A Nomad’s Cookbook for People Who Always Miss Home

By Rachel Choi, Multimedia Managing Editor, Chief Copy Editor

Food is necessary for the body, but it’s also necessary for the soul—and I don’t mean that in a metaphorical way. So many of my most cherished memories are associated with a particular dish; I think I’d be a hollow shell without them. 

  1. Dakgangjeong (닭강정) 

The fried chicken:

Chicken breast 4

Potato starch 1 cup

Egg 1

Salt 1 teaspoon

A pinch of pepper

An appropriate amount of frying oil


Gochujang ½ cup

Ketchup ½ cup

Mayonnaise ½ cup

Sugar ¾ cup

A fistful of roasted peanut (if wanted)

Unfamiliar smiles, comforting laughs. Handshakes, waves, “Hey, how’ve you been faring? How are the kids?” Towering figures, both strange yet intimately familiar—I’ve seen them before, but from where? I could never tell—filling our tiny apartment living room.

In the center of the room was an old, intricately carved floor table picked up off the side of the road: legs about to break from the weight of my mother’s cooking placed methodically on each end—butterfly-symmetrical, red dakgangjeong surrounded by rainbow-colorful banchan, flavorful aroma in the air. 

A congregation around the table. Someone leads prayer after a friendly back-and-forth between who should. Small, curious eyes peek through eyelids slightly cracked open, scanning the food on the table and the friend-strangers around it. 

If I could have articulated my thoughts coherently back then, I’d tell my parents the scene looked exactly like “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci—a thick sheen of nostalgia coating the surface. We always had guests, always with a table full of umma’s cooking.

We always had a crowd in our apartment of four that was meant for less.

The first bites are accompanied by boisterous laughter, chatter, compliments—your cooking is better than I remember, samo-nim—chopsticks clacking, spoons clinking. Knowing glances between me and Umma, her and Appa, him and Oppa, him and me. Silent smiles.

How does it taste? Umma mouths.

Like home, I think. 

“완전 맛있어요,” I say. 

  1. Chamchi-kimchi samgak kimbap (참치김치 삼각김밥)


Can of tuna 1

Kimchi diced 2 scoops

Cooking oil (or any other oil) 2 tablespoons

Sugar 1 tablespoons

Rice 1 bowl (with two pinches of salt, 2 teaspoons of tuna oil, 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds)

Samgak-kimbap kim 2 sheets

Samgak-kimbap mold

I felt like a nomad growing up.

Our family moved from apartment to apartment, across the states and throughout the nation in our car that I fashioned to be my horse and carriage. I’d gallop across the stretch of a highway that was the Wild West, and the only respite would come from Umma’s food—the oasis in the middle of an unknown dash to the promised land.

My daydreams would come to a halt at the sound of plastic crinkling—“아가, 밥 먹자”—Umma reaching back, handing Oppa and me triangle-shaped rice filled with tuna and kimchi. Small hands greedily ripped the plastic open; a bite, and then the smell of something savory.

The sounds of happy humming, chortles of satisfaction, eager chewing. Appa’s head poked past the headrest, into my line of sight, to take a bite out of the kimbap from Umma’s hand. 

Safety. Familiarity. Home was Umma’s cooking, Appa’s driving, Oppa’s jokes, and me—anywhere my family had eaten together, happily. Cars were no exception: the headlights became a campfire, the crowded seats a cocoon under the stars where I thought I would be safe forever. 

  1. Miyeok-guk (미역국)


A handful of dried seaweed (soaked in water to soften)

Dried anchovy and kelp (sometimes replaced with prepackaged broth bags)

Beef (if you feel fancy)


Salt (what feels right)

Soy sauce (same as above)

Sesame oil (what your heart tells you) 

Ramen soup (if you’re really feeling bold)

??? (I’d ask Appa, but his recipe changes depending on what’s in the house)

Sometimes, Appa would pick up the ladle. Birthdays, anniversaries, random nights, unprovoked inspiration—every time, I would stand next to him, clutching his shirt. His speciality, though, was miyeok-guk, typically for Umma’s birthdays as part of Korean tradition: the dark color of seaweed is reminiscent of the moment where a baby’s dark hair is first visible during birth, and the soup is supposed to remind the recipient on their birthday of the pain and bravery their mother went through giving birth to them—and plus, it’s very nutritious. I would always be watching in morbid curiosity as he dumped in ingredients I could have never imagined belonging together.

Somehow, though, every time he made it, it would taste amazing—the hint of the ocean mixed with a grounded meatiness, savory and smooth, perfect for a morning meal. 

“아빠가 간은 잘 맞춰,” he’d reassure me. His words were like promises to me—he was a superhero, a person who could never fail, someone who could enter an argument with Jesus and come out of it a victor. His words were the bible, and I was an eager student; I find myself saying the things he used to say to me even now.

As such, I never doubted him.

Umma would fuss, but she’d be smiling and smelling. Oppa would stir at the soup, scrutinize it with ill-concealed trepidation. We’d eat, and without fail, we’d all exclaim the same thing: It tastes amazing! Why?

  1. Yukgaejang (육개장)

Main ingredients:

Bracken 300 grams

Beef (brisket or any other gukgeori beef) 300 grams

Water 2 liters

Enoki mushroom 1

Root of green onion 1

Minced garlic 1 teaspoon

Sauce for ingredients:

Soy sauce 5 tablespoons

Gochugaru 5 tablespoons

Sesame oil 3 tablespoons

Sauce for broth (change according to amount):

Salt 1 teaspoon

Tuna sauce (or fish sauce) 1 teaspoon

A little bit of pepper 


Fistful of dried shrimp, dried herring 

I can never choose a single “comfort food.” Anything that I crave in the moment is comfort—how could I possibly decide? Yet, out of everything, something about the smell of yukgaejang will never fail to get me excited. 

Many times, the aroma of something spicy and savory would float through the short halls and into my room, waking me from my drowsy, afternoon stupor. It’d be like hypnosis, a Pavlovian reaction—I’d have to drop everything and float to the kitchen high off the aroma, where umma would stir in a large, metal pot. The rest was autopilot.

Set the table. Listen as Oppa and Appa walk to the kitchen, soft thud-thud-thuds, to help. Sit down, “잘 먹겠습니다,” wait until my parents lift their spoons, then tuck in.

Spicy, tangy, savory, earthy. Top it with fermented kimchi. Boom. There’s comfort in one bite.

  1. Gamjatang (감자탕)


Potatoes 4 (as much as wanted)

Pork backbone 1–1.2 kg

Soybean paste 2 tablespoons 

Gochujang 1 tablespoon

Minced garlic 1 tablespoon

Gochugaru 3 tablespoon

Perilla seed powder 3 tablespoons

Tuna sauce 2 tablespoons

Spring onion 1

Perilla leaves 8–10

Dried radish greens, leaves of napa cabbage, stem of icicle radish, etc. (optional, as much as wanted)

Water 2 L 

Wake up in the morning for school. Drowsy feet dragging along the floor, eyes still half-closed. Sit down at the kitchen table. Notice Oppa already sitting down, digging into food—how does he always have more energy than me?

“얼른 먹어.” A bowl pushed forward—left over gamjatang from yesterday’s meal for a crowd of guests, the potato mushy and infused with flavor, the broth thicker and meat tender. A bowl of rice next to it; I would immediately put all of it into the gamjatang to mix it up, making it a divinely blessed bowl of porridge instead. 

My go-to method of eating gamjatang: a day or two old, heated and reheated, with a 70-to-30 rice-to-stew ratio. Top that with kimchi.

Umma would laugh knowingly. 

School would go by in a flash, stomach full and brain occupied with the thought of going back for seconds once I got back home. The remnants of Umma’s love lingered all throughout the day—and it wasn’t just the food. She knew me without having to speak, understood what I was feeling without having to ask. 

I’d go back home after school, and the house would already be smelling of reheated gamjatang. Umma would look at me with a fondness that nurtures, heals, fights and thrives. She’d stir, tell me to go change.

There would already be a pair of a spoon and chopsticks at the table.