If you’ve had to take breaks from reading The Last Fallen Star to do some serious snacking, you’re not alone. This book is making us all hungry. So hungry that we reached out to talk to author Graci Kim about the kinds of Korean food she describes so delectably in her novel.
RR.COM: The Last Fallen Star is chock-full of delicious Korean food and insight into what it’s like to be part of a Korean diaspora community. How does it feel now that Korean food (and other pieces of Korean culture, like K-dramas and K-pop) are so popular all around the world, even though it wasn’t like that when we were growing up?
GRACI: It’s such a bizarre and wonderful feeling digesting the fact I used to be teased for bringing Korean food to school, and now it’s all the rage! I won’t lie—there is a small part of me that wonders why it took so long when it’s always been that good 😉 And at the same time, I still get surprised when the hairdresser down the road or the local postperson raves about the “uh-maaazing Korean spicy pork” they cooked up the previous night. Mostly though, I just feel overwhelmingly proud to share this delicious part of our culture with others. FACT: Food always tastes better when shared.
RR.COM: What’s your favorite food-based memory or favorite family food tradition you have from your childhood?
GRACI: Our parents worked seven days a week at one point, from early until late; and sometimes we didn’t see them for days. (Don’t worry, we weren’t neglected—our halmeoni looked after us while our parents were away!) But on Sunday mornings, there was this sacred time when all of us were in the same room at the same time. It was only brief because Appa had to rush off to the restaurant for the lunch rush, but my sisters and I would seize the opportunity to prepare our signature gimbap. We’d fry up some eggs and mix it into hot piping rice, straight from the rice cooker. We’d add soy sauce and fragrant sesame oil, mixing it altogether to make a simple egg fried rice, of sorts. Then we’d put spoonfuls of the rice into little rectangle sheets of gim (crispy salted seaweed), top it with a juicy piece of gimchi, and then squeeze it closed to make these messy but delicious little cheat gimbap morsels. We’d load a huge tray full of them, and then we’d cuddle up with our parents in their bed, gobbling down the meal together over an episode of the latest k-drama (on VHS, would you believe). To this day, it’s one of my favorite things to eat.
RR.COM: What snacks help you break through the writer’s block when you come to a particularly tough scene or chapter?
GRACI: Gosh, I am rather partial to Sunflower Seed Choco Balls (also known as Haebaragi Chokobol), which are these packets of sunflower seeds that are covered in chocolate. It sounds deceivingly simple, but they’re nutty and sweet without being overpowering. And by the time you finish the challenging scene, you realize you’ve consumed two, no three, packets already. I mean, not speaking from personal experience or anything…
I am also severely obsessed with Korean ice-creams of all varieties, but particularly with Chaltteok Ice. They come in packs of two, and they’re these little chewy mochi (or tteok) balls filled with creamy ice-cream fillings. They even come with a wee fork stick so you don’t need to use your fingers. Do I need to say more?
RR.COM: Are you more of a sweet or a savory person when it comes to Korean snacks?
GRACI: Sweet all the way – just like the Tokki clan!
RR.COM: If Emmett came over to your house with a big batch of your favorite freshly baked cookies, what flavor would they be?
GRACI: Oooh this is a tough one, but it would probably be a toss-up between white chocolate macadamia or chewy oat raisin. Oh man, I just had lunch but now I’m drooling. I blame you Read Riordan!
RR.COM: If you could ride Boris straight to Korea what’s the first meal you would eat when you got there?
GRACI: Without a doubt, it would be seolleong-tang. It’s a milky white ox bone soup, that you empty your entire bowl of rice into. You add a generous helping of chopped scallions, season to your liking with salt and pepper, and then gobble down with a huge side of gimchi. There are these famous 24-hour restaurants in Korea that specialize in seolleong-tang, where large gimchi drawers (yes, literal drawers) are built into the tables, so that diners can have as much of it as they like. Self-service gimchi. Open all hours of the day and night. Soup that makes you feel like a new person. I’m telling you, it’s worth a trip to Korea just for that!