Yes, a cook—I’m cooking a love letter to my heritage

I’ve written a lot about my identity struggles in this column. I mean, my life so far has been pretty culturally diverse as a whole world market: I was born in Korea, grew up in Texas, and moved to Los Angeles for college. Joining clubs like the Korean American Student Association and embracing the burgeoning Korean cuisine and culture scene in Los Angeles, I thought I had finally found it—a place where I fit in, where I felt comfortable with my identity. Instead, I found myself in more confusion and self-doubt, adjusting for myself to conform to external standards.

But in my second year, I still haven’t found it. Now that I live in USC Village (with a kitchen!), I cook a lot more — and since I’m no longer limited to questionable meals in the dining hall, there’s a lot to do and experiment with. And I think that’s exactly it. Like gastronomy, my identity is interdisciplinary, multifaceted.

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At the beginning of the year, I cooked mostly American, New American, and Italian foods that frequented my chef’s corner during the summer. Three-hour salmon with fennel and sake, protein pasta with homemade red sauce and sandwich variations were common. I basically cooked the things I was familiar with, staying in a nice two-by-two box with comfort.

But that got old fast. After two weeks straight of school and cooking western food, I was fed up (literally). I was home during the summer, so I stayed up a lot—often recuperating the energy I’d spent my senior year in college. When my parents went out for dinner, they usually brought a variety of foods, with Asian food being the most common theme.

Now in college with only quick access to Trader Joe’s and Target, I missed the food—not to mention the community aspect—of home. Preparing meals for the week was isolating. Lucky for me, I had three friends who were willing to drive me to H Mart in exchange for a home cooked meal. And luckily for them, cooking was my love language.

For the next two weeks, I only ate Korean food. I mean, I was a fiend when it came to grocery shopping. My kitchen was stocked with three varieties of kimchi, jangjorim, gochujang, ssamjang, pickled bulgogi, bone-in short ribs, kongjang, brown rice, kim, mandu, hotteok, myeolchi-ttangkong-bokkeum, red leaf lettuce and hobakjuk – you name it probably i had it.

I’ve spent an entire afternoon making galbitang from scratch, many nights eating kimchi tuna fried rice with a quadruple egg, and countless hours making meals from rice, protein, and banchan combinations. I loved him too. Which is crazy considering that before college I used to complain about having it too a lot Korean food.

This drastic change made us remember another question – What do i cook When I started cooking Korean dishes for the first time, I learned not only about the ingredients that go into them, but also about the time, love and heritage behind my favorite foods.

Yes, the recipes followed the instructions, but really cook the plates, there’s a little splash here, an extra dash there, etc. Navigating identity is not a one-size-fits-all checklist where you must conform to a particular archetype, join a certain club, or adopt certain mannerisms.

It’s just like cooking – explore ingredients here, mix flavors there, mix and match cooking styles until you figure it out. You don’t suddenly discover your identity wrapped in ribbon after hitting a series of quotas – you know you’ve found it when feelings exactly.

Food is my love language. Through home-cooked dinners with my roommate, neighbors, and friends, I learned to love my identity a little more—and to share it with others. Sure, I might not be the typical Orange County stereotype who goes to church every Sunday and speaks fluent Korean, or the international girl with a distinct aegyo sal who calls everyone “Opa.” I’m glad I’m not because that’s not me. My identity doesn’t fit in a box. Cannot be sorted in a grocery store. Its ingredients come from everywhere and there is no recipe. That’s why I love him.

Victoria Lee is a sophomore who writes about DEI, the AAPI experience, and representation of underserved communities. Her column, “Your College Unnie,” is published every Friday.

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