Sunday, March 13, 2016


Title:  Koreatown
Author:  Deuki Hong, Matt Rodbard
Publication Information:  Clarkson Potter. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0804186138 / 978-0804186131

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "You're holding a Korean cookbook in your hands, and there's a bright, unapologetically funky, sometimes spicy, oftentimes bubbling, impossibly interesting future awaiting you."

Favorite Quote:  "Today, Asian flavors are hybridizing modern cuisine. It's not 'fusion.' It's bigger than that, as these cultures have just become an everyday part of our culinary language."

Koreatown. The name says it all. This book is a survey Korean American cooking with recipes and stories gathered from around the country. As such, it is an introduction to both Korean American food and Korean American culture.

A disclaimer before I share my thoughts on this book. I am familiar with Korean flavors only through food served at local Korean restaurants. I am experienced in the kitchen and enjoying cooking and trying foods from different cultures. I do not know and have not cooked with many of the ingredients unique to a Korean kitchen, but I want to learn. That is precisely my reason for picking up this book. I am looking for an introduction and a greater understanding.

This book is successful in doing that to an extent. It does provide an introduction to culture and foods. This book is, however, very busy in layout and organization which at times makes it seem a little overwhelming even for an experienced cook.

The organization of this book is difficult to categorize. The book does provide a table of contents, an index, and a glossary. Each chapter has a different focus as is common in many cookbooks. In this case, the areas of focus differ between ingredients, methods of cooking, and course of the meal, and occasions. The chapters in the book are as follows:
  • Introduction
  • Ingredients and equipment
  • Kimchi and banchan (small plates)
  • Rice, noodles and dumplings
  • Barbecue:  Grilled, smoked & fried
  • Drinking food:  pojangmacha
  • Soups, stews and braises
  • Respect: guest recipes
  • Sweets and desserts
The ingredients and equipment section of the book is about eleven pages long and goes through "some products you might not know, as well as touch on some common items that are used slightly differently in the Korean kitchen." This is the textbook component of this cultural tour, providing a helpful list of ingredients and their Korean names and a short list of online list to purchase them. Also included on the list are things like more familiar items disposable plastic gloves and a MagicBullet because they form an integral part of this cuisine.

The most surprising of the sections is "Drinking Food." According to the book, eating and drinking alcohol go "so hand in hand that it's often hard to separate the two," and a pojangmacha refers to a place to eat and drink. Thus, you may think this section becomes the equivalent of snacks or bar food.  It isn't. The recipes range from a dish including Fritos to a whole roasted chicken to a hangover stew. Fascinating but the organization makes it a little difficult when I go looking for a recipe for dinner.

The layout of the book is also a little overwhelming. Different color pages. Different color fonts. Different fonts. Photographs. Photographs that look like illustrations. Illustrations. Side articles about ingredients, restaurants, or people's experiences with Korean food sprinkled throughout the book with no visual offset differentiating them from the recipes.

The recipes themselves are consistent - a title in Korean and English, an ingredient list set off to the side of the page, a story to introduce the recipe, and numbered paragraph instructions. I appreciate the  expected recipes for foods like kimchi and bulgogi and am intrigued by the more "fusion" oriented recipes like a barbecue marinate including coke and Kimchi White Chocolate Snickerdoodles. This tour of Korean food includes a lot to explore.

Overall, the book is interesting but a little difficult to navigate. Perhaps like Koreatown itself for a novice?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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