Work up a new appetite

We live in such an interconnected world now. Progress speeds forward at a dizzying rate. It’s wondrous, but sometimes we must ask ourselves: have we pushed the boundaries too far? Have the wheels of change spun out of control, unraveling the threads of civilization? Do we sit here dumbly as Rome burns to the ground around us?

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I picked those up at the grocery store the other day. I haven’t tried them yet because I’m actually not that big of a snacker, but I simply couldn’t let them pass without judgment. Truth be told, it was also a moment of pause for me as I can’t not think about how things have changed. There these were in just a regular old display with all of the Normal Stuff, while it was just a few years ago that grocery stores in this area still had an “Oriental” shelf, which is where you’d need to grab your small bottles of sesame oil and soy sauce.

Times used to be that you’d need to head to Kim’s grocery for anything much beyond that. Fortunately, Kim’s did exist as I was growing up, even if it was the only option and did require a special trip that was a half-hour drive into the city. While I believe that it did close at one point, it has now reopened. That’s more than could be said of the rare Korean restaurants in the area. I can recall a total of two existing during the first two decades of my life, and neither lasted more than a handful of years.

But change has been reaching even the most average city in the U.S.. Over the past few years, Korean restaurants have been popping up and actually not shuttering immediately. I’m already looking forward to lunch tomorrow, where I’ll be meeting a friend at Sunhee’s Farm & Kitchen in Troy, a hip fast-casual Korean place that’s about positive food culture and immigrant empowerment and all that jazz. I’ve been mostly trying to avoid eating Japanese and Korean food in anticipation of eating all of the things during my trip, but it was suggested to me when we were making plans and I’m only human.

This will be my second time eating there, as the restaurant had recently opened the last time that I was visiting home near the end of 2016, so we went there to try it out for my mom’s birthday —and ended up with an embarrassing white people story.

We’d had a rather sizable order and had to wait a bit for our food, so I wandered around to check out the place’s hipster decor. There was a second room, which had their not-yet-open bar, and I went in there and poked around like the nosy person that I am. As I loitered under the archway connecting the two spaces, a white couple headed out and the man, spotting me standing around, waved to me and said, “Thank you!”

Well, my grandmother was sitting right across from me and had a front row view of the whole thing, and she started cracking up while I stood there frozen with a zombie smile of awkward politeness. The others at the table began asking what was happening and my grandmother was so openly entertained that I figured the couple had left at that point, so I pushed out a strangled, “I don’t work here.”

…as it turned out, the couple hadn’t left yet and they heard me, so they hurriedly turned back, with the man exclaiming that this was their first time here, they had just been so excited to try it, and they proceeded to talk to my family about how good the food they’d had was, presumably to prove that they were really nice people, while my grandmother continued to choke herself with laughter and I just kept on standing there in the archway with a twitching eye and no way to extricate myself.

So yeah, you decide whether “embarrassing” is an adjective or verb up there.

I’ve gotten somewhat spoiled now that I live in NYC, where I can easily shop at an actual H Mart and pick up pre-made Korean dinners if I’m feeling lazy and have to choose which Korean BBQ restaurant we should go to. But even if I now live a life where my refrigerator is constantly stocked with kimchi and gochujang, that doesn’t dim my amazement at the changes I see growing back in the land of my childhood. Even if, clearly, not everything has changed.

…and maybe some things shouldn’t change, but you’ve still just got to give those Korean Barbeque potato chips a try.

Oh god my mouth has no idea what’s happening to it.

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