was too young to know a more specific name. Later I would learn to enjoy other Korean beef broth soups like gomtang and seolangtang, but it was never clear to me which one my mom made for us (also if you like Korean food, even how to define the difference between those two dishes can be confusing). Because her memory has eroded from her dementia, she can’t remember her recipe when I ask her. Since she hadn’t made her guk bap in years prior to even my dad passing it was too late for us to try to retrieve it before we knew her memory was slipping. Piecing together my own memories and reading recipes online I have enough details to guess what I think she was doing, but I feel a little part of my own past is gone too. Something I wanted to hold onto was locked up. Only God had the keys. My relationship with my mom hasn’t always been great, but erasing one good memory I had with her feels harsh, God. Even sadder my kids won’t remember grandma in her full capacity and won’t taste her version of what I remember so fondly. I am already still unsettled about all the changes in our lives. Will we lose that happy memory too?
Just this summer my family was in Seoul, Korea, and we came across a restaurant called Hadongkwan in a neighborhood called Myung-dong. It is Michelin recognized but yet still very affordable since they focus on one dish–Gomtang. During lunch, with my family, it was there I had my Ratatouille moment. Once I had my first taste I knew this family’s decades-long recipe was cut from the same cloth as my mom’s. Excited for an affordable Michelin experience, we had our fill of rice and savory aroma of the slightly sweet, dark brown soup. The usually picky kids were clanging their metal spoons against the brass bowls as they voluntarily shoved soup and rice in their mouths.
“It’s good, Dad,” they said.
“This tastes like what grandma’s best dish tasted like.”
“She must have been a good cook.”
“She was when she wanted to be,” I said.
At the moment I probably didn’t realize what we experienced, since most of the trip I felt like I was more frustrated with navigating the Seoul metropolis or steering my kids from wanting to go into every imaginable store or cafe. As New Year’s approaches, I see what small, but significant gift God gave me. I won’t be able to ask my mom to make us that same winter meal, but I find comfort knowing the recipe is out there in the world for me to experience again. That this memory of my mom’s best dish isn’t lost forever even on this earth, but it’s somewhere in a back street in Seoul filled in brass bowls and overflowing vats of beef soup. This is God’s grace to me as 2023 ends, so I thank him. More of the past will be lost as things change in my family and church and I am not really sure how I feel about that. But I all I have to hold on to is Christ himself, so I will open my heart and hold on with dear life with a force that comes from forearms like this guy:
Perhaps, my next step is to learn to make the gomtang myself and maybe add my own take for my kids. I have some ideas on the meat choice, so I think I am up for the challenge.
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