We drove north on highway 101, heading to my grandparents’ house. My dad’s parents only lived a few hours away from us, so we would go there for holidays whenever we could. We curved this way and that along the coast and away from it. In the seat next to me, unbuckled, sat a large platter of my mom’s Kimbap, covered in plastic wrap. I could smell the sesame oil and garlic seasoned spinach, the Bulgogi, the carrots and the omelet pieces smooshed together and held hostage by a perfect roll of white rice and seaweed.
I studied the number of ferns my mom had added to each roll—trying to decide whether or not I would need to discreetly remove them, or if it was a small enough amount to allow them to blend in with the rest of the flavors I loved. The heat from the freshly cooked and assembled spheres clouded the layer of plastic wrap hovering over them. The scent made my stomach growl. My mom made Kimbap to eat as afterschool snacks, for my dad’s weekday packed lunches, and on road trips—and it was agonizing to sit next to it for hours in the car.
When we got to my grandparents’, the first thing I noticed was the table brimming with dish after dish of food. Just behind their plaid his-and-her arm chairs sat trays filled with potato chip- and cereal-topped casseroles, and pies baked to a perfect golden brown. The dishes blended together, working together, their colors matching like the rich colors of fall. My mom placed her Kimbap on the table. Our food offering took its place among the rest, proud and bright, like summer. Its scent was undiminished by the other scents, eluding the obvious that it didn’t quite blend in. It was the interruption on my grandparents’ table, the break in an expected conversation of tastes and recipes. I wondered: was the Kimbap lonely because of its distinction?
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