Yuseon (Ellen) Lee
It was a beautiful sunny day in fall; the humid and hot air of summer had gone and cool winds accompanied sunny days. The relatives on my mother’s side had gathered to have dinner together. My mom was hanging out with her sister, and once they start to talk it usually lasts for hours. My sister, who is older than me, tried to join their conversation, but I thought it was a little boring. My grandmother was in the kitchen, making her special food by herself. She always makes a meal called Young Yang Bab, which means “Nutritious Rice.”
While all the adults of my family, including my mom, dad, aunts, and grandfather, loved Young Yang Bab and waited for it eagerly, my siblings and I hated it. I always picked out the chestnuts, which were the only thing I liked, and whined to my mom about the rest. She would suggest that I try at least one spoonful, often telling me, “Someday you will miss this too.” I never thought she would be right, but I do kind of miss it now. I guess that’s because I miss my grandmother.
My grandmother got the recipe from her mother when she lived in Icheon, a province in South Korea famous for its high quality rice. She mixed the rice with ingredients such as Job’s tears, red beans, gingko nuts, and jujubes to make sure we would all get enough calcium and vitamins to stay healthy. For the children who didn’t like to eat harsh grains and beans, grandmother would roll the rice with a seaweed sheet like a roll cake, because my siblings and I loved seaweed.
My grandmother was a great cook, but once she started to worry about our family’s health, she created some weird food. One time, my grandmother got some strange white powder, mixed it with some milk, and fermented it for about a week. This made a kind of sticky white liquid that looked like yogurt but smelled like vomit. She offered it to my brother, who was weak at the time with rhinitis and anemia, and caused a game of cat-and-mouse between them.
The food I hated most was “carp soup.” When my grandmother boiled carp, the house would fill with a strange stench and all of the children in my family, including me, would start to shiver with fear. Compared to these, we liked Young Yang Bab though we certainly never said so.
Sometimes when we begged my grandfather not to make us eat Young Yang Bab, he would tell us an old story about a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who were on bad terms. The mother-in-law didn’t like the daughter-in-law and abused her, so the daughter-in-law decided to get rid of her. She went to a shaman and asked how this could be done. The shaman told her to put ten chestnuts in her rice every day for one hundred days. These would fatten and eventually kill her mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law did just that, faithfully putting ten chestnuts in the rice for one hundred days. However, instead of making her fat the chestnuts only made the mother-in-law healthier. In the end, the mother-in-law became so healthy that she felt sorry for being mean to her daughter-in-law and decided to be kind to her instead. Soon the two became friends.
At the end of his story, my grandfather would grin and say, “Can you imagine a conflict between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law could be resolved just by rice? If only it were so easy.” I think he said that because my grandmother and my aunt didn’t always get along. My aunt lived on Jeju Island, a beautiful island full of wind, volcanic rock, and mandarins. One year, we had to visit Jeju Island to see some of our family members who were sick. My siblings and I fell in love with the island. We saw a beautiful harmony between the great number of yellow canola blossoms that grew there and the black basalt rock face. We ate my aunt’s special Young Yang Bab, which she took pride in cooking. She had a restaurant in downtown Seogwipo and to attract guests she used natural pigments like canola blossoms and purple cactus to tint her rice. Then she put chestnuts, mushrooms, and green gingko nuts on it. We could tell she was absorbed in the beauty of her cooking.
Though my parents were always impressed by the beauty of my aunt’s dishes, my grandmother disapproved of them. She said it was a waste of time since it took a day to tint the rice yellow. A good cook’s focus should be nutrition, not the color of her rice. My grandmother also did not care for the fact that my aunt spoke in the dialect of Jeju. As Jeju Island is far from the peninsula of Korea, its dialect sounds like another language to many Koreans. My grandmother had a very hard time trying to understand what my aunt was saying, and she thought my aunt was being purposefully obscure.
Even if what they focused on was totally different, both my grandmother’s and my aunt’s versions of Young Yang Bab show how much they valued their family. To them, this food was more than just a bowl of rice. It was a demonstration of how much they loved us. Now that I’m living away from home, I would like to mix together both my aunt’s and my grandmother’s versions of Young Yang Bab. Why not make it both healthy and beautiful! If I have a chance to make Young Yang Bab, I want to tint the rice with canola blossoms and then mix that up with lots of grains and beans. I would like to show my friends in America my gratefulness for their warm reception by making them my own recipe. To make Young Yang Bab, I have to put all my effort into making this rice as my grandmother and my aunt did.
Recipe for Young Yang Bob
Rice, canola oil, a sweet pumpkin, Job’s tears, red beans, gingko nuts, jujubes, ginseng, chestnuts, sweet potatoes, rice, seaweed, and flowers.
Soy sauce, pepper powder, diced garlic, sesame seed, and sesame oil.
- Soak rice in canola oil for a day.
- Chop a sweet pumpkin into small pieces.
- Soak Job’s tears and gingko nuts in water.
- Fry gingko nuts.
- Boil red beans.
- Chop some jujubes, chestnuts and sweet potatoes into small pieces with ginseng.
- Cook the yellow rice with chopped pumpkins, Job’s tears, fried gingko nuts, boiled red beans, jujubes, ginseng, chestnuts, and sweet potatoes.
- Make the sauce by putting all the sauce ingredients together.
- After rice is finished cooking, put rice on a sheet of seaweed and drizzle with sauce.
- Roll the rice up in the seaweed like a roll cake.
- Decorate with flowers.