Korean Cookbooks
September 4, 2021 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Mr. McGee currently has a mania for Korean food and has been cooking it at home, but internet recipes are of uneven quality! Can you suggest some good English-language Korean cookbooks that he might enjoy learning from and cooking from?

We have two Korean groceries right in town (a local place that's been here for 50 years, and an H-Mart), so getting our hands on ingredients is no problem. Mr. McGee is an "advanced beginner" cook, but highly motivated.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Maangchi has a couple of cookbooks but her web recipes are also great, and she has a ton of YouTube videos which are super helpful for demonstrating technique and also just a lot of fun.
posted by obfuscation at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2021 [18 favorites]

And here's a MeFi link for her, @obfuscation, great callout!

posted by mdrosen at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Great question! I will be keeping an eye on the answers to this thread, as I am also in search of a good English-language Korean cookbook.

In the meantime, My Korean Kitchen may be a good place to start.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 3:59 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm also a Maangchi fan. Mostly I just cook from her web recipes but I have a copy of Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking: Authentic Dishes for the Home Cook that I'm glad to have. The editing pass and formatting make it a step up from her website.

Another recommendation that is in no way traditional Korean but is an interesting and idiosyncratic take from one Korean-American: Edward Lee's Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen. The fusion of Southern traditions and Korean is super interesting.

I've also enjoyed reading Koreatown: A Cookbook. It's also Korean-American but hews much closer to traditional Korean than Lee's approach. I've never actually cooked from this book, just read it for ideas.

This list at Spruce Eats has some other good ideas.
posted by Nelson at 4:11 PM on September 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Here are a few from my Korean-American-affiliated bookshelf:
  • The Beauty of Korean Food: with 100 Best-Loved Recipes, (from the Institute of Traditional Korean Food; basically, the most authoritative Korean government source);
  • Dok Suni, Recipes from my mother's Korean kitchen, by Jenny Kwak;
  • Koreatown by Hong & Rodbard; and
  • Discovering Korean Cuisine: Recipes from the Best Korean Restaurants in Los Angeles (Park, Ed.)
We also have the Maangchi book and I mostly recommend Maanchi, as others have above, except where I don't. For example, I don't think her soon dubu jjigae recipe is quite right, and for that I would trust Dok Suni. Anyway, Maangchi's videos are a pretty great resource, especially when you have questions about exactly how to make a certain dish.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree that Maangchi is a great resource especially to get to grips with an unfamiliar-at-home cuisine, but a few of her published recipes are hit or miss for me, although I have a very self-taught palate about it all.

I really enjoy Sohui Kim’s Korean Home Cooking. The design of the book is beautiful and the stories included are wonderfully illustrative of the cultural mindset needed to kind of go with it and trust yourself and make do, but also conveys restaurant experience for really banger taste and presentation. All the techniques are approachable and a lot of the flavor combinations are explained so you can substitute and adjust in an informed way. The recipes I’ve tried from it have been universally yummy. Also, a lot of the banchan are dishes I hadn’t thought to try at home at all, so it’s been pretty inspiring.
posted by Mizu at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Korean Vegan's cookbook was just released and it's gorgeous.
posted by mezzanayne at 10:21 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am a cookbook editor and was the editor of Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking, which I thought was fantastic—thorough and easy to follow. I also proofread Korean Home Cooking by Sohui Kim, which was likewise excellent. The only reason I mention that I worked on these is that I can promise you I read every single word more than once, so it's not like I just flipped through them! That said, I have not (yet?) cooked from either book.
posted by wisekaren at 5:19 AM on September 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

I think Maangchi is good if you want to get started with cooking Korean food. That said, as a Korean person who is rather particular about Korean food, she is not my go-to resource, mainly because her recipes don't taste like the Korean food I grew up with. I think this may be due to regional differences - for me "Korean" food is the cuisine of the Seoul region, while Maangchi is from the Jeolla region. I have yet to see an English-language Korean cookbook that delves into the regional differences of Korean cuisine - admittedly I have not perused every English-language Korean cookbook out there, so I would love references to any that do so!

Paik's Cuisine channel on YouTube is a Korean cooking channel from a popular Korean restauranteur. Videos are subtitled and he often provides tips or substitutions for overseas viewers who may not have access to some of the ingredients. I like watching it to get a sense of current Korean cooking trends.

My personal rule of thumb when evaluating English-language Korean cookbooks or recipes sites is checking if the mandu recipe includes glass noodles. No glass noodles gets a passing mark; if all their mandu recipes include glass noodles I will approach with caution. So Korean Home Cooking gets a passing mark based on their Gogi Mandu recipe (I'd skip the addition of honey or rice syrup, though).

(My own personal favorite Korean cookbook is 김숙년의 600년 서울 음식 / Kim Sook-Nyun's 600 Years of Seoul Food. Leafing through the book is nostalgic for me, as reading through her recipes I can hear my father's voice describing how his mother made a particular dish, or remember the look and taste of meals at my great-uncle's house. I don't expect the book will ever be translated into English, due to the difficulty of translating the ingredients into English, and its narrow scope, unfamiliar and even possibly off-putting to younger Koreans. Seoul, known as Hanyang during the Joseon Dynasty, was established as its capital in 1394. Thus the Seoul region developed its own cuisine from the presence of the royal palace, the Yangban or gentry, and its status as the royal capital, with merchants, ingredients, and cuisines flowing in from various regions and even overseas. Roughly put, traditional Seoul cuisine is not highly spiced and relies on bringing out the flavors of the ingredients, and is considered bland by Koreans used to food from other regions such as Jeolla or Gyeongsang.)
posted by needled at 7:04 AM on September 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

In addition to all the great recommendations above, you may have good luck calling up Book Larder for recommendations. They’re wonderful people who live and breathe cooking and cookbooks and would be happy to give recommendations and, if you want, sell and mail books to you.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2021

It's not a cookbook - I don't think they have one yet, though their written recipes are on a blog - but Aaron and Claire has been one of our favorite pandemic youtube channels, and when they make Korean food they tend to use ingredients generally available globally (or recommend subs), and a lot of times will do an easy and hard version of more complex dishes. And they're really charming.

5 QUICK & EASY TTEOKBOKKI is a nice example episode.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2021

Hooni Kim's cookbook My Korea is interesting. They did "elevated" Korean home cuisine at their restaurant Danji (and a few other spin offs?) that I enjoyed, and I'm famously traditionalist when it comes to Korean food.

needled speaks truth re: the need for more translated books. My favorite resource is a slim book of just banchan recipes. I am still learning English words for a lot of the foraged greens and roots. Doraji (bellflower root) is so good. Hm.... a project for the future perhaps....
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:43 AM on September 5, 2021

I've been liking Cook Korean!, a cookbook in comic format. No idea how authentic it is, but the recipes taste good and it's beautiful.
posted by vasi at 2:25 PM on September 5, 2021

Response by poster: I FINALLY got my hands on a couple of Maangchi cookbooks, Mr. McGee is enthralled, and I'll report back after he cooks a few things.

The flaw in my otherwise-speedy plan was that my library was closed three days last week for Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah, so curbside pickup took daaaaaaaaaays. :) Further cookbook checkouts to follow after he tries these two!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:34 PM on September 12, 2021

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