Koreanish: What Happened On Halloween & Ketchup On My Chicken Wings

“Oh dear God.”

These were the words I uttered after the first round of trick-or-treaters left our doorstep.

One of the people in this party was dressed-up like an Asian. I handed his children candy while my jaw hung wide open, for I couldn’t stop staring at his conical Asian hat. Yeah. You know which type of hat I’m talking about. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and I’m guessing he didn’t expect a real Asian to answer the door.

Only two more rounds of trick-or-treaters arrived, and, believe it or not, not a single child was dressed like Elsa. One little zombie in the last group asked me how many pieces of candy they each could take, and I replied “two.” One girl grabbed all six of my remaining Kit Kats and stared at me as she slowly transferred them to her trick or treat bag. The other kids decided to do the same and went in for the big grab.

“Woah, let’s each take two,” I reminded them. They wrinkled their noses. “Well, if you wanted us to only take two, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” the bold one asked.

I did.”

They frowned and begrudgingly took their two pieces while I bit my tongue desperately wanting to ask, “And where the hell are your parents?”

As the kids ran into the minivan parked at the edge of my driveway, I declared trick-or-treating at our house officially over and turned off the front light. I had better things to do, like watch Roald Dahl’s The Witches and sip fancy gin. Eight o’clock quickly turned into Far North Solveig gin O’Clock.

We ate leftover chicken wings for dinner. The evening before, I had found a simple recipe for baked wings in my old, spiral bound Korean Cooking book published by the Korean Institute of Minnesota my parents bought during my years at Korean Culture Camp. The recipe contains ketchup, so it’s rather Koreanish.

Kind of like me.

Chicken Wing Collage

I pondered all of this as I sipped my gin.

I was adopted by a Midwestern family with Scandinavian roots and grew-up in a community in which few people looked like me. Now that I live in a community where I also encounter few Asians, I think about my Asianess a lot. My Asianess used to be a source of embarrassment, but I become more and more intrigued with it as I grow in age and confidence. I love how Lefse tastes as much like home to me as pork bulgogi. I’m used to looks of surprise when I boast about my Swedish meatballs and I crave the stern, Korean grandmothering I receive while dining at Dong Yang.

For now and for me, Koreanish can be Korean enough.

By the way, I’m saving these fortune cookies for the next folks who trick-or-treat at our house in 2016 dressed-up like Asian people. 

Drawer Watermarked

Koreanish Wings
Adapted from the Korean Cooking book published by the Korean Institute of Minnesota, circa 1983. Chili sauce or gochujang could be substituted for ketchup or added to the sauce. 

12 wings & drummies
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Dash of garlic powder or fresh minced garlic
Fresh grated ginger
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar


  1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, ketchup and rice wine vinegar.
  2. Place chicken wings in a marinating-safe container or bag and add the marinade. Toss the wings so they are evenly coated. Allow to sit overnight or as many hours as possible. I marinated my wings for five hours.
  3. Place wings in pan and bake at 350℉. Baste the wings with the sauce every once in a while.
  4. If the sauce starts to burn on the bottom of the pan, remove the wings and continue baking them on a different pan. You can also baste them with a light coat of butter.
  5. For extra caramelized wings, broil until the skin is as crispy as you’d like.


  1. Feisty Eats

    At least the wings look delicious. I had a snotty kid remark to me: just 2? After I handed him his candy. I said go to more houses to get more candy. Kids are very assertive & not in a good way. Ugh.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Oh my gosh these kids! Are we getting old if we remark on kids these days? lol.

    • David

      Oh come on. Get over it. People are too dam sensitive nowadays. I took my child tricker treating and I was dressed like an Italian plumber with a huge mustache (yes Mario). If a kid or adult was dressed like a stereotypical Mexican. I wouldn’t have been offended. Me = Messy-can.

      • Jeni Flaa

        David, I’ll agree to disagree with you about your thoughts regarding dressing up as other ethnicities for Halloween costumes. Nevertheless, I do think it’s cool you read my post and took the time to leave a comment.

        • David

          One more thought. Are you sure this kid wearing the conical hat wasn’t dressed as Raiden from Mortal Kombat?

  2. Beth Ann Chiles

    I think you got all the rogue trick or treaters in your neighborhood. I had really nice kids—some with parents right there with them and not dressed inappropriately as Asians. Good grief. I think you should forego trick or treat next year. The wings look delightful—-You definitely need to embrace your background and while it is scary to open up that search I would imagine it is something that you feel you need to do to understand who you are a little bit more. And if my opinion matters—I think you are pretty neat. 🙂

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thank you for the encouragement Beth. I think you are neat too:) We had a wild bunch that night.

  3. Christine

    I read your tale, and it played out in my head like an episode of Friends or Will & Grace–horrific yet with lots of funny sprinkled all over it (obviously at the cost of someone’s nerves and feelings, which, in this case, I feel slightly guilty about). I’m glad you turned off your porch light and got cozy with a good cocktail to shake it off as much as possible. I can’t believe a parent would give the approval for their child to dress up as an ethnic group for Halloween. I actually take that back; I do believe it. I’m sorry that it still happens, and more than that, I’m sorry it happened to you.
    I hope you continue to pursue finding your birth mother. I have cousins whom I’m very close with who were adopted and are in this process. From what they’ve confided, it’s obviously nerve-wracking and stressful, but so is a wedding, right?
    My favorite things to cook that bring be back to my roots are not very exciting. I am Irish, German and Native American (though the Native American was unknown to me until I was older). I do love potatoes (Irish) and whenever I have been lucky enough to have my (German) grandmother’s homemade potato dumplings with sour gravy, it’s like the German and Irish souls I have are dancing a jig donned in lederhosen. Leftover dumplings fried in butter with a lot of salt is like heaven to me. So, sometimes I channel this memory and make fried mashed potatoes. It’s messy, very un-foody and nothing I’d ever serve or suggest, but it’s wonderful to me.

    • Jeni Flaa

      I’m so glad it was like an episode of Will & Grace or Friends. I was hoping it came off in a humorous spirit!

      The cringe-worthy thing is that the person who was dressed up like an Asian was the DAD. I am going to have to look up a recipe for potato dumplings with sour gravy. Thanks for sharing your roots and your memories of your grandmother’s cooking. Some of the most comforting foods are not fancy but wonderful to us. Well put.

  4. Monica Jertson Cateron

    I can totally relate to your experiences growing up- but from a different perspective. I was married to a Korean adoptee and therefore, have part-Asian children. Our family experienced all kinds of stupid things like other kids asking mine “Do you guys eat things like spaghetti and pot roast or just Asian food?” I love your term “Koreanish”- my daughters will love that!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for sharing Monica. I hope your daughters like it:) Jake’s kind of experiencing more of what I go through too. Just the other day at dinner, someone asked Jake if he was learning to speak Chinese. We were like, “What?”

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