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!”
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.
There are things you don’t truly appreciate until much later. Unconditional love and support you get from your parents is one of them because it feels so natural when you are receiving them. I often thought of my parents’ support on whatever I chose to do, but it wasn’t until quite recent that I thought of the physical effort they must have gone through while I was in high school.
High schools in S.Korea are straightforward intense. I was supposed to get to school by 7:30 in the morning, school was over by 5 in the afternoon, but after one hour of dinner break, students were to gather again for a self study session until 10 at night. One goal for everyone was acing the national college entrance exam in November and enter a prestigious college. While I was going through this crazy routine for three years, my mom and dad went through the same crazy routine.
The school I attended was far away from home, by choice, about two hours away by subway/bus. So dad drove me, everyday, to, and from school. By driving, and especially because it was so early in the morning with no traffic, it took less than an hour to get to school. Mom packed my lunch everyday, waking up much earlier than rest of the family, and also packed dad’s and my breakfast before we left around 6:30 am. When we arrived in front of school, Dad and I would sit in the car quietly and eat the breakfast Mom packed for us. Most of the time it was ham, cheese, egg sandwich with lettuce, and milk. The sandwich was cut in four pieces, each piece wrapped carefully, and put together in a clean bag. After eating, I went to school, dad went to work. Then by the time I finished, dad would come from work (long after his work hour was over) and drove me home. We actually had a good time, though both were tired, spending so much time together in a car, everyday.
Among countless things my parents did for me, somehow this routine they had for three years especially strikes me as something noble and painful (though they would deny it was neither). But in the mean time, I’m sure what I know is just a tip of iceberg of what they have done for their children.
Things didn’t go quite as I had planned, but I stuck to my original schedule and went to Korea. I arrived on Monday evening, and three weeks later, I left on Sunday morning. It was the most relaxing and happy time I had in a very long time. Partly because I was under a lot of stress, it really comforted me to be with my family who loved me unconditionally and it cheered me greatly to reunite with friends who were always there for me. It was the priceless trip during which I rested thoroughly and this would support me throughout my life as some of the previous trips had.
Most of all, having breakfast each morning with my mom sitting at the kitchen table was my favorite time. Most of days, our breakfast was consisted with a homemade toast (mighty bread machine), a perfectly boiled egg (mom had her system), butter and homemade fig jam, couple of fresh strawberries, and a cup of instant coffee. The simplest, the heartiest, the most delicious. Having this delicious breakfast with mom while the sunshine sipped through the window was the food for my body and soul that I would never forget.