Holidays past with a warm plate of jeon

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Holidays past with a warm plate of jeon


Assorted jeon at Dal Hangari. Photo by Park Soo-mee

When holidays approach, I often think about the days I spent running around in my grandfather’s backyard in Ulsan, my father’s hometown and where I was born.

Holidays back then meant some familiar rituals in my family: cranky women in the kitchen wanting to go home, and there was always a drunk picking a fight while trying to challenge my grandfather, a proud deputy mayor of his hometown, in the midst of useless political gossip.

Then there was me perched on the kitchen floor next to my mother, getting yelled at while picking up a piece of jeon, a patty, with my hands covered in dirt after playing in the sand with the boys.

But as I got old enough to read my mother’s moods, I learned that holidays weren’t a bundle of joy for everyone - especially the women, who faced the horror of overwork before the holidays preparing a meal devoted to their husband’s ancestors whom they’d never even met.

It was mutually agreed sometime in those years that families would divide the duties, and each bring food they made at home for the holiday meal. The whole point was to minimize the time we spent at our grandparents’.

Modern holidays have become an obligation. And we’ve somehow figured out over the years that the best way to endure our time together is to avoid uncomfortable topics as much as possible.

None of my uncles get drunk anymore or push me to make self-deprecating jokes by asking questions like whether I’m still dating the same guy from last Lunar New Year.

Over a plate of assorted patties (8,000 won) full of my childhood favorites - zucchini, oyster and fish - on a recent visit to Dal Hangari, a modest Korean restaurant in a tranquil neighborhood on the way to the presidential office in Samcheong-dong, my mind drifted into a nostalgic mode.

Maybe we have intrinsic compassion for our faults from the past. Or perhaps nostalgia sometimes emerges in us in the most perverted manner. But I truly miss the days that we weren’t afraid to reveal our foolishness and make each other angry.

I miss the days that we squeezed into a cramped kitchen, and sweated ourselves to death as we made patties together in front of a sizzling frying pan.

But at least I know where I can go now when I want a piece of those fond memories.

Dal Hangari (02-733-7902) is located in the first alley across from the Prime Minister’s office in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul.

By Park Soo-mee Staff Reporter []

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