I love cookbooks and I own a ton of them. Probably because I love both cooking and books, and I’m one of those people that actually reads them from cover to cover. I know, it’s odd but I’m cool with that.
Since I enjoy cooking, when I was living in Korea I made sure to learn how to make some of my favourite Korean dishes and I often ask friends’ mothers for new recipes to add to my repertoire. And I’m always looking for a great cookbook to add to my Korean food cookbook collection (I have ones in both Korean and English).
So when I heard about Koreatown: The Cookbook, I was intrigued. And when it arrived, I was impressed. It’s not just a cookbook, although there are plenty of interesting recipes – from traditional to fusion – and I’ll talk about them in a minute, it’s also a collection of stories and a glimpse into Korean-Americana.
My first impression of the cookbook was that it was beautiful and would work nicely as a coffee table book in a pinch. The photos are lovely, inviting and definitely add character. In fact, I flipped through it just glancing at all the photos quickly before settling in for some food reading fun. It was neat to see candid, colourful shots rather than perfectly staged ones you often see.
The second thing I did was read the table of contents and then immediately turn to chapter on anju (안주), which is all about Korean bar food. Anyone who’s spent any time in Korea or any of the Koreatowns in North America knows how important this is and for once, I started reading a book in the middle because I was super intrigued as to which recipes I’d find. While there was definitely a lot more to my experience living in Korea and hanging with friends in one of Toronto’s Koreatowns, three of the key elements to most of my free time were food, friends and drinks so this chapter was certainly one that attracted me – and brought back memories.
Additionally, I found the collection of stories fascinating. It was fun to get a glimpse into the lives of various people from Linkin Park’s DJ Joe Hahn to “Emo”, which translates into “auntie” to a Q&A on why two year olds should eat galbi (갈비, grilled beef). Regardless on why you might be interested in Korean food, the introduction, stories and descriptions of the recipes will keep you reading.
And now to talk about the important part…
Of course, I can’t write a cookbook review without actually trying out some of the recipes so I choose three random… or not so random ones. First, Ojingeochae Muchim (오징어채 무침, Spicy-Sweet Shredded Squid) which is from the anju chapter; Doenjang Jjigae (된장 찌개, Soybean Paste Stew) as it’s the Korean food I cook and eat most often; and Daeji Galbi (돼지갈비, Spicy Pork Spare Ribs), as I love eating it with friends. Okay, I also made some Yogurt Soju (요구르트소주) but that was just because I needed something to go with the Ojingeochae Muchim. ^^
The Doenjang Jjigae was interesting and tasted a bit different from what I usually make but I expected that as I make it with an anchovy-based broth and this recipe was beef-based. While it wasn’t quite as spicy as I make mine as I use more than teaspoon of gochugaru (고추가루, Korean red pepper powder), it had a deeper flavour and I would definitely make it again, with a few modifications. [Side note: please don’t think that wanting to make a few changes means the recipe is bad, it was a delicious stew, I routinely modify recipes or simply use them as a blueprint to be built upon.]
I loved the Ojingeochae Muchim, which made me crave having friends and some beers to go with it, which is why I ended making the yogurt soju to go with it (and the daeji galbi). It was a nice blend of chewy and spicy that makes for an addicting snack and brought back memories of times eating it while chatting over beers (or soju) with friends. I’m definitely serving it the next times my friends come over. It’s like the perfect snack.
And the Daeji Galbi rocked. I loved the marinade for it – it was the perfect blend of flavour and spicy heat. I halved the amount of meat as I was only cooking for myself but made the full amount of marinade and used it on some beef I was planning on stir frying – it worked perfectly there too. In fact, I can’t wait to use the marinade again during BBQ season.
Three recipes tried; three meals – or rather two meals and a snack – that I liked. And that’s an indication of a good cookbook. I can’t wait to try out the Crock-Pot Kalbijjim (갈비찜, Beef Short Rib Stew) and one of the guest recipes, Coca-Cola and Gochujang Marinated Chicken Thighs next. Who wants to come over for dinner?
I think the beauty of this cookbook isn’t just the variety of recipes from authentic to fusion, although everything I’ve tried were good and there are several more that I want to try, but also the accessibility of it. Or rather, how accessible it makes Korean food. It explains things so well that it would be a great introduction to Korean-American cuisine (and relevant up here in Canada too or anywhere really) for those who aren’t familiar with it (or traditional Korean food for that matter).
That’s not to say that it’s not also a great cookbook for experienced cooks too because I put myself in that category and I both enjoyed reading it and have liked all the recipes I tried. Plus – and for me this is key – it’s inspired me to make a couple of my own Korean-inspired ‘fusion’ recipes. If you have Koreatown: The Cookbook, please let us know what recipes you’ve tried!