Authors: Deuki Hong & Matt Robbard Clarkson Potter New York 2016
If you’ve never eaten Korean food, try to imagine a less-refined, spicier Japanese cuisine, or rather, Chinese food with less MSG.
The profile of Korean food (Hansik) has risen immeasurably in the past few years. It’s now possible to eat Korean food in many Western cities. London boasts several venues where you can eat authentic cuisine and to do so in a korean style.
What about the cook who wants to eat Korean food at home? If you live in an Asian neighbourhood, you can find all the ingredients you need. Furthermore, there are several blogs that contain useful recipes.
However, this is the first book that I have read to really capture Korean food in all its messy, earthy glory. Combing the heat of red chillies, the saltiness of soy sauce and the richness of sesame oil, Korean food is seriously addictive. For example, Kimchi (the ubiquitous ingredient found in the majority of stews) is fermented; meaning its made the same way as beer. Once you start eating it becomes difficult to stop.
What are the key dishes in this book?
It’s divided in to three main sections. First, kimchi and banchan. These are the small plates which arrive at the start of a Korean meal. For example, Kongnamul Muchim (crunchy sesame bean sprouts) and Dubu Jorim (soy braised tofu).
My favourite is Kimchi Jeon, which the book suggests is made with pancake mix rather than flour.
Rice, noodles & Dumplings includes Japchae (glass noodles with julienned vegetables) and Ddeokbokki (Korean rice cakes, which are similar in texture to gnocchi).
Nothing is missing from this book. You like instant ramen? This book contains a recipe for the perfect al dente packet noodles. They recommend that you fan the noodles with a paper fan to slow down the cooking process and make them more chewy. Or perhaps you want to make Hodduk (delicious hotcakes filled with nuts and brown sugar). Or you might want to learn how to make something wicked with Soju like the Watermelon punch listed here.
There are stories, reflections on nearly every page. It must have been a real labour of love for the authors. One chapter tells us “how to cook Korean food without pissing off your neighbours” ( although in my case it would be flatmates). Another highlights the important role of the Emo, the woman who looks after diners, gives them mints and stirs bowls of steaming Bibimbap.
There are several barbecue recipes (a key part of the cuisine is grilled meat); bulgogi, pork belly and kalbi, marinated short ribs.
There is a list featuring the foods to eat whilst drinking (Pojangmacha). The word means “covered wagon,” which in Seoul is a tented places serving food in styrofoam boxes. Recipes in this chapter include Dakgangjeong (fried chicken) and Jokbal (soy-braised pig’s feet).
The writers of the book spent three years travelling to all the different Korean restaurants in America, hence the book is named Koreatown.
The book’s design is stunning. As well as following a logical order of dishes, the colour photos and texts make it the kind of book you can easily follow whilst cooking at the same time ( I’m seriously thinking of buying a spare copy for night-time reading).
More than just a book, this is a celebration of everything which makes Korean food such an extraordinary, life-affirming celebration.
What others are saying:
“Eating Korean food is the best legal high in the world and KOREATOWN is the gateway drug you need!”
— Gary Shteyngart, author
“Koreatown is not a place. It’s an energy, an attitude, a painstaking stew of spice and frugality and brutally honest flavors. For the first time, here’s a book that captures all of its electricity and mystery in a voice that is both vibrant and respectful.”
— Edward Lee, chef and author of “Smoke and Pickles”