To the casual observer, sushi and kimbab may appear to be very much alike, but I’d just like to make it clear that kimbab is NOT sushi. 🙂 Sushi is Japanese, kimbab is Korean, for starters. Secondly, sushi is typically made with raw fish, unseasoned raw vegetables, sweetened, vinegared rice and accompanied by soy sauce while kimbab usually consists of cooked meat, seasoned or pickled vegetables and unsweetened rice seasoned with sesame oil. This means kimbab is a self-contained meal that’s ready to be enjoyed as is.
For me, the kimbab shown below is the epitome of Korean parenting. My mum messaged me yesterday saying she’d made some kimbab and that she wanted to bring it over. I was going to be out till late so I told her not to bother.
But in the end, she dropped them off just after midnight. Even after she left, she rang me to make sure I didn’t put them in the fridge, since otherwise they’d be too hard to eat. Never mind that I’m 28, that I’ve been living out for around a decade, and more or less know how to fend for myself!
I told my girlfriend, just because I couldn’t believe my parents had driven over to my place across town at midnight, just to drop off some food, and she replied, “You should be grateful.”
I just find it funny that even today, my parents still manage to surprise me. It just goes to show that nothing can get between Asian parents and their desire to feed their kids…
I would go so far as to say that food is a common way of expressing love in Korean culture (and I’m sure this also applies to other cultures too). Instead of asking if I’m well, my dad often asks if I’m eating well, for example. And of course, my parents are both massive feeders. I often feel like my stomach has expanded after I go over to my parents’ place for dinner.
And there is also a historical dimension at play here: in South Korea, food was scarce in the 50s and 60s (when my parents were born) as the country was struggling to rebuild itself after the Korean war. I’m told meat was a luxury in those days and mothers would often add lots of water to their rice to make it into a watery gruel so it could go further.
So just for the sake of a metaphor, let’s consider the rice that surrounds the precious fillings to represent a Korean parent’s unconditional love for their offspring, sealed in place by the seaweed of Confucianism. The various cooked, pickled and seasoned fillings can then represent the next generation of Koreans, who are soaking up the flavours of their culture via the sesame oil of tradition.