I’ve written before that I never cooked growing up, but love of food has nothing to do with cooking, and they’re mutually exclusive. If you can cook the foods you love? That’s a very good life. If you’re interested in Korean food, whether you want to prepare it yourself or just get it in your belly, then consider this a beginner’s course. I’ll use my Korean upbringing as a guide.
Korea is a peninsula, geographically attached to China in the north and surrounded by seas in the Pacific Ocean. It’s where I was born and my parents were born, and generations of my family before my own family of three. Korea’s a country that’s been occupied and fought for at war, and at home. Korea was once ruled by royal dynasties and treasures, before Kim Jong-un and Psy were ever punchlines on Twitter. The Korean royal courts of the earlier centuries dined on the finest foods while paupers barely got by on rice and cabbage, and there’s an addictive k-drama called Dae Jang Geum (The Great Jang-Geum if you want to check it out) all about it. Like, many other peninsulas, Korea’s had to defend its land and preserve its food like it has its culture.
This intro blog won’t touch any kind of “royal” cooking, but serve as an intro to Korean cooking. The culture and history, and not just the ingredients, are the key to appreciating a country’s cuisine. If you’re just into eating, then I can’t fault you for that either. I love to eat.
1. Buy rice. Rice is a staple of Korean cuisine. Koreans aren’t the only ones who live by rice, but we do have story-tale myths about rice so it’s pretty serious. White rice versus brown rice? White rice all the time for me. I’ve recommended starter-size brands of rice at the end of this blog.
I remember when I was nine and my father started dropping massive amounts of weight each week although he ate junk day and night. We discovered he had diabetes. He wasn’t allowed to eat white rice for a long time after that and our family switched to brown rice. I hated it, and so did my dad. He’d always loved American junk food. It’s something he’d never really had until he moved to America from South Korea in 1976. My father grew up very poor compared to my mother, in Seoul. My dad always told a story of how he’d bought a can of 7 Up with his own money when he was a boy, and how strong it had been to his non-Western palate that very first time. So he’d poured the whole can into a bowl of rice and eaten it all, like soup. My mother always laughed at how cute the story was, and my dad had always laughed along and winked at me. That wink meant something more than just cute. That 7 Up meant a lot to him! I’ll never forget that rice story and just how different my father’s upbringing was to my mother’s, mine or my brother’s. I’m glad my dad got to eat all the white rice he wanted again once his diabetes was under control years later. I hope he’s in heaven right now eating all the white rice and 7 Up he wants, just not together ever again.
Rice was a staple for the poor and the rich throughout Korean history, and still is now.
2. Buy a rice cooker. It’s just easier. I’ve grown up with Zojirushi rice cookers all of my life, and I know Amazon’s got some sleek fancy ones on sale. I’ve recommended a few at the end along with the rice. They’re ones my mother used and still use. They’re not fancy, and in fact quite unfancy and low on the price scale for Zojirushi. If you’re into the fancy ones, then more power to you! My mother was never into gadgets and could have made our family’s rice on the stove-top, but it’s a pain in the ass to cook rice on the stove top. You can ask her.
3. Take baby steps. Eating and cooking Korean food should go in stages.
You should pretend you’re a Korean baby eating its first solid foods. My Noah eats Korean food but he’s far from being at the level where I serve him asshole-burning spicy stews and sauces, like I do to my husband Davy. No, Noah right now is eating the simplest-prepared foods which are also healthiest. I sometimes mix some steamed white rice with Korean Sesame Spinach and other simply prepared but “Korean” veggies, similar to a “Baby Korean Bibimbap” and Noah eats it up until the bowl is empty.
Each ingredient in Bibimbap is a good starter Korean food. If Noah can do it, then you can too.
I’ll cover more common ingredients and starter tips in the next in the series!