Review: Koreatown

Sunday, March 6, 2016

reading while bleeping

 

I had one Korean classmate in college, and he was brash and unfriendly, but I blamed it on me being an equally awkward foreign student. Until one evening I lost an entire presentation at 11 p.m. one night to his ‘trying to fix’ a PowerPoint that was due the next morning! He said sorry and walked away. Ironically, he later transferred to Computer Science. Today, Uma works around more college students than I do and he admits, as a student culture - it is still the same, an affluent bunch of self-assured, brash, and overconfident kids.

 

But students and grownups are different, we were all stupid once, so we move on and give people second chances.

 

We’ve visited a few Korean eateries in LA, Uma and his longtime single buddy, Ben, take the time to explore some joints, curates them, and then takes us out to his favorite one when we are there. On our trip to NYC, we deliberately took time to go visit the Koreatown, Yelped our way through the restaurant pickings and then found one we all agreed on. The wait was over an hour, in the November cold, and only a kindly Emo (auntie / gatekeeper) who brought me multiple cups of warm barley tea kept us seated in there. The food was good, but not worth the wait or the hype. I should have dragged us someplace else instead.

 

With our sparse run-ins with the Korean culture and cuisine, I really wanted to see what it was all about, why it was such a growing fad - what makes it special. When I saw an opportunity to review a book about Korean cuisine, I took it, and waited eagerly to read the book. When it came, I actually sat down and read the book, from the preface and early commentary through the recipes and interviews, hoping to understand a culture and cuisine that is indeed very foreign to me.

 

Koreatown: A Cookbook Hardcover – by Deuki Hong (Author), Matt Rodbard (Author)

http://koreatowncookbook.com/

 

The early pages, which really are meant to capture the audience were poorly laid out, or perhaps I am not a fan of the haphazard minimalist style. The recipe spreads were simple - a list of ingredients on one side, separated by a dividing line, and the text next to it. The layout seemed uninspired, but again, I'm no expert. The photographs looked like everything was covered in Kimchi, which it seems like it exists in virtually every dish. The saucy gloss on many dishes is not my style either. But, again, I am not an expert. Perhaps we are spoiled by the stylized, controlled layouts of most cookbooks on most bookshelves.

 

The introduction to the book somehow felt a little endearing, a note about every Korean being a mama’s boy told me how hard it must be to be a woman in that culture, when you are always competing for attention, space and respect – and how it might become easier to claw your way through some of it, than be subservient. And then as the reader became more comfortable with the book, the overconfidence began to shine through loud and clear.

 

For me, and to put it very plainly, I was not a fan of the prose – it is a prose-heavy book. The style is conversational, a commentary, documentary style – and not like the curated books I am becoming accustomed to seeing on bookshelves and willing to share with my daughter. There is great care to explain what the essential pieces are to cook a Korean meal – a helpful component of the book, including making Kimchi – a rather odiferous and patient undertaking. I also learned the different sauces that went into making some of the banchan (side dishes), which was even more off-putting for me, as I learned it was not my style of eating, especially when a fish-sauce became part of a chicken dish – as I don’t mix my meats, it is an Indian thing. Nothing is truly vegetarian, because everything (or nearly) has a fish sauce. There were curse words sprinkled through the prose like exhuberant unnecessary garnish, including sometimes in the headers and introductions of a recipe and I had to ask myself, why in the world would I want to subject myself (or any reader) to this kind of garish language, if all I wanted to do, was to cook a dish?

 

I found that some of this conversational tone carried through in the recipe writing too – and it kept distracting me from the recipe / method itself. There were far too many ingredients that I did not know, understand, pronounce or care to procure for a one-time meal. At first, I found myself skipping the introductions more and more, until I started skipping the recipes themselves.

 

One precious header was: ‘How to cook Korean without p***ing off your neighbors’.

 

We are the only Asian, and Indian family in my neighborhood, and regardless of who I am, how many cookbooks I've sold or how global I may be, my neighbors already have a hard time appreciating Indian food. Would they really appreciate the smell of Kimchi wafting from my exhaust, even though there is more than 500’ between the exhaust ‘out’ and my nearest neighbors’ kitchen? Even though spices are an integral part of my cooking, will I be able to ‘wash away’ and air-out my house if I were to cook Korean food, even once? I don’t think so. I had to set the book down and away, at page 110. I could not continue.

 

The market for this book is obviously NOT the 40 something housewife with a mortgage payment to worry over or diminishing homevalues to consider, who might want to cook a meal with their family (which I fall under), but a 25-something millennial who lives in a rented place, and whose vocabulary filter is set to ‘nil’.

 

I cannot bear to let my daughter read it, because I know that conversational cursing and cursing in the written word leave different impressions on a kid. She is a sensitive child and smart enough to know the difference between cursing for anger v/s for shock value. I would rather she channel her enthusiasm for reading elsewhere over trying to bleep out words as she read this book.

 

Reading while bleeping is hard work. Cooking while reading & bleeping is impossible for me. More power to you, if you can.

 

Would I buy it for myself? No. Would I cook from it? No. Do I want to keep it? Not really. Would purchase it as a gift ? NO. I might possibly gift this free book to someone who has no kids, is familiar with the cuisine and the flavor combinations and is able to handle the cursing. I am sure someone would appreciate it more than me, but definitely not something for my kitchen. Sadly, I might not even be able to bring myself to go to a Korean restaurant now that I know what goes into some of their dishes.

Let me know if you still want this book. If you are local, or I am likely to meet you, I would be happy to save you $30 for purchasing it.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. As you can tell, the review remains unbiased, regardless of the promotion.

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AUTHOR

Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect. Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & closeted poet. Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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