As we enjoyed another meal from our exchange students (it has been awhile between family visits and Thanksgiving and overall busyness), we had a healthy discussion around the table. My youngest daughter was overnighting with a friend (she would appreciate us saving her some of the curry chicken w/ carrots and potatoes and the soup with squash, tofu and a few baby shrimps in the soy based broth.), so she missed the fun.
Since this meal was made by our Chinese student (our other student volunteered to help as well as myself), it did take a little time to pull together after school. Maybe it was hunger that loosened our lips more than usual. Whatever it was, we had a laugh (for our Korean student) and a tear (for our Chinese student) before the meal was over.
Our Chinese student had worked so hard to prepare Chinese pancakes for the International food day at school a couple of weeks ago. The night before, she spent over 2 hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking the egg/flour batter. She attempted to fry them into near perfect, untorn pancakes for people at school to try. Because of her desire for perfection and her need to make sure there was ample pancakes for all, she made nearly 20 of them–each done individually in our small, cast iron frying pan. I was a little concerned about the texture of the pancakes when they arrived at school the next day. When the sampling began at school, this was the one story she told….
EX (Chinese exchange student): I am so happy you like the meal I made tonight. The last time I cooked they did not like it.
US: What are you talking about?
EX: (Her English is very good, but my retelling is certainly not exact.) When I took the Chinese pancakes to school, not everyone liked them. I was okay they did not like them, but one person really hurt my feelings! She tried my pancakes and told me she liked them. When I saw her a little later, I heard her tell someone, “I will never eat Chinese pancakes again. They tasted awful.” She (since it is a small school, my daughter could not help but guess which person at the school was rude enough to say something like this) saw me and knew I heard her. She lowered her head, and she walked away embarrassed.
Daughter: I am sorry about that. That person is not a very nice person. I would not worry about it.
EX: Again, I am so happy you liked the food I made for dinner. When she said that, it really hurt my confidence. (Her smile is covering her whole face.)
After a meal cooked by our Chinese student, we had a little discussion about what our Korean student might next cook. Since kimchi is a such an important part of a Korean meal, we do have half of a jar sitting in the refrigerator. In Korea, they have refrigerators for ONLY their kimchi. Not having that luxury, the kimchi has to share its surroundings with our other “American” items. The first jar of kimchi was able to participate in two meals while the remainder of the jars contents met an untimely end….
Me: What is [our Korean student] going to cook for us next? The last jar of kimchi decided to commit suicide rather than let [Korean student] make another meal with it! (Our Chinese student gets quite a laugh out of this comment. She seems to really appreciate my wit–or whatever it is called.)
EX (this time our Korean student): Yes, I do not know what happened to it. It turned green and even for kimchi, it did not smell good.
Me: Maybe we need to go back to the classic Korean Barbecue.
EX: Yes, we could make our own barbecue sauce with pears and other fruits.
Daughter: I really liked what we got out of the store bought jar.
EX: We would include the same things in our sauce they include in the bottled sauce…
And, so it went. We will likely have Korean cooking again with either kimchi or barbecue or both. We will likely have more Chinese variations on some already cooked meals. And, we will likely look back at many moments during this school year with our exchange students and realize how much we miss them, and the year we shared our lives together. Maybe the food around the table was not always our favorite, but if the food is shared with some of your favorite people, then you are blessed–no matter what country you are in!