What was your most memorable meal?” This is a question I sometimes hear discussed around the dinner table, and often a fascinating mosaic of memories emerges. Whether the diners are recalling the spicy aromas from Grandma’s homemade chicken enchiladas, a northwest sea-gift of Dungeness crab and clams, or a simmering soup abundant with fresh garden vegetables, their stories of how these meals helped foster deep conversations and friendships seem central to what makes such memories last forever.
For my husband, Jim, and me, one night will always shimmer in our memory: a feast in the ancient city of Kyongju, Korea. We had traveled to Korea to trace the background of our newly adopted five-year-old son, Jefferson, and a professor’s family from Jefferson’s hometown, Taegu, hosted us. Mrs. Yea wanted us to visit the famous city of the Schilla Dynasty, where bejeweled royalty lay buried within imposing mounds of earth. However, upon our arrival, a torrential storm that spun from the edges of a typhoon off the Sea of Japan kept us inside a small inn.
Since it was impossible to be outdoors, we settled in to wait out the storm. Mrs. Yae disappeared to instruct the kitchen staff on the Korean specialties she wanted us to taste. For hours, as winds howled outside, we sat cross-legged on the floormats, sampling their country’s treasures: fiddlehead ferns, beef bulgogi, kim chi, and jasmine tea. As we relaxed together, we began sharing family stories. Since the Yeas lived in the United States for part of each year and in Korea the rest of the time, their two sons grew up very Americanized. To this moment, although I have forgotten most of the exotic foods that were served, I vividly remember Mrs. Yae’s conversation as she expressed her desires to keep their Korean Christian heritage alive in their sons. We felt privileged to hear a mother’s deepest longings and to gain a glimpse of the distinctive challenges of cross-cultural family life.Each year we celebrated Jefferson’s July arrival in America with a special Mrs. Yae-inspired Korean meal. During junior high, his sister Krista entered a national cooking contest co-sponsored by Seventeen magazine. Contestants designed an entire meal to win a free trip to New York City, a weekend of cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, and scholarships. Krista, the youngest fi nalist at 14, prepared a dinner honoring her brother’s heritage, with the help of recipes from Mrs. Yae. She won the first-prize $2500.00 scholarship, and even the judge from the Waldorf Astoria wanted the bulgogi (Korean barbecue) recipe! At 16, Krista used her prize funds to become an exchange student in Guatemala, where her abiding interest in Latin America began. Enjoy these two prize-winning recipes she included for Celebrate Jefferson Kim Hunt Day.
Linda Lawrence Hunt, Ph. D. is is the Director of The Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship and former English professor at Whitworth College. During the past year, she has been sampling many treasured dinners around the tables of friends across the nation while on tours for her award-winning book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. Besides writing, she loves developing global gardens around The Hearth, the Hunt’s guest house in Spokane.