In the ’90s, we’d fly to Korea every summer to visit my grandmother. I’d sit in Halmoni’s hot, humid apartment in Seoul and watch her pour barley tea, or sometimes plain water, over her rice dregs as she neared the end of her bowl. In the way that children mimic their elders, I followed suit. This would create a sort of consommé, lightly flavored with the remnants of our various banchan, or the sweet sauce of bulgogi, dotted with the sweet, nutty comfort of white rice. Halmoni said this was her favorite part of the meal, because it was her way of extending the rice and ensuring satiation.
My grandmother, born in 1930, was raised in Japanese-occupied Korea. After China and Japan fought for centuries over Korea (“a shrimp between two whales”, as the old Korean proverb goes), Japan emerged the victor in the early 1900s, officially annexing the colony in 1910.