In the absence of knowing his parents — a great grief to my 8 year-old son — food and flavor are one of the few ways I have to keep him connected to his ancestors.
Bulgolgi. Kalbi. Jap chae. Bi Bim Bap. Soondubu chigae. They are all possibilities. But quite honestly, I fail miserably at this. I hardly cook Korean food at all. And I don’t cook Asian dishes much more — though my fried rice is my son’s favorite food.
My fried rice recipe is pretty simple. Dice onions, shred carrots, chop kimchi (if we have it.) Heat up sesame oil. Give the onions and carrots a head start but brown the first three ingredients together. Add cold rice and chopped ham. Add soy sauce and scrambled egg. Mix until egg is cooked. Serve.
I used to feel bad about my fried rice because I knew that it was supposed to be a leftover dish and mine most certainly was not. I wasn’t doing it Asian enough. So I started to experiment with it. I would put in whatever I found in the fridge. Then one day I added brussels sprouts to my kimchi fried rice. Man, was that a bad pick. The whole dish fell apart. And I decided that East and West couldn’t meet. I stopped experimenting with my fried rice. I stopped trying to let East and West mix on our plates.
Imagine my surprise then when I came across a brussels sprouts and kimchi recipe in Roy Choi’s L.A. Son. My world stopped.
Roy Choi is the creator of the Korean taco truck. He came from a family with a flair for food and climbed up the ranks of corporate cooking through hotels like Hilton. He has fed thousands, if not millions of people — and he was saying that brussels sprouts and kimchi can mix.
I was reading L.A. Son because I read whatever I can get my hands on about the Korean-American experience. It is one of my projects since becoming an adoptive parent. Reading helps me understand what is assumed of my children when they are away from me and tells me a bit of the generational experiences that they are missing out on because they are raised in a white family. Reading also gives me greater understanding of the experiences of the Korean Americans that I encounter as an adoptive parent — though I am pretty sure I am not going to run into anyone as badass as Roy Choi in my suburban circles….
Anyway, Choi’s recipe doesn’t bend West to East like my recipe did. It bends East to West. Instead of placing the brussels sprouts with sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice, the kimchi is placed with European flavors of olive oil, butter, lemon, and shiso (yes, Asian but apparently similar to mint.) I haven’t tried it yet but plan to give it a go. My willingness to experiment with food renewed.
And another thing I picked up from Roy Choi’s L.A. Son — a single culinary heritage doesn’t make a man — but a parent’s unwavering belief can help lift a man up.