My father likes to think he's an amazing chef... an opinion he flaunts without fail every time he makes his homemade tteok-bokki (a Korean street food made with spicy rice cakes, scallions, and fishcakes.)
But when I say my father makes it, I really mean my mother makes it.
As he watches the football game, the basketball game, or whatever sport is in season, my mother is in the kitchen dutifully preparing all of the ingredients: She hauls the bulky bag of rice cakes from the fridge we have downstairs dedicated just for Korean food. She tediously peels garlic cloves one at a time before chopping them up into fine pieces. She washes and slices the wax-covered scallions — sometimes long ways, sometimes at an angle depending on how she's feeling — and makes the extra effort to stir-fry the fish cakes in a glossy, gurgling coating of soy sauce and sesame oil. And once everything is pre-measured and prepared in nice little bowls, that's when my father can begin to demonstrate his skill of knowing exactly when to stop mixing everything together, which is the most critical step, according to him.
He may not be able to admit it, but I know my father cannot make this dish without my mother.
But that isn't to say she could do everything on her own if she wanted to either. My father is the only one tall enough to reach the wok that's stored above the refrigerator. He's also the only one tall enough to reach the seasonings on the top shelf of the spice cabinet. Why does my mother put things in places she cannot reach? I do not know. So, she couldn't make this dish without him either.
My mother needs my father to get the wok and the spices. My father needs my mother to prepare the ingredients. They both need me and my siblings to eat the food. And after a long day of living our separate lives occupied by individual responsibilities, we all crowd around the kitchen where the savory steam fills the room with an external warmth that matches the one within all of us. And amid the chaos of crisscrossing arms, clashing chopsticks, and splattering soup, I admire the fishcakes swimming around scallion sedges and rice cake logs in their red gochujang pond, and I take a moment to remember that we all need each other.