8Books Review: Korean American by Eric Kim

Eric Kim’s debut cookbook Korean American is an absolute joy to read and cook from. The essays are beautifully written (no surprise if you’ve ever perused Kim’s writing for the New York Times) and the recipes are wide-ranging with drool-inducing photographs.

The recipes, Kim writes, “explore the tension–and the ultimate harmony–between the Korean in me as well as the American in me. I am at once both and neither, and something else entirely: I am Korean American.” That’s a line that will likely sound familiar to many Asian Americans. As will the sentence: “Getting a recipe out of my mother is like pulling teeth out of a tiger’s mouth.” (Or in my case, getting a recipe out of my grandmother). And the dishes often contain unique elements from Kim’s family traditions (jalapenos, for example, readily available in 1980s Georgia where Kim and his family lived) and/or from his own experimentations.

Reading this cookbook, actually reading it (I confess to typically not being terribly good at doing this), offers so many lovely insights into food, family, and finding oneself. Dedicated to his mother Jean, Eric Kim spent a chunk of the pandemic living with her and working on these recipes. In the process, they created some of their own and Kim found many “Korean mom tips” that he generously shares with us, and their relationship shines through in the sweetest ways. The head notes on the recipes recount a story about growing up in Georgia, innovating with ingredients, the influence of family members across the diaspora (an aunt who lived in Uruguay for example), food and memory, the greatness that is spam. His recipe for kimchi jjigae graciously accounts for the fact that not all of us have access to an “ambrosial Korean-mom stash” of very old, very ripe kimchi.

Okay, so the prose is beautiful, but down to the brass tacks … is the food good? I have now made four things out of here and can say that I would make them all again (you don’t know me, but that’s saying something). The first thing I tried was the cover star — Aunt Georgia’s Soy Sauce Fried Chicken with Jalapenos. It is *chef’s kiss*. Potato starch makes for a brilliant coating. Worth the double frying (and no freezing involved as some KFC recipes recommend). I followed it up with the Chewy Black Sesame Rice Cake. Then, curious and intrigued about Kim’s next-level devotion to gim, I cooked the Creamy Bucatini with Roasted Seaweed and the Gochugaru Shrimp with Roasted-Seaweed Grits. I confess to being a little skeptical about both (sesame oil in pasta? Korean grits?) but honestly, yum. Bonus, they were quick and easy weeknight dinners.

Which is all to say, the food is great, the writing is great, and Korean American is a worthy addition to any shelf, cookbook or otherwise.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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