Before I was in college, my mom, sister and I visited a few prospective schools in Chicago over a winter weekend. One night caught us in our (too big for the city)car, in busy rush hour traffic, bright headlights glaring every which way, with wet snow and slush all around us. We were hungry and lost, and the stress in the car was very, very tangible. We had just about given up on meeting John (maybe you know him) for dinner when he (probably just as stressed out, but for way more legit reasons – read: med school) charmingly convinced my mother to take one last look at the map. She did. She made a swift U-turn. She found the pizza place. We met John outside in the snow, we ate in the warm restaurant, and we had the kind of conversation that only occurs between familiar faces in an otherwise unfamiliar setting. Like finally finding your friend in the crowd after a very long day. (there was singing on the street, afterwards, too. regina spektor, remember?)
On the way back to our hotel, my mom recounted what John said before (so patiently) giving her directions to the restaurant (and while we were at our wit’s end). Something like, “Listen, we all gotta eat dinner tonight. Why not do it together.”
I’ve heard similar lines of thought in years since. Usually after a huge anxiety has passed on okay or a long day has left us barely standing, but hungry. There’s the sweetly basic idea, too, that we – that collective, worldwide We – all have to come to the table at dinnertime and each deserve to have not only a spot to sit, but food to prepare.
Anyway, my point is that Dinner can be this hugely magical thing if you stop to let it do its thing. At the end of any kind of day, it’s sure to deliver a really cool lesson. I think it might be one of my favorite parts of my experience over here so far. And I’m lucky to have friends who are also great cooks!
My friend Minho is from Seoul, South Korea. Last Friday he treated a group of us to a homemade Korean dinner, and it was so, so delicious. I promise to find the names of each piece of this meal; it’s fascinating to learn about a person and a people through their foods and recipes.
Above, in the pot on the left, is Kimchi. Minho was telling me about how it is made at home – by his mother and aunts, an entire year’s worth is made all at once. And it’s custom for him and his family to eat Kimchi almost everyday. Minho spread his arms super wide to show me the size of the pot they use.
Pictured below is a group of us gathered for an Italian night… my friend Giulio is from Rome and made his Italian mother’s pasta sauce for us. I’m not joking. In the shot below, there are 2 Americans, a Canadian, 2 Italians, someone from France, South Africa, Notting Hill, the Netherlands, and my friend who was born in Germany, lives in Cuba, and attends McGill University in Canada during the school year.
There was Italian wine, caprese salad, garlic bread (the real thing), two types of pasta (olives! in the marinara sauce!), and Italian donut cookies. And there was good music and good conversation.
Potlucks seem to happen a lot as well. I think it’s in their very nature to just materialize, or come together. On the table below was everything from a pesto potato salad to Korean pumpkin pancakes to salmon & mackerel sushi to BORSCHT SOUP (yes!!) to Korean rice cakes to baguettes and cheese from the lovely goats of Holland.
There are times when you can feel the moment almost sealing itself, and you know it’s going to reside for a very long time in that space your brain protects for certain memories. It’s where that Chicago night is, where the key words are that led us to that restaurant in the snow, where, if I’m lucky enough, a few of these dinner nights will stay as well.