My first taste of Korean food was on a trip to New York City ages ago. Mike and I found a Korean BBQ restaurant that we just had to try. At this stage, I can't remember what we ate but I do recall the experience itself: cooking food on a tiny grill set into the table, trying dishes that had familiar flavors but were completely new to us... it was novel and it was fun. And it was something we couldn't do back home.
Skip forward a few years and surprise! We have a Korean BBQ restaurant of our very own now. And it's amazing! What's more, we have two "world" markets that offer such a wide variety of foods that we can actually recreate these dishes at home.
Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard's Koreatown: A Cookbook is a little bit of a dream come true in that sense. It's a guidebook to cooking Korean food in your own home! Just about every imaginable aspect of Korean food, too.
Now if you've ever been to a Korean BBQ place yourself, then you know that one of the coolest parts of the meal is the plethora of side dishes. Everything from multiple kimchis, pancakes, and fish cakes to fermented bean sprouts and potato salad. Yes, potato salad. So it's fitting that the very first chapter of the book is focused on Kimchi and Banchan or side dishes. I hadn't realized, until cracking the book open, that kimchi is not actually the name of the fermented cabbage dish in particular. Kimchi actually just refers to the pickling method itself. With one base and cure the authors offer up five different quick kimchi recipes for the home cook - and none of them are cabbage! That's actually the next recipe in the book, "Baechu Kimchi aka Napa Cabbage Kimchi" something that still intimidates the crap out of me. Many of the recipes themselves - "Our Mildly Insane Kimchi Bokkeumbap aka Kimchi Fried Rice,"This is Not a Bibimbap Recipe aka Mixed Rice Bowl," and "Mukeunji Kimchi Mandu aka Aged Kimchi Dumplings" - all call for cabbage kimchi, some in a variety of increasing ages too. Fortunately, though, the authors have instructions on how to request aged kimchi from Korean grocery stores or age your grocery story kimchi yourself.
One of the things I appreciate most about the book is the fact that while lots of recipes include varying elements that can be purchased (like cabbage kimchi), recipes for those elements and bases are provided throughout the book as well. For example, the "Soondubu Jjigae aka Soft Tofu Soup" and the "Budae Jjigae aka Spicy Army Base Soup" both call for "Anchovy Stock," and while I've never asked my local Asian market if they sell this, I don't have to. The recipe is in the book. (Spicy Army Base Soup has Spam in it!)
If you're looking to try your hand at Korean food at home you just can't do better than Koreatown! The book has everything: Kimchi and Banchan; Rice, Noodles & Dumplings; Barbecue: Grilled, Smoked & Fired; Drinking Food: Pojangmacha; Soups, Stews & Braises; Respect: Guest Recipes (which includes Paul Qui's Kimchi Triple-Cream Grilled Cheese and a killer Korean Sloppy Joe); Drinks; and Sweets & Desserts. There are even essays on varying aspects of Korean food and "Koreatown" as well as contributions from critics and other personalities sharing their own love for Korean food.
Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.