Motherly glares, and a fine bowl of seaweed soup

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Motherly glares, and a fine bowl of seaweed soup

must have been a voracious eater as a kid. One of my earliest memories, from the third grade, is of trying to politely act as though I didn’t have an appetite, when in fact I did. As I recall, I was even yelled at by close relatives a couple of times for eating too much.
By the third grade, I was just over 40 kilograms (88 pounds), which by medical standards is considered perfectly healthy. For Korean girls, though, the standard was always based on something else. Whatever it was, it must have put pressure on my mother, who began trying to control my eating habits by giving me only small portions of rice at holiday dinners, when relatives would get together and all we would do was eat and play hwatu all evening.
When I asked for more rice at these meals, my mother would either stare or step on my foot under the table. If I insisted, she would list all the horrible things that could happen to me if I gained weight, such as being fed nothing but steamed barley for a month. It’s remarkable that these situations of public embarrassment didn’t affect my self-esteem as an adult. None of this harassment stopped me from eating more. Once in a while, I would burst into tears, just for the sake of getting what I wanted. But even then, as my aunts now fondly recall, I would sit there, holding tightly onto my rice bowl, and eat while dropping tears onto the food.
Even when I grew older, my appetite didn’t seem to die away. I made my mother blush in public by pigging out at serious occasions, like funerals.
When I was nine years old, she and I went to the hospital to visit my aunt, who had surgery for uterine cancer. When lunch was delivered to my aunt’s room, she looked at me briefly and handed over her spoon and plates. I don’t recall showing any sign of wanting to eat her food, but maybe I stared at the soup too long. Despite my mother’s threatening glare, I grabbed my aunt’s spoon like a knight holding a sword, and gulped down the entire bowl of seaweed soup (with rice) on the spot.
I remember it as one of the best meals I’ve had. I’ve had better meals at better places, but nothing could match the taste of the seaweed soup I had next to my aunt’s hospital bed in the autumn of 1984.
Even now, I recommend that hospital to people. Certainly, it wasn’t one of the best medical facilities in Seoul; as my aunt found out much later, she hadn’t had cancer ― she’d had a type of ulcer that had been misdiagnosed. Even so, the place has the best seaweed soup (miyeok guk) in town. Or maybe I’ve lost more than my appetite since then.

How to Cook

Miyeok guk

Ingredients: 200 grams of mussels (or oysters), 20 grams of dried seaweed, 6 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Serves 4.
1. Shell the mussels and soak the meat in salt water  for half an hour.
2. Cut the seaweed into bite-sized pieces. Wash under running water.
3. Heat the sesame oil in a pot over a low flame and add the seaweed. Stir.
4. Add the garlic and soy sauce. Stir.
5. Add the mussels. Stir.
6. Add the water and boil for half an hour over medium heat.
7. Serve with rice.
Provided by, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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