Who would have imagined that I would be cooking food and treating people? I was a total stranger to cooking before joining the lay missionary sending orientation program in Korea. All I could cook was instant noodles. When I was told that my teammates and I had to cook our own food during the orientation, my mind went blank. At the beginning, even deciding on a menu was daunting, but thankfully I got used to it as time passed. Funny enough, I enjoy cooking now.
Developing an interest in cooking has helped me in mission not just for survival but also in other ways. There is nothing like talking about food or recipes to start a conversation to break the ice. Through it I can make a small talk and build a rapport with people naturally.
Not long ago, I made jabchae (Korean noodle dish) to celebrate a Korean national holiday with the mothers in my ministry. It is originally cooked with dangmeon (Korean noodle). However, I cooked it with sotanghon (Filipino noodle) to pursue the fusion of Korean and Filipino food culture. I was pretty sure that it was a good attempt, but the result was that noodles were cut short unlike my expectation.
As we accept food, the door to the heart is open to the people who cook and eat it. It gives us a golden opportunity to learn and understand the uniqueness of each other’s culture.
Although “fusion japchae” looked a little strange, we enjoyed eating it and all had a big laugh. One mother joked, “If today was someone’s birthday, she/he would not live long.” I also got to know that sotanghon varies according to quality. I should have bought a better brand.
Above all, what was impressive that day was that the mothers asked lots of questions about the holiday we were celebrating: what this national holiday means, what Koreans do and eat on the holiday, what are the name of the dishes in Korean, and so on. Answering the questions, I felt their attention overlapped with my own image of trying to learn the Filipino language and culture. I thought it is only me who has to learn and to adapt a new culture, but in reality we learn from each other.
I am always amazed by the influence of food. As we accept food, the door to the heart is open to the people who cook and eat it. It gives us a golden opportunity to learn and understand the uniqueness of each other’s culture.
I am grateful to experience the joy of friendship with the people sharing meals together and will continue sharing friendship with people along with hearty food.
Originally from South Korea, Columban lay missionary Kim Sun-Hee Sunny is living and working in the Philippines.