“Are you crying?” my husband, Holden, asks me. No, I insist- my chopsticks shaking as they hold a piece of marinated short rib (갈비).
I read online recently that a new Korean BBQ restaurant called K’s House had opened near us, so we decided to try it for lunch today. A woman named Mira brought us our food. She asked me if I spoke Korean. I replied 조금 (a little) and that I was 입양… adopted.
As she turns the meat on our tabletop grill, we talk about my adoption story and finding my birth family. Mira shares her experience moving from Seoul to Seattle and then Dallas. She says she can tell I have a warm heart, and she thinks my birth mother is proud of me. A tear may have escaped my eye, but I’m sure it was just from the sliced onion.
I tell Holden how eating naengmyeon reminded me of my first trip to Korea in 2008. It was July, and the weather in Seoul was scorching. I ate naengmyeon frequently during my stay, because the ice cold noodles were so refreshing. He orders bulgogi sliders, a fusion dish that helps make Korean food more approachable for non-Korean Americans. I wonder if maybe my parents would be willing to try something a little less “exotic” like this.
Throughout our meal, I share different customs Holden needs to prepare for when we visit my birth family in October. Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking up in your rice bowl, wait until the eldest person eats before you start, turn away when you take a shot, and always pass dishes with your left hand under your right elbow.
As excited as I am to be going back to Korea, I can’t help but think about the years that have passed since my last visit. Since then, my sister had a son who I still haven’t met. My (already elementary-level) Korean skills have become rusty and out of practice. Conversing with Mira today while she divvied up the grilled meat between our two plates was the most Korean I’ve spoken in awhile.
There’s something about hearing and speaking my birth language that unlocks a part of my heart, I explain to Holden. The kalbi’s delicious marinade and familiar sourness of the kimchi – which Mira tells me is imported specially from Korea – floods my senses and evokes memories of another life.
Being adopted, I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll never feel completely whole. But in moments like these, the great divide between my two lives seems more narrow. As if, for the length of a meal- I don’t have to choose between one or the other.
“배부르!” I exclaim, as Mira brings our check. My stomach is full. And then, 맛이 있어요. It’s delicious. She hugs both me and Holden, saying she hopes we will return again before our trip in a few months. Between her kind smile and the authentic food at K’s House, neither October or Korea seem quite so far away.
Korean Cuisine & Grill
320 Singleton Blvd #100
Dallas, TX 75212