Why My Mom Never Gave Me Her Korean Recipes

Why My Mom Never Gave Me Her Korean Recipes

My family never used recipes when I was growing up, just like everyone else. I used to think that was a unique thing about me. The internet let me know, because it likes to ruin everything, that I can't claim that story as my own. 

Let's go to my early twenties, and you'll meet a girl that was obsessed with hankering her mother for Korean recipes. Admittedly, I was pretty annoying about it, but my mom kept dodging my questions. 

A phone call I would have with my mom.
"How do you make [insert any Korean dish]?"
"I'll make it for you." 
"No, I want to know how to make it."
"I don't have a recipe, I just make it."
"Can you just email it to me?"
Then I would finish with "It doesn't have to be perfect ..."

This was the time before the Korean food craze where you can now find kimchi on tacos everywhere and follow Maangchi's recipes on Youtube. As much as I was pressuring my umma to fork over some secret cookbook, I felt pressure from peers and even strangers to be the sole Korean food representative that they were ever going to meet. The more questions I got, the more I realized I had no idea what I was talking about, which hurt my ego of being a halfie. I was always trying to prove that I was Korean enough. 


Most of the kimchi you see everywhere is actually geotjeori, because it's not fermented. They look similar like this fresh batch I made, but the smell and taste will be different. Kimchi is not a salad.

Jump cut to today and I've, well, obviously grown up. In the last 5 years or so I've researched on my own how to make Korean food and practiced. I'd gather a collection of other people's recipes and make my own version. Following a recipe exactly still, even after having a food blog, feels like a straight jacket. When I was brave enough, I had my umma taste my food. Even though she'd say nine times out of ten that I added too much garlic, a conscious decision on my part, she liked it. But I knew I still wasn't hitting the mark. So I changed my pestering approach. 

I stopped asking her to tell me how to make it, and started asking her to show me how to make it. 

This made a world of difference. Of course, being on the tail end of the millennial age group, I embarrassingly still tried to hack my lessons. I thought showing me one time would magically make me into an expert, but just like any skill, you have to put in the hours. I can make a damn fine Korean meal, but making the taste of my family is a lifelong adventure. I think that's the most important thing about all of this, is that I didn't quit when I wasn't getting answers.

Actually, scratch that. The most important thing is that I spent time with my mom.