Eating Korean by Celia Hae-Jin Lee – review

cookbook review Eating KoreanFood isn’t just about nourishment. It’s not just about flavour. It can more be described as a delicious (mostly) conduit for memories and tradition. We all, no matter what our cultural background, can remember events that have a food association. For me its Sunday lunch and making pickled onions and eating my first pomegranate and my first meal in a real restaurant and…

Celia Hae-Jin Lee has penned a book of 100 or so recipes and they are very fine but this is far more than a cookbook. This is a personal and family history of humour, depth and charm. Eating Korean is a book to read from cover to cover for its narrative of everyday life garnished with delightful dishes. Return to find recipes to recreate authentic Korean dishes and enjoy a unique cuisine.

Celia is a first-generation Korean American so she can appreciate the needs of a European audience who need an introduction to these unfamiliar Asian dishes. Korean restaurants are rare in Europe. There are many to be found all over the USA as that country has had a closer relationship with the peninsula than has any other Western nation. There are far fewer Korean cookbooks than, say, Chinese or Indian, and so, as a consequence, Korean food has remained a mystery.

It would be easy to assume that an unfamiliar and exotic cuisine would have difficult-to-prepare dishes requiring costly and scarce ingredients with an inedible end result. Not so with Korean food. US readers will have no problem finding Korean spices and sauces, and Europeans can search in their nearest Asian food store or find online. You’ll discover it’s worth the effort.

If you are a lover of things pickled then this will be the book for you. Korean Pickled Garlic could not be easier to prepare, using only vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Kimchi is the famous Korean condiment but it’s also used as a base for other dishes once it has been fermented for a month or so. Again a simple process with a vibrant result. Kimchi is a must for any authentic Korean meal.

Fire Meat (Boolgogi) is perhaps one of the most celebrated of Korean dishes. This is stir-fried marinated beef which can be eaten with side dishes, rice and Kimchi but also as a topping for Bibim Bap which is the strikingly attractive traditional rice dish. Spicy Sliced Pork (Dwaeji Boolgogi) is similar.

The weather is cold and a steaming bowl of Korean Oxtail Soup (Ggoli Gomtahng) would be very appealing. This is a flavourful broth using a cut of meat that is often overlooked. It takes long slow cooking for the meat to become tender but the flavour is robust and warming.

Eating Korean is an ideal cookbook for anyone who would like to learn more about Korean food. It has enticing recipes but its food history and anecdotes make this a worthwhile companion to other Korean cookbooks. Celia Hae-Jin Lee draws us in to her family kitchen and invites us to savour the same dishes that her parents and their parents would have enjoyed. A great cookbook which makes Korean food accessible to all of us. I have enjoyed this very much.

Cookbook review: Eating Korean
Author: Celia Hae-Jin Lee
Published by: John Wiley & Sons
Price: $27.50US, £19.99
ISBN 0-7645-4078-5


Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018


See more books by Celia Hae-Jin Lee here