Spring Table: Water Parsley Pancakes, 2017

2017_07_SpringTable_WaterParsleyPancake_72dpi

Korean name for water parsley is “mi-na-ri.” Minari is a sign of spring. When you see dishes made of minari on the table, you know that spring has come.

New school year starts in March in South Korea. Forsythia starts bloom everywhere. Everything feels spring even if the weather is still a bit chilly. I went home, South Korea, this year in March. Taking advantage of the fact that I’d left my regular office job past November, I went for a whole month. I got to see spring flowers bloom, people put their heavy winter coats away, and surely ate lots of dishes made of minari.

Water parsley pancakes (minari jun) taste like spring. Fresh, light, a little airy, and juicy. It’s not that it’s especially yummy, but just the fact that it’s on the table makes you think, “Oh, it’s spring…finally!”

A Piece of White Bread and a Cup of Coffee, Mom’s Comfort Food

AramKim_BreadAndCoffee_72dpi

This would be probably one of my earliest memories – looking at my mom enjoying a piece of morning quietness with her late breakfast after my dad went to work and my sister went to school. It was before I started kindergarten, so it must have been one of those days she didn’t go to work. Her breakfast was often very very simple. A piece of white bread, dipped in coffee. Just a plain white bread, not toasted, with no jam or butter, no cheese or ham. Even as a kid, I thought it didn’t look delicious at all. When I asked mom why she was having it, she smiled and answered “This is most delicious.”

After years and years and years passed, out of nowhere, not knowing why, sitting alone at the kitchen table in Queens of my current home, I tried what my mom used to have – a piece of plain bread dipped in coffee. Coffee had to be made with instant coffee, prima, and sugar. And that – was delicious.

Plain bread soaked in sweet coffee must be a bit similar to dunking a sweet donut in black coffee, which a lot of people enjoy, but the former somehow has a bit more modest and fragile sentimentality. Donut doesn’t break when it’s dunked in coffee. It holds itself strong enough. But a sliced bread, thin and often fluffy, has only a few seconds of chance to hold between getting soaked in coffee and landing safely in the mouth. But when it does land in the mouth, you can taste the softest and sweetest, melting in the mouth, coffee soaked piece of bread. Most delicious.

Lunch Boxes, Anyang, S.Korea, 1995

AramKim_LunchBoxes_1995_72dpi_signed

I had very unimpressive junior high school years. Nothing was particularly fun and I probably read the least amount of books for fun during those three years in my life. Pressure started to set in to study for tests, to enter good high school, and eventually good college.

Yet, there still was a fun part. It was during my sophomore year I had such a good time eating lunch with my best friends before lunch time, and again, during lunch time. Teenagers are always hungry. Supposedly we were growing, I guess. Nowadays, school cafeteria is a norm, but we didn’t have cafeteria back then and we were supposed to bring our own lunch boxes everyday. When we came to school, early in the morning, we would open our lunch boxes together. Mmm…we sipped the smell of still warm and steamy delicious lunch, saw what each of us brought for lunch, had a bite or two, or three, and put them away for later. (Otherwise, we would have been very sad during the actual lunch time.)

It was so much fun because everyone brought different food and we all shared. Traditionally, Korean meal consists of rice, soup, and side dishes (called banchan). Since packing soup is trickier, and it alsomakes lunch box heavier, in addition to already heavy book bag we carried around on our shoulders, a lot of kids skipped soup. So a kid would bring 1-3 kinds of banchans, but with friends, you get to taste a lot more than what you bring. During lunch time, a group of friends would all gather and cram around one kid’s desk with all different food and containers, making the boring wooden desk all colorful. Since everyone has different family recipes and their “specialties,” sometimes you get to try something you have never tasted before. If you like your friend’s banchan so much, you can keep a tiny piece of it in your lunch box, bring it back home, then your mom or dad whoever cooks for you can figure out what that is and cook it later.

My all time favorite banchans were sliced egg omelet (you can put anything in the omelet, but my favorite always has been with dried seaweed – ah, so yum!) and mini hot dogs with ketchup. My favorite banchans from my best friend’s lunch box was grilled spam and seaweed salad. I tried seaweed salad for the first time from my friend’s lunch box, and I did bring a piece back home. Since then, my mom made seaweed salad whenever I wanted!

During winter, a lot of students carry thermo-lunch boxes that keep food warm for a few hours. So when you open your lunch box in the afternoon, rice that was packed in that morning would be still steamy and banchans still warm. So good to eat warm food on cold winter days! During summer, usually lunch boxes get lighter, as kids don’t care so much of cooled off rice and banchans. Kids bring all different kinds of lunch boxes, all cleverly designed to accommodate right amount of food, several banchans not to get mixed up, along with chopsticks or spoon/fork combo! Some kids would bring a separate container with fruits for dessert, which we always shared.

Since moving to New York, I got used to eating alone, especially lunch. Everyone is busy, everyone has a different schedule, and everyone wants to do something different during lunch time other than chatting and sharing food. It’s nothing to be sad about and I never mind it. It actually makes occasional gatherings to have meal together extra special. Yet, thinking of those old time in junior high school lunch time does make me think of the time when sharing food and stories with friends on a regular basis was such a norm and a part of everyday life.

 

 

Coffee with Half & Half in New Haven, 2005

AramKim_BreakfastInIllinois_2005_72dpi_signed
I stayed in New Haven briefly over the summer of 2005, subletting a modest studio apartment from a student writer who was spending her summer in New York. It was my very first time living completely on my own, in a “real” apartment, not a dorm room. Though it was only for three months, I felt pretty cool. Until then, my experience in America had been limited to visiting friends and relatives or living on campus, which were all very safe and not so “independent”. I was pretty excited with this new setting and enjoyed every bit of it. When a close friend came to stay with me for a few weeks, flying all the way from Korea, even going grocery shopping became a fun activity (probably because we treated ourselves with crispy crème donuts whenever we went grocery shopping).
Then one day we went into a corner store. It was then when this small package of milk with a picture of coffee on top caught my eye. I instantly thought ‘Oh, they have coffee milk in America, too.’ By “coffee milk,” I mean “coffee flavored” milk, just like chocolate milk or strawberry milk. Coffee milk was my favorite choice of drink as a teenager in Korea, regardless of the fact that it basically was just sweet milk with a hint of coffee scent. Upon graduating high school, I had evolved into a sophisticated grown-up who drank coffee instead of coffee milk. Yet I felt very happy and nostalgic seeing coffee milk, I immediately bought one. When we came home, I opened it and drank right from the packet as I always did in high school. Of course it wasn’t sweet, coffee flavored milk I expected, that came pouring into my mouth. I stopped drinking, with my eyes wide-open, and my friend looked at me puzzled, probably because I must have had the most confusing look on my face.
That was the first time I learned about “half&half”that it was cream for coffee. And during that summer, I enjoyed my iced coffee greatly with half&half. When summer heat cooled off during the evening, my friend and I would make iced coffee, with half&half, come out of the small studio apartment, and drink the coffee outside, pretending we were old time local residents of the building. Though no one would have thought so, we liked to think that way. And my friend would praise that I made excellent coffee. (It was instant coffee with half&half.) A few years later, we got to spend another couple weeks together over the summer and I made iced coffee. When she tasted it, after a moment of silence, she said, “Your coffee in New Haven was so much better.” And I agreed my coffee tasted better at that time. Then, we realized, it wasn’t that I had made good coffee in New Haven – it was the magical half&half that we hadn’t known before, that made coffee so tasty!
Alas, I don’t enjoy half&half any more, (I like to think I evolved even more into more sophisticated grown-up, who likes one’s coffee dark and bitter) but I just cannot forget the first time I encountered half&half. And it certainly made our summer of 2005 better with tasty coffee.

Chicken Porridge

AramKim_ChickenPorridge_72dpi_signed
As the name of this blog suggests, I usually draw based on my memories. I want to say I’m not that nostalgic, but rather very future-oriented, or at least present-oriented. But in truth, I can’t deny I actually am very nostalgic. Hence, I draw food related to my favorite memories, re-living the moment.
But this time, what I draw, Chicken Soup – or Chicken Porridge, in Korean name, is what I was very longing for less than a week ago, and still kind of. Out of the blue, I came down with this horrific flu last weekend and suffered for almost an entire week quite intensely. For first couple days, I couldn’t really eat and had a zero appetite, but I knew I had to put something in my stomach in order to have some medicine at least. I longed for something soft, warm, and nutritious that will go easy with my flipped stomach. It wasn’t until later that I remembered this chicken porridge my mom used to make.
You use a whole chicken for a pot of chicken porridge. After boiling it for a very long time, with rice and some cloves of garlic, you cool the chicken down and tear it into smaller pieces. By the time the porridge is done, chicken is so soft, it melts in your mouth. You can go as fancy as you want, adding all sorts of ingredients to the porridge, but my mom’s chicken porridge was simple, basic, and so delicious. Just a simple bowl of white porridge, with almost no seasoning. We would have a small bowl of salt and pepper mixed, on the table, so that we can season our porridge to our own taste. Kimchi is always a nice addition to the porridge.
I’m 100% well now, but this time, I decided to draw this delicious simple meal that I wanted to have! Since I’m not big on cooking, drawing out something I want to have does give me a satisfaction of actually eating it – in a way. 🙂

Hot Dog Love

I love hot dogs. I always have. The very first snacking I remember I did on my own was buying a hot dog when I was a first grader. When I say a hot dog here, it’s a corn dog in US. I don’t know how that happened, but that’s how the name transferred to a far away continent. What do we call American hot dogs in Korea? We call it hot dog, too. No biggie.

1_PrePackagedFrozenHotDog_AramKimBoth my parents were working, so I went to the elementary school close to my grandma’s. I would come back from school, get a coin from my grandma, and cheerfully skipped down to the nearby bakery in the neighborhood. They sold pre-packaged hot dogs. Thinking back, it must have been a frozen hot dog, but it didn’t matter then, and it wouldn’t now. The lady at the counter warmed it up in a microwave and handed it to me. Mmmm…delicious! Hot dog was definitely my favorite snack as a kid.
3_SugarHotDog_AramKimThen there was this “sugar coated” hot dog sold at the snack house near my high school, which was a big hit among students. It’s a regular hot dog with deep fried dough, but if you request, the vendor would deep the hot dog into the bucket of white sugar, pulling it out completely covered with a thin coat of white sugar. Even back then, I didn’t try it. It seemed ridiculous to eat a sweet hot dog – yet, it was quite popular. Some students claimed it was a southern style, which we never figured out if that was true. In any case, I loved their hot dogs, without the sugar coat. It was such a wonderful snack for always hungry teenagers.
5_MonsterHotDog_AramKimAnd there is this crazy creative kind of hot dog that seems to baffle many foreign visitors. These are sold from street vendors in Korea, called by weird name “man-du-ki.” It’s a hot dog with chunks of fries added to the dough before it goes into deep fry oil. It looks absolutely mouthwatering (or horrifying, depending on your taste), but to be honest, it’s not as delicious as it looks. Yet, the visual is quite striking, so it’s hard to pass it by when you see one. These are more commonly sold around touristic places, and especially if you are on a vacation at the beach, you would definitely want to get one. A few years ago, I went to a beach in Korea with three of my friends who went to school in NY together, saw several carts selling this. We all got one. Even the vegetarian friend got one. She ate the dough and fries, but left out sausage.
AramKim_HogDogBunsLastly, there are various kinds of hot dog oriented pastries, like sausage buns, that are sold in the bakery. When I was little, there was only one kind, old fashioned sausage bun with fried dough -greasy, but delicious. The parchment paper on which these buns were displayed  was always soaked in oil. Later, many kinds of fancier looking sausage buns came out, making the choice ever harder. Mostly they had added cheese, corns, parsley, etc., giving it sort of a pizza flavor. I love them all.
I can keep talking about hot dogs that I had in Korea, but America is the country of hot dogs, so I cannot not mention at least one kind. The best hot dog I had in US would be Nathan’s Famous hot dog at Coney Island.
7_NathansHotDog_AramKim
I’m sure the environment (in this case, the beach, ocean, ocean breeze, view of Luna Park, etc.) must have added something magical to the food, but still, their hot dogs were delicious! Casing was delightfully chewy, sausage was very flavorful and juicy. And how about its perfect combination with chili cheese fries!! But somehow other branches of Nathan’s don’t have the same perfectness, or maybe I feel that way. Almost two hour subway ride from Queens to the end of Brooklyn definitely makes my butt hurt, but I never not go to Coney Island when there is a willing companion. Sadly, that doesn’t happen quite often enough, but that rarity also adds up to the pleasant experience of eating hot dog at Coney Island.
 P.S. While I was writing this, I remembered having seen an article on the origin of hot dog vendors of NYC in New York Times a few years ago, and tried to find that article. The article had nice black and white photograph of the hot dog vendors from the past. I searched NYT, and a little too many articles came up solely on the subject of hot dogs. I didn’t find the article I was looking for, but I found a lot of other interesting articles on hot dogs! I’m not enjoying or eating hot dogs as much as I used to, but still, I can confidently say I LOVE hot dogs. My favorite snack and comfort food. Mmmm..

Everything in One Packet

AramKim_CoffeeMix_2016_signed_01_72dpi

If you are a Korean, or have spent some time in Korea, you know what this is: it’s called “Coffee Mix.” Basically it’s a portable instant coffee packet containing a perfect(?) combination of instant coffee, prima, and white sugar, for one cup of coffee. But a notion of “one cup” is largely different from what you would think of one cup in U.S. You will have to use hot water equivalent amount of, maybe four sips – more than that would turn that delicious combination of three elements into a brown color yucky water tasting nothing.
Supposedly not good for you, containing all that prima and white sugar, it’s also very addictive. I pretend I enjoy black coffee, made with fancy French press using coffee I just ground, but deep in my heart, I’m in love with this Coffee Mix. It’s my not so secretive guilty pleasure.