“Yukgaejang, please.” I placed my order and listened to my family place their own selections. It was one of those Sundays at a local Korean restaurant. Yukgaejang (spicy beef soup) was one of the dishes that I would order aside from Jjajjang myeon (black bean noodles). The savory flavor was something that I grew to enjoy and crave on days when I just needed to clear my mind of the many things that bothered me.
Today, as I waited for my bowl of spicy beef soup, I thought about how different I was from when I first sat in this restaurant with friends. Years ago, all I knew to order was bulgogi and bibimbap, mostly because they were familiar rice dishes with meat. Today, I was guiding my parents with what they might prefer on the menu. I could even figure out which ones were the sweet dishes and which ones were the spicy ones.
Food has a way of bringing back memories, and usually good ones. In this case, I was remembering good memories against the backdrop of a different reality. Same restaurant, different association. I suppose that’s how it usually is; you don’t expect things to change so suddenly. Or, at least, with a good meal, you don’t expect to ever leave the people who are sharing it with you at the time.
When the dark times of my relationship had arrived, I could not accept it. This very same Korean restaurant was my respite. I would order yukgaejang, welcome its spicy flavor as a way of waking me out of my stupor. Sometimes I could not finish it, because I just could not taste it. It was within these walls that I had begun my slow unraveling, my changing, my decision to become a different person. For some reason, the food never changed, but this was a good thing. I needed something constant.
As I recalled those times, I could clearly see my friends who turned out to be nothing more than acquaintances. I still remembered their orders, the food that they disliked, the ones that they always got.
We don’t talk anymore, and I don’t want to either. But for some reason, their orders are stuck in my memory, as one of those useless pieces of information that resurfaces unexpectedly.
The waitress sets a hot bowl of Yukgaejang before me, and breaks my train of thought. I welcome the meal with fresher senses, with a deeper appreciation for life. This same dish, I now enjoy in a vibrant reality. My family, does not enjoy spicy dishes at all… but try to understand why I like this bowl of soup by tasting it anyway.
Just like that, I have new memories with this bowl of soup.