A great cook

People say I am a great cook, although I always question, “Really?” Okay, this is an honest curiosity on my part since I don’t believe I can’t be a good cook because I’ve been told many times I’m average in everything, and also, partly because of ingrained teaching coming from my Korean and family background to be modest. But inevitably, no matter what the answer to my question is, people assume my cooking skills must come from my mother. Well, there are a lot of things to admire about my mother, but cooking is not one of them. At least when I was young, she was a terrible cook, and she didn’t even like cooking.

Then how to explain that not all cooking skills come from mothers when people seem to picture this nice middle-aged 아줌마 whenever they think of moms? This assumption often grates at me, since I literally didn’t grow up with my mother since I was twelve. And even when I was in Korea, I can count on my two hands how many times my mother actually cooked for me.

But in response to all of those who comment on how great my mom’s cooking skill must be… I often didn’t have the heart to say, “No. My mom was a crappy cook, nor did she ever want to cook for me until I literally left the country.” That would be an awful thing to say, right? So I used to just smile (no comment), but also sometimes I get sick of just smiling and nodding, so I say “Well, I also spent a lot of time looking over the shoulder of my grandmother and hired help who used to prepare our meals.” Implying it’s not really all my mom, but also not denying my mother’s hypothetical great cooking skills.

Then, as I aged, I realized… What’s the point of me hiding that my mom was a bad cook? Why do I often sugar coat everything about my life, including this? As, being an immigrant with a split cultural personality, and a great number of identities, I spent my entire life sugar coating and masking. So instead, I now tell funny stories of my mother’s cooking skills.

Like the time my mother bought four large bags of mostly squashed strawberries and had the pot with strawberry and just water (no gelatin, mind you) on the stove for almost an entire day, and we spent the next week drinking something akin to strawberry chunk juice. Or the time my mother made 3-layer rice, which had none of the layers that were edible (burnt, uncooked, and smelly).

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