Monday, June 21, 2010

My South - Wade Kwon

East meets South: The Korean-redneck dinner table

By Wade Kwon

Most of you did not grow up as I did. Asian. American. Southern. Non-Baptist.

Perhaps the best way to show a glimpse of my unique childhood is to have you sit at our dinner table at our suburban home in Hoover, Ala. One night, we'd have American food. The next night, Korean food. This is how I thought other families ate, until I noticed a distinct lack of kimchi at friends' dinner tables.

So we'd have spaghetti, with sauce from a jar. Or tacos, from the kit. Or roast beef, scalloped potatoes (from the box, which I loved) and green beans (from a can).

Other nights, we'd have bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef) and rice. Or mandoo (which you probably call wonton), or ttok kuk (rice cake soup).

We ate in the kitchen, almost never the dining room. And the TV set would be on.

Keep in mind that my mom prepared just about all the meals, and that was after a long day of work and sometimes a 2-hour round-trip commute. Dad was not in charge of the grill; we didn't have one, save for a small hibachi that was never used. We didn't cook out.

And sometimes, we'd have both Korean and American at the same meal. I thought nothing of it, just enjoyed eating and eating and eating. Saturday nights, we'd go out to eat, and every so often, we'd bring home two Little Caesar's pizzas.

I didn't eat kimchi as a child, nor did I ever learn to speak or read Korean. A friend's mother insisted I must have picked up some by linguistic osmosis, until I pointed out that I didn't speak dog either despite having our family pet bark at me enthusiastically for years.

Sometimes, my friend Kenn (who blogs at Dairy of a Madman) would join us for dinner. He was game, despite the odd sights and smells on the table (and the occasional surprise tub of tiny dried fish heads in the fridge). He best recalls what I took as normal.

When he and I go out for hot pots and rice (sadly, I don't know how to reproduce the dishes of my youth), the experience takes him back to our Korean-redneck dinner table decades ago. It is a needed reminder that Southern hospitality extended across ethnicities for a shared experience.

Wade Kwon is a communications consultant and writer. He shares news and features about his hometown on his site, Wade on Birmingham.

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Wade Kwon said...

Thanks to Drew for allowing me to share my story here.

Matt said...

Thanks for sharing! As much as we get wrapped up in the traditional southern styles, it's always refreshing to hear about the up & coming traditions here, too!
Plus I think that a bucket of fish heads is a good memory for anyone's childhood.

Drew said...

Thanks so much for sharing Wade!

Rachel said...

What a great visual into a blended culture! Thanks for sharing.

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