One of my favorite aspects of the Korean culture in relation to food is that we have certain dishes associated with different holidays and other special occasions. For example, 미역국 (miyeokguk), which is a flavorful soup made with seaweed and beef, is usually eaten on someone’s birthday as it is traditionally associated with birth; women who have just given birth eat this dish often, as it contains a high level of calcium, which is an important nutrient for nursing mothers. Another example of this is that during 추석 (chuseok, a national holiday that is nicknamed as the “Korean Thanksgiving” as we show respect to our ancestors), we eat 송편 (songpyeon), which is a sweet, Korean rice cake filled with sesame seeds and honey. Traditionally, we use newly harvested rice from the year’s harvest used to make the 송편. We also eat 떡국 (tteokguk), a rich, savory rice cake soup, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, with the idea that you become one year older by eating the soup. By eating these foods during the holidays, I have been able to learn a great deal about Korea’s traditions and culture. I am always amazed at how the core values of my culture continue to persist despite the many lifestyle changes that have occurred over time, like transitioning to a more modern society. For example, in the past, family members would thank their ancestors for the successful harvest during 추석 (the Korean Thanksgiving) as a sign of respect and gratitude. Even though most of Korea’s population are no longer farmers, we continue to carry out the traditional rituals during the holiday every year to show respect for our ancestors and pass this tradition down generations (as respect for elders is one of the core values of Korean culture).
traditional 미역국 (miyeokguk, birthday soup)
송편 (songpyeon, rice cake eaten on Korean Thanksgiving)
떡국 (tteokguk, Korean rice cake soup eaten on Lunar New Year)
Ever since I immigrated to the United States, I have made more of an effort to learn more about my heritage and where my family comes from. My father was born in 제주도 (Jeju Island), an island that is just off the coast of the Korean peninsula, and I have always loved the island’s food for its rich flavor due to the fresh ingredients. When I was little, my family would fly from Seoul, my hometown, to visit my grandparents in Jeju Island, and we would always look forward to eating my grandmother’s cooking, especially when we visited during the Lunar New Year, 설날 (seolnal). My cousins and I would watch from outside the kitchen as our mothers and our grandmother diligently worked to prepare all sorts of food, from 떡국 (tteokguk, the traditional Korean rice cake soup) to 전 (jeon, savory Korean traditional pancakes filled with fish, meat and or veggies). The holidays were always something to look forward to when I was younger, as I loved that all of my family members on my father’s side came to share this meal together, regardless of how busy everyone was. Thus, I have really grown to cherish the food of this holiday in particular due to all of the heartwarming memories that I have from my childhood. Fortunately, even after we immigrated to the States, we have continued to celebrate this holiday at our home. Although it is not quite the same as it used to be when we had celebrated in Korea, we always try our best to observe the holiday as if we were there. As a result of this, I always attempt to learn how to cook from my grandmother every time I go back to Korea, so I can help my mother with the holiday preparations back home. However, through these lessons, I have ended up learning about so much more than I originally expected, including the rituals that occur during the holiday, my family’s background, and my country’s culture. One of the dishes that I have learned to make from my grandmother includes 미역국 (miyeokguk, the seaweed soup we typically eat on someone’s birthday). It has become a dish that is very important to my family background because we cook it “Jeju Island style,” by adding sea urchins instead of beef which enhances the soup’s rich flavors; Jeju Island is extremely famous for its fresh seafood so the people always love to put it into their dishes. I really enjoy eating this dish because it truly celebrates my heritage (on my father’s side of the family) and always tastes the best when I am back home in Korea. Thus, I love eating these foods that are such an integral part of my culture when I am living in America, because it helps me feel more connected to my roots, even when I am more than seven-thousand miles away from home.
전 (Jeon, Korean Style Pancake eaten on Lunar New Year)
미역국 (Miyeokguk Jeju Style — special to my family’s background)
Unfortunately, although I have lived in Atlanta for more than ten years, I have limited knowledge about the different ethnic communities in Atlanta. I believe that Atlanta is a very diverse city and is home to many different ethnic communities, but I have not had the opportunity to personally engage with many of these communities. One community that I am familiar with is the “Korea-town” in Duluth, Georgia that has a large population of Korean residents, and thus, has become filled with many Korean restaurants and supermarkets, which my family likes to go to as it has many foods that remind us of home. Unfortunately, this is quite far from where I live, and as a result, I do not have the opportunity to visit the area often. However, Buford Highway is an area of Atlanta that I visit often and I have fortunately been able to try many different types of cuisine with my friends, including Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Thai and Japanese food. It has played a large role in my college experience in particular, as my friends and I often go out to eat at the restaurants on Buford Highway in our free time. Through these meals, I have been able to learn more about other cultures and their relationships with food, which has become one of my favorite aspects about college. I hope to learn more about the ethnic communities of Atlanta through this class, especially the Italian community in Atlanta, as I have not had the opportunity to learn about it yet.