Food makes memories tangible. The colors that pop against the bowl make mouths water, remembering the texture and the overwhelming taste on the tongue, the hot plate on palms, the soft wisps of steam rising and entering nostrils to reinvigorate the taste, and the environment of the moment, evoke joy. But as much as food can be powerful, it can be a moment of shame, embarrassment, and judgment that send you back to being a young girl swinging on red swings with food wasted on the sand.
When I was in third grade, my best friend and I excitedly opened our lunchboxes that were handcrafted with love by our mothers. Our classmates completely ignored the bright
Julia Hwang's Food Story
Julia's Mom's Kimbap Recipe
1 Seaweed pack
1 Bunch (350g) of spinach
Braised burdock root
600g Cooked rice
1 Tsp (3g) flavored salt (for seasoning rice)
2 Tbsp (12g) sesame oil (for seasoning rice)
Braised burdock root
Remove the spinach roots.
Add oil to a pan, and cook the spinach with some flavoring salt. Set aside.
Julienne the carrot into thin strips.
Coat the pan with oil and cook the julienned carrot with some flavoring salt. Set aside.
Beat the eggs, add flavoring salt and brown sugar and mix thoroughly.
Add oil to the pan, and cook the egg mixture into thin sheets. Set aside.
Add the flavoring salt and sesame oil to the rice and mix thoroughly with a paddle.
Add brown sugar, vinegar, and water in a big bowl and stir until the sugar is completely melted (for pickling the radish).
Cut the whole pickled radish into strips.
Place the radish strips into the mixture and let them stand.
Spread the rice thinly to cover 2/3 of the seaweed.
Place spinach, julienned carrots, egg, crab stick, braised burdock root, pickled radish on the rice, and roll.
Coat the rolled kimbap with sesame oil to finish and cut into bite-sized portions.
orange carrots, deep green spinaches, golden eggs, and neon pickled radishes. They cared that my food was wrapped in a black paper—seaweed. Pointed fingers declared “poop!” and echoed shouts of disgust that are now permanently etched into our almond eyes and fair skin. As I tried to convince a classmate to try it, he knocked the entire lunchbox to the ground. I slowly picked up the box, gave it a rinse, and told my mother that night that it was great and thanked her for making it.
That is what immigrants do. We hide how hard it is to live differently, and we hide it from our parents because they have it harder. Children of immigrants or immigrated children are socialized with a deep awareness of the sacrifices made by our families to give us a good start in the new society.
As I grew up, I shared many silent and mutual agreements with other people like me, the eye contact of being-an-immigrant-sucks-I-know. These silent actions made me realize food binds immigrants together, especially those moving to places that promised we would belong to then be outcasted. It’s changed, transformed, robbed to be rebranded as Tex-Mex or Korean BBQ. With rebranding comes cutting steps to increase sales and waiting times, shortcuts to sell more. Our food that once took all our family’s energy love is shortened to accommodate drive-throughs that leave our histories behind.
I learned that food and our identities are stable pillars that can also be so fluid and changeable. Seemingly insurmountable boundaries between each group’s unique dietary practices and habits can be maintained, while diets, recipes, and cuisines are in a constant state of flux. We adjust and change to keep the memories of our food alive because it does not matter if it is not the same Kimbap that my grandmother made. It’s the fact that I could enjoy a little bit of Korea a few thousand miles away. Food reminds us of our identities, roots, and homes that are in constant flux. That is why food makes our memories so tangible and powerful.