Michael J. Pettid has produced a book that is destined to become a classic work on the evolution of Korean cuisine. It isn’t a recipe book although it does have quite a few. It’s a history book and charts the culinary progress of Korea from ancient times to the present.
It is, as it says, an illustrated history and those pictures add much to understanding what Korean food is all about. It has been influenced by China and Japan and, in more recent times, the West. The cuisine remains, however, unique and is well worth investigating should you be lucky enough to cross the threshold of a Korean restaurant.
Table etiquette developed over thousands of years. Each diner would be presented with a small individual table with the dishes already in place. Men were often served before women, who would eat in another part of the house. This practice has largely given way to the Western custom of eating together at a regular-sized table.
Many Westerners are convinced that Korean food consists of nothing more than Kimch’i (fermented cabbage) and dog meat. It’s true that Kimch’i is very popular and just as much these days as ever, though it isn’t just fermented cabbage but vegetables in general that are considered Kimch’i. There are hundreds of varieties and this was originally the food of desperation. As much food as possible would have been preserved to stave off hunger during the hard winters.
Dog meat is still a ticklish issue but then we are looking at the subject through European eyes. Perhaps if cows were fluffy, friendly and kept our feet warm we would all be vegetarian!
Korean barbecued meats are famous for flavour and succulence, and the mixed vegetable and rice dishes are healthy and delicious… But a more recent development in Korean cuisine sounds a bit unlikely and involves tins of Spam and other processed meats. It’s said that these Military Camp Stews date from the time of the US presence, when the local population would use surplus military rations. It’s becoming a restaurant favourite these days!
Korean eating utensils sum up its place in Asian food culture. Koreans use both chop sticks and spoons. The spoons are not the same as the Western version, having a shallower bowl. The chop sticks are unusual in that they are traditionally metal rather than wood. They are shorter and flatter than Chinese and don’t have pointed ends like the Japanese chopsticks. This country has adapted and borrowed from outside and has evolved a varied and different cuisine.
Korean Cuisine by Michael J. Pettid is a comprehensive and fascinating look at a truly different food culture.
Korean Cuisine – An Illustrated history
Author: Michael J. Pettid
Published by: Reaktion Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018