Weekly Menu Series: Remembering Halmuni

You might say that your grandmother made/makes the best […], and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m going open my arms to my competitive streak and say that my halmuni (Korean for ‘paternal grandmother’) was the best cook in the whole fucking world.

Well, maybe that’s not nice. And not true. But I will say that my grandmother’s food was intensely stellar. In it, you could taste her love, energy, subtlety, and flavor, and you could take one bite and clearly infer what kind of woman she was. Of course, I know that taste and smell can catapult us into fond memories, and perhaps our history of mutual love and affection impacted/impacts the way I remember her dishes. Even if my tastebuds are colored by my feelings, I don’t think that makes my love for her food any less real, any less true.

My halmuni passed away, last week. In the past few days, I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been processing this news more proactively. God, Yejin, have a heart! But then I realized something: I’ve been cooking a lot more Korean(ish?) food, as of late, which is pretty unusual for me. Cooking and eating stuff that reminds me of her has, in a small way, helped me to start figuring it out (it = life). So, as someone who loves food and family, I thought I would craft a menu that catapults me into the back of halmuni’s car as she drove me to ballet class. Flavors that remind me that even though I have lost too many people in my relatively young life, I have received and experienced an immense amount of love. Food that help me to remember the ways in which my grandmother was largely responsible for fueling my obsession with eating, guilty of forming my palate.

So, without further ado, here’s next week’s menu:

(I also threw in a couple of pasta dishes, so my husband’s very Italian tastebuds don’t get too homesick)

  • Saeng sun jun (lightly battered and pan fried fish fillets) + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce + flash fried shishito peppers with sea salt flakes
  • Homemade fried mandu (with handmade dumpling skins) + jasmine rice + cabbage salad
  • Galbijjim (beef shortrib stew with onions, carrots and radishes) + jasmine rice + hobak jun (fried zucchini)
  • Ginger Chicken Jook/Congee (rice porridge) topped with fried shallots, salted roast peanuts and gai lan + flash fried shishito peppers with sea salt flakes
  • Rice mixed with shredded jangjorim (beef boiled with soy sauce and some aromatics), jangjorim sauce, and sesame oil, topped with a peeled soft boiled egg + sauteed zucchimi
  • Farfalle with hot Italian sauage, broccoli rabe, anchovies, and hot pepper flakes
  • Fusilli with cherry tomato sauce + roasted broccoli rabe

And, here are a couple of photos of my beautiful halmuni:

grandma's family, looking classy and fly as hell

grandma’s family, looking classy and fly as hell

halmuni's beauty is clearly overshadowing my face

halmuni’s beauty is clearly overshadowing my face

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