I love to cook. I take Italian cooking class (making my own ricotta cheese!), love watching the Food Network and make pizza, bread, cakes and homemade ice cream during the weekends. Korean cooking, on the other hand, has always been a source of trepidation for me.
My experience in learning Korean cuisine brings back memories of catastrophic cooking scenes in my college apartment, where I’m sweating over a smoking pan on top of a stove, stirring frantically during stressed out phone conversations with my mom, who’s giving me remote advice such as “Put a bit of onion in there and taste. Try putting in some salt & sugar…” This would inevitably lead to over an hour of cooking, testing, adjusting and an end result that tastes like nothing my mother makes at home.
I’ve grown up thinking that Korean cooking can’t be taught–you either have it or you don’t. My aunt is an amazing cook, and we talk about how she “spits” in her food, which explains why it tastes so good and no one can replicate it. Korean food became something I ate at home or out in a Korean restaurant.
This all changed recently while perusing past Chez Panisse’s chef David Leibovitz’s site, where I stumbled upon Maangchi–and I fell in love with her site immediately. Hosted by “an adorable lady you wish you had in your family,” Maangchi (meaning “hammer” in Korean) teaches those who are Korean cooking impaired like me how to cook this elusive cuisine with humor, ease and clear passion for Korean culture and food.
Using YouTube videos that show you EXACTLY how to make Korean dishes, Maangchi-shi makes Korean cooking so easy and accessible. She will even show you the packaging of Korean ingredients so you can at least see what the lettering might look like, in case you can’t read han-gul.
Being totally obsessed with her site (I’ve already made jja-jang myun, jang jo rim, oisobagi kimchi and jeonbokjuk!) Maangchi was gracious enough to answer a few questions for 8Asians while putting up with a bit of gushing from me. (I’ve edited that part so I don’t bore you!)
8A: What is your idea of an ideal Korean meal?
Maangchi: Everyday Korean meals are usually served with rice and soup or stew, and a few side dishes. Rice is bland, so you will have to eat it with side dishes.
Korean food materials are so diverse because the country is surrounded by mountains and the ocean, so there’s a variety of seafood and vegetables. Some edible vegetables grown in mountains are a real delicacy.
At this moment, I feel like eating a huge bowl of doenjang guk (soup made with cabbage and fermented soy bean paste), a bowl of rice, freshly made spicy kimchi, and a piece of roasted mackerel. I think this simple meal is not only delicious but also well balanced.
8A: What do you find is the most common misconception of Korean food?
Maangchi: Some people think Korean food is too salty and too spicy, but it’s not true. In the old days, when refrigerators were not available, using lots of salt might have been necessary. These days, nobody is interested in eating salty food. My recipes are not salty because I’m careful about taking salt for my own health.
The degree of spiciness depends on your taste. I like spicy food, but my mother and sisters don’t, so not all Korean food is spicy. You can choose spicy or non-spicy, as you like. I’m careful to always show how to alter recipes to your taste in my videos.
8A: Your videos and recipes are helping so many Korean Americans (like me!), who grew up eating Korean food made by their parents/grandparents, finally learn how to cook it themselves. How does that make you feel?
Maangchi: It’s so rewarding. I never expected that my videos would affect so many people. My Korean American readers like you tell me what their moms say when they ask them to teach them Korean cooking:
“Go back to your room and study harder instead of being around in the kitchen!”
“Don’t bother me, it’s very difficult to teach you to cook in English!”
“It’s difficult to give you the exact measurements.”
There is a touching story that a reader sent me:
“Maangchi, my mom who provided me with delicious Korean food all the time passed away a few years ago. I have been living with my father since then. Unfortunately I had no chance to learn her cooking when she was alive. I found your website. One day I was cooking some of your recipes in the kitchen and my father came out from his room and said, “oh, this smell reminds me of your mom! I feel your mom comes alive now”
I was crying when I read her message. I feel really blessed to be involved with my readers’ lives and make them happy. Sometimes I make their whole family happy! It’s hard to explain how wonderful that feeling is.
Thank you, Ms. Maangchi, I look forward to learning more recipes from your site. One day, I hope to fulfill my destiny as a Korean woman and make kimchi from scratch. My dear readers, here is her video tutorial below for inspiration.