A Korean American in London

1. S(e)oul Food

My friend A kindly let me use her kitchen to cohost a Korean food night last night. Bibimbap!! Oh Korean food, how I’ve missed you. As they say, to Koreans, a meal isn’t a meal unless it comes with rice.

It felt nice to be cooking again, too. There’s something wholesome about it, especially after eating cafeteria food and prepackaged sandwiches for two months.

bibimbap groceries

The bag of groceries on the left is a handful of staple items I had to buy from the Korean market (e.g. red pepper paste 고추장 and kimchi 김치). The bag on the right is overflowing with all the fresh ingredients (veggies, meat, eggs) from Sainsbury’s. And guess what? The bag on the left cost four times as much. In dollar terms, it was about $35 just to buy I don’t even remember what. Korean food is so expensive here!

Eating out doesn’t satisfy the Korean food craving, either. About a month ago, I went to one of the Korean restaurants near Tottenham Court Road. While it wasn’t too expensive, there wasn’t much of it (I’ve never even seen such a small jjigae bowl before! It was the size of what they usually serve steamed egg in when they give it to you as “service”). It didn’t taste very good, either. There’s another Korean restaurant that people say is pretty good near campus, but they charge you for the banchan! I am staunchly against this in principle. You order Korean BBQ, and you have to pay for the lettuce?! No no no. This is very wrong.

When I go to New York in January, I’m eating in K-town every day. In fact, every meal. Including breakfast!

2. “But where are you from from?”

Conversations often go like this:

Student: Where are you from?
Me: New York.
Student: No, I mean, where are you from from?
Me: America?
Student: Hm, I mean, where are your parents from?
Me: Korea.
Student: So where in Korea are you from?
Me: I was born in the States, so… New York?

It’s not like I’m trying to dissociate myself from my Korean heritage. I embrace my identity as a Korean American. When I was little, I struggled with it because my white classmates made fun of me for being Asian, while my Korean friends considered me “whitewashed.” I neatly solved this dilemma by telling people I was “100% Korean and 100% American, so I’m 200% of a person.” Hahaha.

But what I’m not comfortable with is being pigeonholed because of the way I look. The alternate route that conversations take is this:

Student: Where are you from?
Me: New York.
Student: No, I mean, where are you from from?
Me: America?
Student: Hm, I mean, where are your parents from?
Me: Korea.
Student: NoOOOoOooo. You look Chinese!
Me: Well, I’m not…

To clarify, most people I meet accept “I’m from the States” for an answer; these conversations happen most often with Chinese students. I can understand the impulse to establish some commonality if a Chinese student far from home takes me for one of his/her own, but honestly, I think I’m going to prepare a 30-second lecture on hyphenated identities and just cut to the chase.

Or maybe I’ll give them the line my cheeky eight-year-old self came up with on being 200% of a person. Hahahaha. I’d love to see the looks I get on that one.

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6 thoughts on “A Korean American in London

    1. it’s not that i find the conversations or the people annoying, just that this happens every single time and i don’t have the energy to enlighten everyone about the experience of being asian american as distinct from being asian or being american, especially when it’s just a meet and greet situation. but i just might!

  1. awww, your cooking reminds me of all those days in your brooklyn apt! thanks for teaching me how to cook korean =) can’t wait to catch up next week!

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