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Food is what gives all of us life, and it also allows for understanding the world around us. An aspect of meals that is overlooked is the culinary process which creates the final products we eat. Different ingredients can be melded together to make one mouth-watering masterpiece. As a multiracial person, I try many different foods as one method of understanding my culture. I come from Puerto Rican, Eastern European, and Korean heritage. Living in America, it is common to grow up eating dishes like hamburgers and pizza, but I wanted to also eat meals from all parts of my background. This led me to learn how to cook dishes at home. A year ago, I did not know what haeulmupajeon meant, but by exploring Asian recipes, I now know how to cook those tasty Korean shrimp and scallion pancakes. It feels like the more I learn about cultural cuisines and their traditions, the more I learn about myself.

My mother used to always make me gimbap, Korean seaweed rolls, which I wanted to learn how to make once I was older. They are made with a sweet and tangy sauce blended with rice, eggs, carrots, meat or fish cake all rolled together in seaweed. It is a food that can be eaten for lunch or dinner, and it is an especially versatile meal for picnics. The flavorful fillings have the dual purpose of making the dish a bright array of color. I then told other kids about it in school. When they mistook my bitesize seaweed rolls for sushi, I was happy to tell them it was a similar Korean dish with cooked ingredients that is just as wonderful to eat! Learning to make gimbap allowed me to reinvent a childhood experience with my mom and made me interested in researching Korean history.

Another time when my father was making tostones, a Puerto Rican fried plantain dish, I wanted to help him prepare them. After he had cut the plantain slices and fried them in bubbling oil, I learned how to make them by pressing the fried plantain between two small plates to make a flower silhouette shape. He then re-fried them to make them golden and crispy. The tostones were then served with a sauce made with mayonnaise, ketchup, and garlic. The crispy tostones are similar to pernil, a Puerto Rican roasted pork, because the pork skin, chicharrón, is also crispy with a savory and salty flavor. Cooking tostones with my father was not just an enjoyable experience, it will be a lasting memory where I learned about Puerto Rican culture from my dad, and I became more interested in the Spanish language.

My love of food and cooking is shared throughout my family. We all enjoy having an array of dishes on the table. It never mattered if they were traditionally served together, my family especially cares about how everything tastes. We all appreciate eating a variety of foods from different cultures, especially on holidays. On Thanksgiving, traditional staples of oven roasted turkey and creamy mashed potatoes are accompanied by arroz con gandules and bulgogi. Arroz con gandules is sofrito flavored rice mixed with pigeon peas, and the bulgogi my family makes is barbecued beef with a sweet and savory coating of sauce. Foods from my family's background, or sometimes other cultures, make any dinner a momentous occasion to look forward to.  

I have always eaten a variety of cultural foods that I was only exposed to outside of school. School lunches, in my experience, are planned around convenience over flavor and authenticity. After realizing this I started cooking lunches at home. Being able to cook dishes myself is important to me because it makes me feel connected to my culture. I can do more than just say who I am, because I am able to show who I am through what I can make and share a bit of myself with others.

© Julian DeJesus. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.