I was generally a goody two-shoes growing up—always listening to authority figures and following rules by the book. My parents were religious, conservative, and at times, overbearing and controlling. But I tried my best to obey them. I can remember one big fight though, and it was over… food (which really just shows you how important eating is to me, haha).
I love 닭도리탕 (a spicy Korean chicken stew that usually has potatoes, carrots, and onions). It’s one of my favorite things to eat. And that happened to be what I was craving one evening during dinner time when I was a preteen. My mom had set out our meal at the table, but it wasn’t what I wanted to eat.
“Mom,” I said, in Korean. “I want chicken stew.”
“No, we don’t have that,” she said with a stern tone. “Just eat what I give you.”
Normally, I would have just shut up and eaten whatever was on the plate, but that night, I just wasn’t having it. The frustration from letting my parents tell me what to do and being a good girl was constantly brewing under the surface and it sometimes came out in unexpected ways. For some reason, the chicken was a tipping point (life is funny).
I listen and follow everything they tell me to do and I can’t even get some freaking chicken?!?!?
“No, I want chicken stew,” I said. “I’m not going to eat this.” I placed my hands at my sides as I sat at the table with my parents and siblings staring at me in disbelief.
My parents went off on me—shouting at me and giving me looks, but I refused to take even one bite. I wanted chicken.
“You are not going to leave this table until you eat your dinner,” my dad said angrily. I sat in silence while the rest of my family ate their meal. They eventually finished and cleaned up, leaving me alone at the table.
After a few hours, my stomach began to grumble and hurt from the hunger pangs and my body ached from sitting in the same position for so long, but I refused to give in and eat the food in front of me. I continued to sit there quietly, staring at our wooden table with a determined expression.
It wasn’t until the middle of the night that my parents finally relented. I thought they had gone to bed, but then I heard noises upstairs and the sound of someone coming down the staircase, going into the garage, and taking our minivan out onto the driveway. My mom came downstairs and looked at me briefly before walking over to the kitchen. She started taking out spices from a cabinet.
“Your dad went out to get chicken,” my mom said as she hovered over the kitchen counter. “I’ll cook it for you once he comes back from the grocery store.”
I looked up at her from the table, but I didn’t say anything. My dad eventually came back, placed the groceries in the kitchen, and then headed upstairs to sleep. I watched my mom cook the chicken stew. I expected her to yell at me, but she was quiet.
When she finished cooking, she set down a bowl of rice and chicken stew on the table in front of me and looked at me while I started to devour the food. After watching me for a while, she eventually went back upstairs to sleep. I stuffed myself on chicken stew that night.
To my family, it probably seemed like I threw a fit over something so trivial, but to me, it was about more than just chicken. My parents dictated so much of what I did with my life and I wanted them to do what I wanted for once. And that night, I had been dead set on getting my way.
I still love that spicy chicken stew. Whenever I eat it, I remember sitting at my dinner table in silent protest and chuckle to myself.