I’ve been looking forward to reading Cook Korean! since it appeared on NPR’s Best Books of 2016 list, but had to wait a little longer than anticipated because my 10-yr old son, attracted to the book’s bright cover, started reading it before I had a chance. While he does love to read, cookbooks are not his usual reading fare. This book is so much more than just recipes though. Author and illustrator Robin Ha intersperses colorfully illustrated recipes with an engaging narrative drawn in the form of comic-book panels – a combination interesting enough to capture not only my attention, but a 10 year old’s too!
Robin Ha’s love of cooking began when she moved to Italy as an exchange student. After returning to the States, she began experimenting with Korean cuisine, learning many of the recipes from her mother and refining them through experimentation and practice. Her popular Tumblr blog, Banchan in Two Pages, features Korean recipe comics and eventually grew into this book. As in most cultures, food plays an important part in Korean society and Ha provides brief overviews of everything from what Korean children pack in their school lunches, to popular street foods, Korean drinking culture, and the evolution of foreign food into Korean fusion dishes.
I love the originality of Cook Korean!, and Robin Ha’s playful drawings are eye-catching and attractive. Packaging the recipes in this graphic style makes Korean cuisine less intimidating. Because of the cookbook’s unique format, I assumed that the recipes would be Korean–inspired, not necessarily dishes my grandmother would make. But besides one chapter on Korean fusion, the majority of the recipes are very traditional. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the author included many comfort-food dishes that my mom used to make us growing up but that are rarely included on menus of Korean restaurants.
I’ve made a number of recipes from this book for my family and every dish has gotten a thumbs-up from my husband and all three of my kids. That never happens! For those of you new to Korean cuisine, I’d recommend either the Pan-Fried Tofu – few ingredients, easy to prepare, and healthy, or the Soy Garlic Beef – savory, sweet, and a featured dish at most Korean barbecue restaurants. With Korean cuisine growing in popularity, there’s no better opportunity to give it a try. Cook Korean! A Comic Book with Recipes is the perfect introduction to the food of Korea – original, adventurous, and fun!