The American cookbook publishing industry pays little attention to Korean food, a gap especially apparent in Los Angeles, where, despite the presence of a vibrant Koreatown, the cuisine remains as mystifying to non-Asians as it is intriguing.
Barbecue is easy--all Asian markets sell bottled Korean barbecue marinade. But how does one prepare kimchi stew, cold buckwheat noodles with Asian pear, kalbi tang (short rib soup), ginseng chicken and so forth?
A few books have appeared, but many had limited distribution and are hard to find or out of print. In 1959, Charles E. Tuttle Co., a specialist in Asian-themed books, published "The Art of Korean Cooking" by Harriett Morris. This primer on Korean food avoids ingredients that were not then available in American markets and makes such substitutions as candied ginger for fresh ginger root. However, Morris, an American who taught home economics in Seoul, was sufficiently versed in Korean cooking to make the necessary adaptations while retaining the spirit of the food.
In comparison, "The Art of Korean Cookery" (Shibata Publishing, 1963) by Cho Choong-Ok would have seemed exotic when it first appeared. The author, a Korean woman living in Japan, where she opened the Tokyo Korean Cooking Academy, wanted to introduce the food to Westerners. Therefore, she made some adaptations, but did include such ingredients as Korean red pepper paste, hot bean paste, gingko nuts and bracken sprouts. And she didn't hesitate to provide recipes for \o7 yuk-hwe \f7 (marinated raw beef), stuffed cuttlefish and a bean paste casserole, which must have seemed alien to Americans in the '60s. This book was published in Tokyo and distributed in the United States by Japan Publications Trading Co.
Seven years later, Follett Publishing Company in Chicago put out "The Korean Cookbook" by Judy Hyun, an American woman married to a Korean, Peter Hyun. Just before the book appeared, Judy Hyun died. Her husband left the United States to resettle in Seoul and wrote food columns for a newspaper there. The cookbook was later published in Korea by Hollym International Corp.
Judy Hyun introduced her readers to Korean culture as well as the food. The ingredients that she explained in a glossary now seem common, but in those days many Americans had yet to learn about bean curd, cellophane noodles and wasabi. Hyun's recipes are simple and call for a limited number of special ingredients. However, like Morris, she knew enough about Korean food to present the essence of it to a foreign audience.
One of the most useful books is "Lee Wade's Korean Cook-book" (Pomso Publishers, 1974). Wade was an American woman who worked as a librarian with the 8th U.S. Army Recreation Services in Seoul. She died while the book was in preparation, and her work was continued by her collaborator, Sandra Mattielli, and editor, Joan Rutt. The book was published in Seoul, and its royalties were dedicated to a cancer research program at a Korean medical center.
Wade concentrated on everyday, middle-class food. Aiming for traditional taste, she included such ingredients as bellflower root, dried squash and the feathery green called \o7 minari\f7 . The great contribution of her book is its charting of Korean ingredients. The chart gives each name in the Korean alphabet, the Korean pronunciation in Roman letters, an English translation, a botanical name and the seasonal availability. The vegetable chapter includes drawings of greens, roots and onions so that one knows what to look for in markets.
These books do not contain photographs. However, well-illustrated books, some of which include step-by-step photos, are being exported from Korea.
Among these are "Korean Cooking" (Chung Woo Publishing, 1983) by Chung Hea Han and "Korean Recipes" (Seoul International Tourist Publishing, 1984) by Shim Chung-Shil.
Han's book is the more detailed, showing six steps in the preparation of each recipe along with a photograph of the completed dish. Other photographs show table arrangements for an everyday meal and for celebrations of Christmas, Korean Thanksgiving and a child's first birthday. Ingredient information is minimal in both books, but the photographs balance that lack.
Han founded the Han Chunghae Cooking School in Seoul. Her book, translated by American home economist Joan Riemer, contains 50 recipes. Shim lived for a time in California, where she married and then returned to Korea. She provides occasional photographs of ingredients and recipe steps along with more than 60 dishes.
The California link became stronger with the publication of "Kimchi: A Natural Health Food" (Hollym, 1988). The authors were Florence C. Lee and Helen C. Lee, sisters and home economists. At the time the book was published, Helen Lee was a faculty member in the department of home economics at Cal State Long Beach. Her sister Florence was on the faculty at Seoul National University. Both were born and raised in Seoul.