I call it birthday soup.
Technically, it is birthday soup — mi-yeok-guk is seaweed soup, and it’s made for mothers after they’ve given birth because seaweed is highly nutritious, full of iron and calcium and other minerals and vitamins. We eat mi-yeok-guk on our birthdays in commemoration of our mothers having birthed us.
My mum makes hers with beef, so I make mine with beef — but this is the thing about Korean food. The dish itself might be the same at heart, but the ways of making it vary from region to region. Like, my mum’s family is from Busan, a port city on the southeast tip of the peninsula, so my grandmum made her mi-yeok-guk with anchovy broth and clams. I think my mum started making hers with beef because she only started cooking after she got married, when she was living with my paternal grandparents, but that’s just a theory — I’ve never actually asked her about it.
I make my kimchi fried rice very, very simple. Kimchi, pork belly, egg, go-chu-jang, sesame oil, crushed, toasted sesame seeds, and that’s it. Sometimes, if I feel like it, I’ll add a little soy sauce. When I’m making it for guests, I’ll leave the soy sauce out because I made kimchi fried rice for my thirtieth birthday as part of a menu for my dinner party, only to learn that soy sauce has gluten in it, so my friend’s husband couldn’t eat it. (He also couldn’t eat the birthday soup because that’s seasoned with guk-gan-jang, a soy sauce made lighter for soups.)
I didn’t know he had a severe gluten intolerance, or I would have double-checked all my ingredients. They were both super nice about it, repeating over and over again that I couldn’t have known, she hadn’t told me, and I’d never met him before — and it really was fine — he’d already eaten dinner before coming — but it did make me step back and think about how much we don’t know when we don’t have to, when we’re lucky enough to be able to eat anything, do anything without severe pain or side effects or other consequences.
It’s too easy to take a normally-functioning body for granted.