Last week my brother texted to ask if my mother-in-law had a kimchi pancake recipe.
Sure she does, I replied. But all her recipes are in her head. AND SHE’LL NEVER TELL YOU ANYTHING.
The best you can do is assist and observe, which she’ll allow as long as you don’t get on her nerves by asking too many questions. This way she taught me to make kimchi, and japchae, and kimbap, and yumsotang, a soup she’ll batch up once a year, just for me and my father-in-law, simmered with goat shoulder she buys from a farm a couple hours drive from her bland southern Virginia exurban subdivision.
Omma doesn’t suffer fools, but lately her neighbors have been telling her some weird shit that she doesn’t know what to make of. One of them, a Korean friend from back in the day, indulges in vaccine conspiracies. Another, a Philippines-born, retired Green Beret—who from his back porch once nocked an arrow to a bow and bagged a doe nibbling on her cabbage patch—thinks the new president is going to let Mexican immigrants steal all the jobs.
I’m not worried about her swallowing too much of this nonsense. She’s a fully-vaxxed anti-Trump voter, and she knows her neighbors are nuts. But a few weeks ago she did ask her daughter if she should be worried about leaving the house.
How do you answer that question from 800 miles away? No, don’t worry. Everyone’s cool with senior Asian ladies in the Great American Melting Pot. Go about your day.
There’s a particular sense of helplessness that arises from the second pandemic enabled and encouraged by the last president. There’s no vaccine for this one. But just like COVID-19, it’s not going to go away without a concerted, mass effort to confront it. The good news is, just like masking, keeping your distance, and not blowing your nose on the sidewalk, there are a few small things everybody can do to achieve herd immunity.
A simple one is taking part in a bystander intervention training webinar hosted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Another one is supporting Dough Something, an effort launched by Parachute/Wherewithall chef Beverly Kim in response to a racist letter that surfaced at her parents’ California retirement community.
Throughout April dozens of Chicago restaurants (and more across the country) will be donating proceeds from certain pastry items on their menus to AAAJ. That includes the kimchi donuts at Kim’s Parachute, the chocolate chip cookies from Sugargoat Sweets, the chicken sandwiches at Honey Butter Fried Chicken, bread at Floriole, and slices of Key Lime at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits.
None, yet, seem to be offering a kimchi pancake (What about it Gaijin?). But that’s the sort of thing Omma wouldn’t dream of ordering from a restaurant anyway. One would be sizzling in the skillet before you’d dare to ask how she does it.
Originally published in the Reader's Food & Drink newsletter. Subscribe here.