From my personal blog, posted on Monday, March 17, 2008


(Left: Back to my roots- made Korean mandoo for the kids last night.)

It’s no secret that I have strong feelings for food.  There have been times when I’ve eaten something and it has brought me near tears.  Many find this puzzling and want to know how one can have such strong emotions towards food.  What goes through my mind when this happens? For a long time I didn’t have an explanation to give.  But last night, as I was prepping mandoo for dinner, I finally made a heart-to-mind connection that I can articulate.  Let’s begin with a small glimpse into my childhood.  (Queue the wavy, transitioning mental image…)

I have many memories of my mom placing a large bowl of fresh mandoo filling in the center of our small, round, Korean table.  There would be a spoon in the bowl for each family member.  We would all gather around and, sitting cross-legged on the floor, work together to carefully fill each mandoo wrapper and pinch them closed.  There were many Sunday afternoons where I would lay on the couch, dozing in and out of sleep (with echoes of my mom advising from the kitchen “Don’t take a nap or else you won’t be able to sleep tonight!”), while my ears were serenaded by the repetitive knocking of knife against cutting board, chopsticks mixing in metal bowls, loud thumping of meat tenderizing, and the clanking of fry pans onto burners.  I have so many memories of sitting on the floor in the kitchen just watching my mom prepare and cook food.  She always worked on the floor, and you better believe she kept our tile floor as clean as the kitchen counter.  She would sit on the tile with her knives, cutting boards, newspapers, bowls, and plates all around her– peeling, soaking, slicing, chopping, frying, sautéing, etc.  It didn’t matter if she was making a big feast or a humble meal– she would invest her whole self, making the final product as pleasing to the eye and taste as possible.

Well, to me all those hours she spent cooking meant a whole lot more than just getting fed.  My mom was a single mom who worked hard to provide for me and my siblings.  She could’ve easily chosen to take a second or third job to gain more financial stability– but she chose not to so she could have that time at home to care for us.  And although being a provider + mother left her constantly tired and worn, I never doubted where her heart was and where she always wished she could be– Home.  At home, with us.  Her countless hours in the kitchen were hours living as an example of hard work, attention to detail, joy in service, and placing her children first.  With every bite, my brothers and I subconsciously partook of both physical and spiritual nourishment. With every meal, my mom freely gave us an important part of herself: her love and personal sacrifice.  Some people might think cooking food is just cooking food, and they only eat for the sake of filling hunger or to experience fleeting pleasures.  But food is and should be so much more.

Historically it a vital characteristic of every culture around the world and used to be (in many places still remain) at the heart of every home.  Food not only gives us nourishment, comfort, and a sense of security, but it also gives us enjoyment and a reason to bring people together.  When it is prepared through means of love, care, thoughtfulness, and sacrifice it has the potential of sharing an intimate warmth that touches the human soul.  From my mom’s example, I’ve gained a greater appreciation and understanding of food.  I not only love to eat food (oh yeah!), I’m thankful for it, I’m aware of the time and sacrifice behind it, and I love to connect with people through it.

mom-cookingSo yesterday as I was filling each mandoo wrapper individually, carefully running a light ring of water around the edges and decoratively pinching them shut, an impulsive and discouraging thought ran through my mind: “Why do you even bother?? This takes more time than it’s worth! Your kids won’t even care.”  But quick to follow were these precious feelings of nostalgia, the sweet memories of my childhood, and the ultimate influence for good that my mother so graciously bestowed upon me.  I mentally fought back, “It IS worth it.”

Like all good things in life, food and cooking are meant to be appreciated and shared.  And like my mother, I’ve realized that when I share food I’ve prepared, I share an important part of myself with it.

 (Above: My mom preparing New Year’s dinner.)