I didn’t realize I was a daddy’s girl until it was too late.
Among all the recipes and dishes we shared as a family, my father’s recipe for sujebi (수제비), a rough hand-torn dough-noodle soup which he must have eaten many times during Korea’s long hungry years, is the most poignant and poetic. If you were too poor to buy rice, but had flour and water you could at least go to bed with something in your belly.
He basically mixed flour, salt and water and kneaded until he got a ball of dough he could handle (I’ve seen other recipes call for vegetable oil as well). Then he’d boil some water, tear off pieces of dough, flatten them a bit and boil until toothsome, maybe 5-7 minutes or until pieces float to the top. He’d add some soy sauce to the whole thing and voilà. Of course, you can get as fancy as you’d like by adding kimchi or other vegetables, even use a traditional anchovy broth, but my father’s version is a commentary on the hard times he’d lived through and I think he kept to it as a way of staying true to his hunger memories.
You can start with a cup of flour, pinch of salt and about 1/4-1/3 cup of water.
Mix well and knead until you end up with a ball of dough, not too sticky or dry––this will take about ten minutes.
Tear off pieces of dough and flatten before you throw them in a pot of boiling water. Check them once they start floating to the top. Add soy sauce. There are a lot of ways to dress up sujebi, but I make it this way in honor of my father.
And the great irony now is that you can go to restaurants in Korea that specialize in sujebi (and other nostalgia food) where you can pay a lot for the dubious pleasure of reliving those lean and mean years.
My father passed in January 2006 from cirrhosis of the liver at his home in Korea. The last time I saw him was in the hospital where he was getting treatments for it. I was there with him during that time, sleeping on a cot near his bed, watching him get poked and prodded by a rotation of doctors and nurses, and basically trying not to think about where things were going. But my father thought about it everyday during that dying month knowing there was really no cure. Near the end, he checked himself out and went home to die.
I’m pretty lousy at goodbyes. I don’t like them for all the obvious reasons. But I know I was lucky to have said goodbye to my father before his imminent death. I was going back to New York and on my last day at the hospital, we shared an awkward and brief goodbye––usually how things dealing with emotions between us tended to be. But I remember he told me that he would be okay and not to worry, and all these 7 years later I see how good my father was with goodbyes.