Emily Jungmin Yoon is a poet and translator. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Literary Review, Pinwheel, POETRY, The Volta, and elsewhere. She is the 2015 winner of Ploughshares‘ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, and AAWW fellowship to The Home School – Miami. She is currently a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.
Here, she talks about that first dinner when she returns to Korea, versatile canned tuna, and a final summer meal.
On her all-time favorite meal:
My favorite meal has to be the first dinner I eat when I go to Korea for the summer or winter break. My mom prepares the typical Korean fare—rice, some kind of stew, and a number of side dishes. I like white rice with sundubu, roasted seaweed, marinated beefsteak plant leaves, kimchi of course, and maybe bulgogi (although I’m trying to eat less meat). Living alone, I can prepare some side dishes and make soup and rice, but there are a lot of ingredients that are hard to find unless I go to a big Korean supermarket. Even if I go to a Korean restaurant anywhere in the U.S., most of the time I’d only get maybe three to five side dishes. So I like to indulge when I’m in Korea. I have to add that Korean rice is juicier and just better than rice I can buy here. Also the first dinner in Korea is when I really feel like I’m back; it is not only that food gives so much meaning to the word “home,” but also, after the long transoceanic trip, the soul hangs out of my body a little bit and when I eat, it comes back in.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I love dinnertime because I like to cook to unwind at the end of the day. I usually eat dinner around 6 or 7, and these days, it’s really bright outside at that time. I love the glow from the evening sun. It’s warm. And I think the setting sun signals the time to return to the cave, go home. So dinner feels the most home out of the meals. If that makes any sense.
On snacking while writing:
I am not a big snacker when I’m alone. I like having beer or wine as I write (or do anything, really), but most times I just drink water.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I don’t like eating before bed, so anything small and light. Fruit, cheese, chocolate, or ice cream if I have any. I like eating roasted seaweed too—savory and less guilt-inducing.
On her food quirks:
I love canned tuna that this Korean company named Dongwon makes. Canned tuna is useful as an ingredient for sandwiches, gimbap, kimchi jiggae, fried rice, etc., and the company makes cans with vegetables, spicy sauce, black bean sauce so the things I can make with them are endless! Other companies make similar ones too but Dongwon’s taste the best to me. I like to just eat the tuna out of the can, too, though. I don’t know if that sounds weird but it is so delicious. I don’t like American or Canadian canned tuna on their own.
On her final meal request:
This is hard. If anything is possible, it would be a summer dinner with my family and best friends. We’d all have food that is closest to us. I’ll bring or make the Korean food. It will be in my future backyard or somewhere else with trees and flowers and dogs. Is that too much?