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EMERGENCY! Meeting my Korean parents for the first time here, what to cook?

The short story is that I and my twin sister were adopted from Korea when we were babies and grew up in America. When I turned 18, I allowed my adoption file to be viewed by my biological parents should they ever inquire of my whereabouts. Frankly, I never actually thought anything would come of it. Lo and behold, two years later, I get a slew of pictures and a heartfelt letter from the parents detailing their lives and how they desperately wanted to meet my sister and I. I actually went to Korea last year after they insisted and I had an amazing time...they were SO hospitable and gracious....I actually stayed at their house for a week eating and traveling all throughout the country, catching a glimpse of the childhood I never had. The food, well it was incredible. Garlicky bulgogi, tender kalbi, firey kimchee... i still dream of these meals. They took me to the finest restaurants in Korea and these remain some of the most memorable meals of my life. My mother is also quite the cook--i know where my voracious love of cooking comes from. :)

Now, a year later, we're in the middle of a recession and life is so much different than when i took this trek. money is extremely tight and I'm looking for a job. I get a phone call and my parents are coming to america in a few days (on Friday!) to stay for just 36 hours ( WHAT!) See, they never met my twin sister, she didnt come with me. So they are getting impatient and desperately want to meet her too. She just got a job as a teacher and is in the process of getting her Masters. She isnt exactly swimming in cash either. So here's my question: We are going to eat out for dinner one day and lunch another. But to save money we are going to do breakfast and dinner at home. I heard Koreans dont eat much cheese, or dairy for that matter so I'm unsure of what to do for breakfast. Does this mean they would be repulsed by buscuits and gravy or cheesy breakfast tacos? When I was in Korea, we had bulgogi, kim bop and salted fish for breakfast...i doubt my sister would go for that. I am cooking at her house and I want them to be impressed. I just dont want to make anything TOTALLY foreign. It also seems that most breakfast items could be potentially seen as dessert....french toast or pancakes drenched in syrup, cinnamon rolls, danish, etc. And I know again, asians arent huge fans of heavy starchy sweets. Please somebody help!

And while you're at it, any asian friendly (semi-inexpensive) dinner ideas?? I thought about chinese but then I figured that would be kind of lame. besides I'll never begin to even come close to how well they do it, so I might as well not set myself up to fail....

Thank you SO much!!

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  1. The standard fried egg and rice seems to be a pretty universally accepted asian breakfast.

    For dinner maybe you could cook with your parents? Ask them to teach you a dish and that way even after they leave you will always have the recipe and the memories. ;-)

    6 Replies
    1. re: phyrefly44

      I'm Chinese American and I can ell you I never had fried egg and rice for breakfast growing up, ever.

      1. re: KTinNYC

        I'm Asian-American and I have had eggs and fried rice for breakfast many a time. Asking the parents to leave you with the legacy of a family recipe they can teach you sounds like a wonderful experience as well.

        1. re: JungMann

          Aren't you Filipino? Not to get in a fight but Asia is a big place and I can tell you that the statement that fried eggs and rice is a "pretty universally accepted asian breakfast" really isn't true.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Yes, I'm Filipino, among a smattering of things. I must be writing too much about adobo and lumpia if people are recognizing my ethnicity already.

            I suppose that "universally accepted" is a bit grand, but to my knowledge, they are at least eaten in Japan, Korea, with modifications in India and Thailand and heartily in the Philippines. Not universal, but it has somewhat broad reach.

            1. re: JungMann

              I would probably cross Japan off your list. It's rare to find a fried egg with rice, though onsen tamago (very soft boiled egg) is much more common for breakfast.

        2. re: KTinNYC

          I know that my friends in Korea ate it often for breakfast, in areas around Seoul, Pusan, and out in the country as well. Often it was served with kimchee and sometimes dried fish.

      2. I think you should avoid trying to cook Korean food. Food in Korea is prepared quite differently from what I am used to here in Hawaii, for example. It is usually a good idea to serve beef to people from Korea.. throw some inexpensive steaks on the bar-B or serve perhaps chicken, like fried chicken wings with a spicy seasoning. Have kimchee on hand if possible, rice, a salad with watercress and/ or beansprouts. Mochi wrapped ice cream for dessert, and you are good to go! Good luck with your parents, and congratulations! BTW As you know, Koreans are really westernized so they won't fall apart, regardless of what you decide to serve!

        1. I would also recommend steak or steak strips, either grilled, broiled, or quick fried.
          Get some leaf lettuce, garlic, and some chili peppers.
          Some steamed white rice.
          Make a simple dipping sauce with a little soy sauce, ground red chili or pepper flakes, and a touch of sugar or honey.
          Wrap a bit of rice, a piece of steak dipped in the sauce, and a slice of garlic and pepper in a lettuce leaf.

          1. What a privilege to cook for your parents and sister under the circumstances!

            When we visited Korea we made our hosts pancakes and that was really well received. (I don't think we had syrup, but splurged on whip cream and fruit) Back in Canada, Korean roommates loved cold cereal but when their parents visited it got a 'What is this? It looks like dog food!' reaction. Omelets and fried eggs would be good. Fruit salad and toast. Home fries. Keep it simple and make what you know; you'll be fine!

            1. When I lived in Seoul my Korean friends pretty much loved any kind of breakfast meat. Bacon, sausage, ham, yes-even spam. Fried eggs are always a good choice for breakfast as well (any kind of eggs really). I suspect they would really love a good quiche or frittata, just go easy on the cheese - its sort of a western pa-jun. Stay away from the sweet and sticky stuff. My friends looked at cinnamon rolls like they were something from outer space, and pancakes were ok, but no syrup please.

              Sounds like your parents pulled out all the stops when you were there. A more typical korean breakfast would be some rice (always rice, every meal), kimchee, some dried/salted fish, and some thin broth. Adding the bulgogi and kim bap was a treat for them I would imagine. Plan to have rice available for any meal you have at home. If you have a rice cooker, you can save it for at least one breakfast and lunch, or a lunch and dinner. Rice also microwaves really well.

              My friends also seemed to like my spaghetti, and oddly enough my tuna casserole, although for some reason they thought that should be breakfast food, not dinner. One of my friend's parents dropped by unexpectedly around lunchtime. Didn't have much in the house but managed to put together some tuna and some egg salad sandwiches. Those went over really well, and they went really well with the ban-chan.

              Remember that most koreans cook really well on the stovetop, but don't have an oven at home, so anything you roast is going to be a treat for them. Just make sure to have a high vegetable to meat ratio on the table.

              Hope this gives you some of what you need, most of all enjoy the visit!

              2 Replies
              1. re: KaimukiMan

                What about roasting a chicken? That should be reasonably priced, and one chicken should be enough for four.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Roast chicken would be great, I think the simply roasted mats re a very safe bet. I also agree with the suggestions of having rice and kimchi around, to allow the option of Koreanizing the meal. The key is trying yo find safe bets, as you may not know what will appeal. Experimental dishes will be more appropriate when you get to spend more time with them and see what they like.

                  Other simple bets include simply prepared stir-fries with lots of vegetables, Chinese noodle dishes, Chinese tofu dishes. Koreans appreciate a lot of Chinese cuisine as there is a lot of overlap in the cuisines. Plus these dishes go well with rice and kimchi, which are necessary and comforting for Korean eaters. My parents loved our ma po tofu, pork, tofu, black bean sauce. Now my mum has now modified out recipe, and adds a bit of kochuchang when she makes it for dad, but they both gobbled down our version too. A simple beef and broccoli stirfry will always be appreciated, and I remember my parents loving sea food chow mein and sea food shanghai noodles from some local Chinese joints. Soy sauce flavoured chicken, or fresh fish steamed with ginger, soy, garlic, green onions, these are all easy dishes to find or make, and would appeal to the Korean palate and be quite familiar, but still different enough to make it special. And if you know a good place for sweet and sour anything, Koreans are quite used to this, there is a dish called tang se yuk (sp?) that is very popular. If it is well done, it will be appreciated.

                  Finally stock up on really good quality fruit! Many Koreans enjoy finishing off a meal with fresh fruit, the bigger and more beautiful looking, the better.

                  Have a lovely visit with your family! Family is so very important in Korean culture, I am certain your biological parents feel so blessed and happy to have a chance to get to know you and your sister better!