Guest Reviewer: Stacy A. ; Cook Korean!

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha
January 28, 2017

A Comic Book with Recipes
I loved Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, which came out a few years ago, but never really expected to find another graphic novel with recipes. I was wrong. Apparently graphic novel cookbooks are now a thing.

There was a really interesting article on eater.com about it, Why Cookbooks are Looking More Like Comicbooks. They point out:

But comic cookbooks can do something for home cooks, too — make recipes less daunting and easier to follow. Cookbooks are still in demand, but many — with their overly aspirational food photography — wind up as coffee-table books for the kitchen.

An interesting point, for sure. And click through to an older article, The Golden Era of Food Comics is Happening Right Now. Also interesting.

When I heard about Cook Korean!, I knew I had to take a look at it. I don’t know a lot about Korean food. Korean BBQ restaurants are around, and kimchi is hugely popular pretty much everywhere now, so it seemed like a good time to learn. And learn I did.

Table of Contents:

Introduction
Kimchi and Pickles
Vegetable Side Dishes
Meat and Poultry
Seafood
Soups and Stews
Porridges
Noodles and Rice Cakes
Snacks and Street Foods
Cocktails and Anju
Korean Fusion

I included the introduction because it’s not your typical “here’s why I wrote this cookbook page.” Instead, it’s 20 pages or so of ingredients used in Korean cooking, the Korean refrigerator, the Korean pantry, Korean meal guide, Bap: Cooked Rice, Rice and its delicious by-products, Korea’s regions and foods and finally Dengki’s dress. In other words, lots of super useful information. With illustrations.

All the chapters are heavily illustrated, thus the graphic novel genre. I mean if you just picked it up without knowing it was a cookbook, it probably wouldn’t occur to you as you glanced through it. No, it’s not a novel, it’s cookbook/memoir and nonfiction while we usually call fiction books novels. But what I called comic books as a kid are now called graphic novels, regardless of whether or not the books contain fiction or nonfiction. My library shelves them in the nonfiction. I have noticed that some graphic novel memoirs are shelved in biographies, and I’m not sure who is making that distinction (Library of Congress? The Online Computer Library Center, better known as OCLC?) or why that distinction is being made. Congressman John Lewis just won a bunch of awards for the third book of his graphic novel trilogy memoir, March: Book Three (congrats!) which is shelved in biography. But I digress.

Other things I noticed when looking at the table of contents. I admitted up front I am pretty ignorant about Korean food. I didn’t know there were stews or porridges, for instance. Now I do. Kimchi Stew, for starters. And a Spicy Fish Stew. I learned that pine nuts are not just for pesto and are used in Pine Nut Porridge.

So kimchi. There is a little gastro pub near my house that makes killer kimchi. And by killer I mean they warn you if you try and order it that it is very hot, so I haven’t tried it. A kimchi loving friend (hi Dave!) has had it and really enjoys it. So everything I know about kimchi is that historically, it was made from cabbage in clay jars and buried in the dirt. The smell was supposedly horrific. And is very, very spicy. But after reading this book, I learned that my suppositions were correct, but there are ways to make it much more palatable for my delicate American taste. Use less Korean chili, for starters. I also learned that kimchi can be made from a variety of vegetables, not just cabbage – radish, cucumber and green onion, just to name a few. I feel kimchi educated now.

Noodles are big in Asian cooking and Korean food is no exception. The recipe for Handmade Knife Noodles is about as close to pasta as you can get. Rice cakes are called Tteok and there are dozens of different kinds, mostly eaten as snacks or dessert.

The cocktails chapter includes a lesson in Korean Drinking Culture, including the admonishment to “always pour your elder’s drink with both your hands,” to never refuse a drink from your elders and “always refill drinks for others and never refill your own drink. You must wait for others to fill it up for you.”

The recipes are all explained and illustrated so that even someone as ignorant of Korean food and customs as I am, could successfully prepare anything in this book. I loved the watercolor type paintings that illustrate each chapter title page, and the drawings throughout the book really added to my understanding of technique. It’s funny, I never really cared for illustrations in cookbooks, for instance the beloved Silver Palate Cookbook, as I much prefer photographs. But for some reason, I love the illustrations here and didn’t miss the photos at all.

Finally, I was trying to figure out how many recipes there are but it was difficult as so many have variations included. The author does mention in her acknowledgements that her mother helped with 64 of the recipes though. Always nice to acknowledge your mom!

If you are curious about Korean cuisine and culture or you love Korean food and want to try making some yourself, this is the book for you.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

See more reviews from Stacy at BookBitch.com.

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1607748878. 176p.