Franny Choi is the author of the collection Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and the chapbook Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, forthcoming). She has received awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Kundiman, and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in Poetry Magazine, the Poetry Review, Indiana Review, and others. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan, a Project VOICE teaching artist, and a member of the Dark Noise Collective.
Here, she talks about eating Korean Chinese food with extended family, what happens after brunch, and how her final meal request is one big potluck.
On her all-time favorite meal:
A lot of the best meals I can remember were in Korea, but my favorite was on the first night of my first visit there, when I was seventeen and discovered I had about a thousand cousins. My parents have eleven siblings between them, but only one of them lives in the U.S., so my experience of extended family had always been a pretty lonely one. Our first night in Seoul, my dad’s side of the family packed about twenty of us into my uncle’s apartment, above a mechanic shop in Jamsil, and we ordered a huge amount of Chinese food, by which I mean Korean Chinese food.
Korean Chinese food comes on ceramic dishes, wrapped in plastic, in big tin crates, usually on the back of a moped. Another important thing to know about Korean Chinese food is that it is fucking delicious. Jjajangmyeon (thick, yellow noodles with black bean sauce, pork, cucumber slivers) and tangsuyuk (crispy, fried pork in the best sweet and sour sauce, not that pink stuff) and probably other things too but that’s what I remember most. There were too many of us for a table, so we spread newspapers down the middle of the living room and sat, the twenty of us, straight on my uncle’s sloping floorboards. We drank soju and makgeoli and ate foods I’d loved as a kid, with a family I’d never known. There was a little cousin who’d come from Japan and hid his face whenever you tried to talk to him in Korean. There was an aunt who made loud jokes with her daughter, who was older than me and very pretty. On the roof there were herbs and big clay vats full of my grandmother’s kimchi. I think, maybe, it was raining.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I really love all meals at all times of the day, but my favorite light for my favorite kind of meal is immediately following the too-late, too-big weekend brunch, the kind that ruins any chance you might have had to get something done that day. When my partner and I lived together in Providence, there were some Sundays we would roll around in bed watching animal documentaries until hunger finally drove us out of the house in search of eggs at 1, 2 in the afternoon. And we’d practically run (or slide, if the sidewalks were icy) the five blocks to Mi Ranchito, our favorite Guatemalan restaurant, and order the same breakfast every time: scrambled eggs with minced chorizo, pureed black beans, queso fresco, sweet plantains, thick tortillas too hot to hold, coffee with cream. A huge strawberry licuado if we were really going for it. And afterward, we’d stumble, groaning, nearly weeping, back home through the park, where everything would be too bright, too loud, all sharp and hazy at once, the trees wild (rude, really) in the wind, kids screaming down the slide in their church clothes.
On snacking while writing:
I tend to write first drafts of poems in short, concentrated bursts, but I do snack when I edit or do other, longer-form kinds of writing. I started making granola last year, and I’ll often eat that in big handfuls for a while, then get full and push the bowl away, then reach across the table and eat one oat at a time for the next hour like some terrible squirrel. If I’m in a café, I’ll buy a cookie and try to eat that as slowly as possible. Mostly I just walk to the kitchen, open the fridge door, close it, and walk back to my computer once every ten minutes. To write this, I made brown rice green tea and cut up a mango and only looked in the fridge about four times.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I don’t often eat late at night anymore (did anyone warn you that your metabolism would screech to a halt in your twenties? No one told me shit!) but on the occasion that I’m home late and drunk and with friends, my favorite is scrambled eggs. Cracked right into the pan, no milk, no onions or cheese or anything. It’s the quickest oily/salty/hot thing I can make, but maybe it’s also because it was the first thing I learned how to cook. I always think of my best friend in first grade standing on a chair at the stove and saying, “and then you just – scramble it.” And I think, too, of the first time my mom asked me to make the eggs because she liked the way I did them.
But also, of course: hot wieners from Olneyville New York System. If you’re from Rhode Island, this is a boring answer. I mean they’re disgusting. Sort of like the Coney dogs they have here in Michigan, but better, maybe. If you order them “all the way,” the guy will line up the steamed buns and wieners on his forearm and top each one with meat sauce (don’t call it chilli), tiny minced onions, mustard, celery salt. The wiener is a mix of meats that’s apparently illegal in Massachusetts. It all sort of falls apart as soon as it touches your mouth. The guys have been working there forever and shout rude stuff back and forth all night. It’s sort of uncomfortably well-lit. The bike ride home is always terrible. It’s great.
On her food quirks:
My favorite way to eat is to have lots of little things, preferably in separate dishes, that I eat in different combinations. This is not quirky at all because it’s just the traditional Korean way of eating: bowl of rice + bowl of soup + lots of side dishes. But I guess I also find myself doing it with non-Korean food. One bite of french fry + sauce + bit of cheese. One bite of french fry + cheese followed by a bite of pickle. And so on. Is that a weird way to live? I guess I just like being able to pick at lots of bits of things. Which is why the potluck / international day fair / Thanksgiving / Old Country Buffet plate is so precious to me. Holy holy. I get so bored with just like, a bowl of pasta with one kind of vegetable in it.
On her final meal request:
I think my ideal last meal is something like my ideal wedding, which is a big barbecue / potluck in early autumn in someone’s enormous backyard (who’s?). There’s bulgogi and daepae and quahogs and peaches and corn on the grill. There’s mac and cheese and butter chicken and lox and nime chow and too many mangoes. Three different people brought guacamole and no one’s mad. There’s green bean casserole, soup dumplings, crispy chicken skin. My mom made jangjorim and kimbap. Laura baked sourdough. Someone just showed up with a bag of Popeyes and everyone’s cheering. There’s sweet tea with bourbon, makgeoli, Hennessey. People are singing karaoke, or dancing to Mariah Carey, or chasing the kids around, or kissing under the trees, or stoking the fire, or bringing dishes in and out of the house. At the end of the night, my family (blood and chosen) stays behind to help clean up. We bring everything inside, do dishes for hours while talking and finishing the liquor. We wipe off the last table and take out the trash. We lie on the living room carpet together as the sun rises. Then, I think, I could go.