Cover Photo: Illustration by Shing Yin Khor for Catapult
Illustration by Shing Yin Khor for Catapult

Every Time I Smell Fresh Ginger, I Think of My Uncle Sam

I’d never seen a Korean man cook before Sam, and I was captivated.

This is , a monthly column by Noah Cho about how food and cooking can inform our identities.

look at this picture now. Only Kenny remains; everyone else is gone.

The author’s father (center, standing) with his brothers, author’s Uncle Sam sitting in front / photo courtesy of the author

I frequently use ginger in my own cooking. I recently made a marinade for kalbi, to which I usually add ginger. But I wasn’t cooking at home, and I forgot to buy and bring ginger along with me. Though the marinade came out fine, to me it felt like something was missing.

I thought of all of my family members—my dad, my uncles, my grandparents—who have passed on, whose absence I still feel. And I thought especially of my Uncle Sam, a man who was such a mystery to me, someone I wish I’d known better—now connected to me only by the scent of fresh ginger, and the memory of a smile on his face as he cooked.

Noah Cho teaches middle-school English in the San Francisco Bay Area. His writing has appeared on NPR's CodeSwitch, Shondaland, The Atlantic, and The Toast. He spends most of his free time going on hikes with and taking photos of his doggo, Porkchop.