Monday Meal Review: South Korea

THE SCENE: My Wake Up Call

I almost didn’t have anyone over for our South Korean Global Table. I was living in funk town and not sure I’d be great company. I tried to climb out of my shell – I went for a sunshiny walk and even put a smile on my face. “Fake it til you make it” says Joy the Baker. Sage advice.

Still – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I’m a pretty shy gal. I like people and people like me, but I’m not very good at cultivating friendships – at making best friends. The last time I did it with any lasting success was in college. Something about being thrown into a stressful environment together practically guarantees lifelong friendship.

To be honest, I don’t usually worry about it. I hang out with people now and then. We laugh. But at the end of the day, I spend most of my time with my wonderful husband and daughter. I go to bed happy.

Last year, though, I had a wake up call.

One morning I found Keith sitting in the shower struggling to breathe. Moments later we were rushing to the E.R. We thought he was having a heart attack. Both his grandfather’s died young of heart failure. His mom already has a pacemaker and his dad has had five stints. With a family history like that, things at the hospital got very real, very fast.

I was a mess. Scared. Crying my eyes out. And… sweet miss Ava – a tiny toddler, dancing around, was happily oblivious. Oh boy did she need lots of attention and I was in no place to give it. My stress was through the roof. I had no plan, no help. Yes, I am lucky enough to have family but they all live far away. Keith’s side is three hours and my mom is several flights away in Boston. As I tried and tried different numbers, just ringing and ringing without end, I crumbled up inside. Everyone was busy or unavailable.

I have never felt so alone.

It’s almost been a year and I still struggle with a lonely, deep depression that started that day. Depression surrounding the “what if” of it all. Of having to do it on my own.

Thankfully he was okay and we were back home that night.

I waited until fairly recently to open up with people about what happened. Here’s the good news. Once I did share my feelings, I recieved an outpouring of understanding – and not just the superficial “nod your head”  kind of understanding. You would not believe how many people struggle with the same aloneness – perhaps with family an ocean away, or friends who moved on to another town, or even separation caused by death.

Bottom line: many people don’t live near family any more. Many people have to make and remake friends, reinventing themselves after each big move. This is a global culture we live in. If this is the case for you, it’s time to get thinking. What will you do in an emergency? Who will be there to help you?

Reach out. Don’t wait until the tears blind you. Trust me.

In an attempt to take my own advice, I did give in this week and invited some friends over for our South Korean Global Table. As our screaming hot bowls of sesame oil crackled under the addition of rice, everyone’s eyes got big and we shared a moment of awe. It was fun, a little scary, and delicious. By the end of the evening we were a little closer and the world felt just a little bit smaller – a little bit friendlier.


Bibimbap [Recipe] made with Korean Saute Sauce [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

Using the special bowls was the best part of the bibimbap – I want to serve all my food in sizzling hot stone bowls. Even after sitting there thirty minutes, the bowls were still warm to the touch – the food never got cold. I highly recommend buying a set – they aren’t very expensive. I paid about seven dollars each for mine. (Side point – while also from the Korean market, the one pictured is a large soup bowl, but in the video you’ll see the bowls we actually used).

What I liked least about this dish:

Just one thing – the bowls were so hot they burned rings into my potholders. I would be very careful what you put the bowls on – a trivet is probably your best bet. If you have a woodworker in your home, you could even make 1/2″ wooden blocks to set the bowls on.

Quick, Magical Kimchee [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

First of all, this is a uniquely simple dish to throw together. While the idea of so much shrimp paste did not excite me, I was pleasantly surprised at the sweet aroma. In addition, other than chopping, grating tossing, the hardest part was waiting.

What I liked least about this dish:

I was not looking forward to having Keith, my Mr. Picky, try this one. The best thing to do when having someone try fishy-tasting food for the first time is to serve it with fish. This way, the entire shock of it is diminished.

Ava’s Corner:


  1. Ruby & Jassy says

    How wonderful!! Love it! I just turned the computer on and Jassy’s said Ava, so I said ok, let’s check the site, and we were so happily surprised to see Jassy there and the video. It was lovely. Thanks so much for including us in your Korean adventure night. Sad reading about the wake-up call and truly ever need anything, am here. As we have talked before, might be feeling this way when I venture back overseas again. Nobody can be alone, it takes a village and maybe someday the dream of having everyone in one Beautiful location will happen.

    • Sasha Martin says

      You are right, I’m starting to see it really does take a whole community… anyway, it was a really fun night and, I might add, you looked beautiful 🙂

  2. Suzanne Hamlin says

    What a searingly honest and lovely essay about yourself–a state of being, I think, shared by many writers who ultimately communicate by writing. It’s taken me many years, and two devastating family events, to realize that people are not only wonderful but they want (need!) to help. Cultivate those friends! Along with one’s family, they are the true riches of ones’ life.
    On a more pragmatic note regarding kimchi and all things South Korean: Have you seen “The Kimchi Chronicles.” ? Here, in NY, it’s on Channel 13 (public television) at 4 on Sunday afternoons. One of the few intelligent “cooking” shows on TV, starring Jean-Georges Vongerichten (yes, that Jean-Georges!) and his wife, Marja, born in Korea. A travelogue as much as a food show, it’s an extraordinarily layered and joyous adventure into the food and culture of Korea.

    All good things to you–
    Suzanne Hamlin

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Suzanne. I’m learning the very thing you mention – that people want/need to help… and it is a wonderful thing to witness. I normally am so worried about “bothering” people, but I don’t plan to let that get in the way any more. As for the rest, I have not seen The Kimchi Chronicles, but it sounds fascinating. I wonder if I’ll be able to find it online… (we don’t have TV, just netflix). I’ll seek it out! 🙂

      • aunty eileen says

        Hi Sasha, I had no idea about Keith’s serious episode or your fears…

        What I have always told people and now I will tell you…

        My phones ring 24 hours a day 7 days per week… and I will always answer
        or will call you back if I miss a call.

        Yes, it is very difficult having family scattered… together would be better…

        The food look so delicious… as usual.

  3. elisa waller says

    you can ‘bother’ us all you want….<3 we miss you!!! This meal is great looke dlike laot of fun to create and to serve…..and i loved your 'food styling'……..

  4. Sasha, what a beautiful post. My eyes are teary. What you wrote is so true. I have two little kids, my family lives countries and continents away. I am lucky and have many friends (but we are all so involved in our own lives between family and jobs), but like you I am shy and it is hard for me to move in new circles. You did something big the other night, good job girl! I will attempt to do the same, to invite over somebody that is just outside that comfort zone. And by the end of the evening they may become a part of it.

  5. I can totally relate on how you feel about living away from family and the feeling of loneliness. It is not just for emergencies, it does make life richer to share it with more people. Sharing the food I love cooking has always been the best way for me to make and keep friends as well. Luckily my partner is very sociable, so I often get to meet so many wonderful people through him.. Now I’m moving again and I will have to start again to find new friends. I’ll try to take your advice as much as I can.

  6. Everything looks so good…great post…

    There are two little girls in the video…who is the other one?- did not see her seated at the table…?

  7. so true….friendships were easy as kids–I distinctly remember being asked, “wanna be friends?” and then we were. Its hard to connect as adults–we let so many things get in our way, and we all struggle silently by ourselves, when we could and should be sharing our lives with one another. If something were to happen to me, i’m not sure who I would go to. This is a great reminder to go out and build meaningful relationships with people, even as much as Im generally content with the sporadic gatherings and quiet evenings on the couch.

    anyway, the food looks delicious as well! Bibimbap is something thats been on my list to try, maybe I’ll finally get around to doing it this week!

  8. Pingback: Global Table Adventure | Monday Meal Review: Kosovo

  9. Joanne says

    Reading your blog late yet again, (work life is too busy) I just had to reach out and exclaim that you have a kindred spirit here, Sasha. I am also not very good at cultivating friendships, making and keeping best friends. I understand the wonderful feeling after making the effort to connect. Keep up the effort. It is good for the soul! Also, congratulations again on your dedication to your culinary adventure. Your efforts are remarkable!

  10. Hi Sasha,

    Just found your website and this is an awesome idea, one that I might have to try myself as we moved to Idaho before our daughter was born. The food experience here is a little limited… She is just over two now and I want her to have adventurous taste buds as well as a taste for travel.

    I was drawn to looking at your South Korea posts first as I’m half Korean and lived in Korea for over ten years. We still go back to visit my mom every three or four years. I eagerly anticipate all the food and plan our itinerary around what I want to eat. 🙂 It’s the best way to travel.

    I can totally relate to feeling lonely. I denied that I was depressed. I was used to moving around a lot, all my life actually. But it was hard to live in a new place with a husband that worked days while I worked nights. It was tough being a new mom with no one to talk to. Our families are awesome but even the ones that are in the U.S. are still a six hour drive away. After over a year of struggling, I finally started attending the toddler activities in our area and actively started cultivating friendships. I was looking for more “sisters” to add to my family.

    Not only do I have a great support circle of fabulous women now, my daughter has “aunties” that she is comfortable with and loves as well as their children who are best friends that she’s known for almost her whole life. It’s been a growing experience, a reaching out, admitting to my own needs and acknowledging that the other moms in my area were experiencing the same things. Luckily, we were able to find each other and provide what each other needed. I hope you have been able to find the same since you posted this.

    As for the hot pots burning your potholders, you may want to go back to the Korean store. All the hot pots that I own have a circular wooden disc with an inset that fits the foot of the dish, a different sized disc for different sized pots. I think they’re sold separately but are necessary if you want to use this stoneware unless you want to make them yourself. The wood blocks are a good idea but better if you have the inset so the stoneware doesn’t slide off if accidentally bumped.



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