How I make everything taste like home

There are things I always keep with me: My phone, because duh.

A tote bag, because it’s easy to wash when I spill my chai everywhere.

My various cards (the most important ones, like my credit card, driver’s license, school ID, and frozen yogurt rewards punch card).

And a compact, individual container of Old Bay seasoning.

You may be asking. “Emma, ​​why the Old Bay seasoning? Besides, your skin is really glowing today! What’s your secret?”

Oh wow, thank you very much! There’s no secret – it’s just good genes and free samples from Shiseido my grandma sends me.

But when it comes to the Old Bay, my reasoning is mostly about functionality. I eat almost every meal in a college dining hall whose food can be described as “demoralizing”. A pinch of Old Bay can elevate anything from a dry chicken breast to a nondescript “starfish” and even (if the pickings are particularly bad) a hard-boiled egg.

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

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AFP via Getty Images

A chef puts Old Bay seasoning on blue crabs in Maryland.

And of course, the transformative power of Old Bay is not confined to the confines of the college kitchen. Bland food runs wild like a plague on this earth! Carrying an Old Bay shaker, I am Achilles armed with his mighty shield, engaged in an epic battle against unseasoned food. And even beyond its culinary uses, a container of Old Bay is a conversation starter! “Oh, what’s in your bag?” “Oh, just an Old Bay seasoning shaker.” “Wow, that’s so cool! Do you want to be my friend? And here’s all the money in my wallet.”

Old Bay turns a tasteless food into a mediocre meal. You could say it’s my “spoonful of sugar”. But instead of this magic syrup, Julie Andrews distributes Mary Poppinsit is orange, grainy and very high in sodium.

But functionality aside, I guess I keep Old Bay with me because it reminds me of home.

I remember eating a bucket of smothered fries in Old Bay while digging a giant hole in the middle of Bethany Beach, not far from where the spice mix was created. I remember the smell of seafood when my family hosted blue crab boils – the searing pain as the Old Bay coating the shells penetrated the cuts in my skin.

It’s nice to have a bit of our pantry at the bottom of my bag. It’s nice to take something home with me that reminds me of what I left behind.

At 22, my childhood feels like both something close enough to touch and something that’s sailed incredibly far. When I think of home, I think of hardwood floors, the sound of boiling jjigae, sunlight falling through a bay window. I think of our pantry filled with snacks, packets of dried seaweed and its large shelf of spices. It’s nice to have a bit of our pantry at the bottom of my bag. It’s nice to take something home with me that reminds me of what I left behind.


Emma Eun-joo Choi is the host of NPR’s Everybody and Their Mom, a new show from Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

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