Discover Little Korea – Iconic Dishes and Cult Recipes »

An introduction to a spicy, simple Asian ‘dude food’

By Robyn Lewis
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<i>Little Korea</i> by Billy Law

Little Korea by Billy Law [©Smith Street Books ]

 

I’ve never really had a burning desire to visit South Korea, even though I’ve lived in several parts of Asia and travelled the region frequently. But that might be about to change, thanks to Billy Law’s new book, Little Korea.

If you haven't heard, Billy Law is a former MasterChef Australia contestant, an influential food blogger (hitting the keyboard at A Table for Two), two-time book author (Have You Eaten? and Man Food – with another just out, XXL: Epic Food, Street Eats and Cult Classics from around the World), photographer, travel writer, food stylist and ‘all-round good guy’.

The book was also published in the UK under the name of Simon Park, about whom I discover that “Korean-Australian Simon Park is a food writer and freelance photographer based in Sydney, Australia. He documents his love of Korean food – as well as the Sydney restaurant scene in general - on his popular food blog The Heart of Food www.theheartoffood.com” (last updated Feb 2016, I see.)

Given that the photos in Little Korea are taken by Billy Law, I think they are the same person – however this is only an issue if you try to buy the book online, where it’s listed as being by Simon Park.

What/whoever, it’s a great little book, and I think would be of most interest to teens and young adults getting into Asian cooking, and especially trying out fermenting – there are 20 pages devoted to Kimchi in Little Korea, including fermented radish, cucumber and things other than Chinese cabbage. Billy says that “kimchi is extremely addictive – it’s a good thing it’s good for you – you’ll never be without a few jars of this umami-filled treat in your fridge again”.

Billy says he fell in love with ‘Seoul food’ at a friend’s BBQ, and hasn’t looked back: he says it’s now “an obsession”! As well as kimchi, he also loves the focus of Korean food being on numerous side dishes or banchan, with a basic home meal having around three and a banquet up to twelve.

Thirteen recipes for Side Dishes follow, most of which are vegetable based (steamed, marinated or stir-fried) and include Sautéed Zucchini; Seasoned Spinach; and more exotic things like fernbrake (bracken fern) and bellflower root.

Teens would love Corn Cheese I’m sure – it also makes good bar food. The similarities between Korean and Japanese food are obvious in recipes like Seaweed Egg Roll and the no-cook Seasoned Seaweed, but to me the latter seems more refined.

Korean food – at least in suburban restaurants in Australia – seems to be all about maximum flavour delivered simply (it’s a bit different at David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants, which helped put Korean food on the world map and take it to new heights). The book is more about the former, as can be seen in the next section called Jeon, basically battered and pan-fried things.

These dishes include savoury pancakes, fritters and even some sweet desserts, and can be served as appetisers, a side dish, or as anju, or bar food. Spring Onion Pancakes are a suburban Korean classic and easy to make yourself – you can add seafood for something more substantial.

Many of the Fritters look a bit like tempura, but can be made in a frypan without the need for a deep fryer, and make great finger food (using eg zucchini, fish, minced beef or chillies). Try some for your next party!

The Meat section starts with a warning: “if you’re on a diet…. This chapter is not for you… (it’s) all about those Korean dishes that are meaty, cheesy, spicy (actually super spicy!), plus all the deep-fried crunchy goodness that will make your heart sing. From scrumptious Korean BBQ to awesome street eats, just make sure you have plenty of cold beer to wash these down.”

Thankfully these dude food recipes exclude dog meat, still consumed in Korea and one thing that’s put me off visiting (although in South Korea its consumption is reportedly on the decline). Instead there’s chicken in three forms: Cheesy Fire Chicken; Spicy Garlic-friend Chicken; KFC Four Ways; plus various beef bbqs and the popular street food Beef Meatball Skewers. Pork is Stir-fried and Juicy; Spicy Barbecued and Grilled BBQ. Along with Spicy Stir-friend Octopus, this could be a great book for summer entertaining.

Next comes Rice and Noodles, central to Korean cooking, their favoured shorter-grain white rice especially so. I’ve never tried Sweet Potato Glass Noodles (Japchae) but they sound interesting – vermicelli would be a simple substitute of you can’t find any. There’s also a Chilled Buckwheat Noodle Soup which Billy Law says is great for summer, and various easy rice dishes including Sashimi Rice Bowl if you can't be bothered trying to make Korean Sushi Rolls.

For cooler weather there are seven Soups and Stews, including a few vegetarian options such as Soybean Sprout Soup; Potato and Dumpling Soup and Fermented Soybean Stew (although all contain anchovy and or fish/sauce in the stock, along with seaweed). There’s even a Basic Kimchi Stew if you have an ageing batch of kimchi in the fridge you want to use up.

The Braised and Steamed section (Jjim) are easy but tasty dishes that you might find on your local Korean restaurant, generally involving a marinated protein then steamed in an earthenware steamer, or braised. There’s Steamed Flounder (or Mackerel, if you prefer stronger flavours) with Radish; Steamed Egg (like a savoury custard); Soy-braised Chicken Wings and even Potatoes, described as “simple Korean food at its best” and certainly a change from boiling them.

“As in many parts of Asia, Koreans don’t really do Dessert, opting instead for a plate to fruit after a meal. Sweet treat are usually reserved for special holidays or occasions. Some of the sweets in this section are relatively new inventions that have taken the Korean street food scene by storm, but there are also a few classics that have been loved by Koreans for generations.”

The latter include Sticky Rice Dumplings, very like Japanese mochi, which are simple to cook in the microwave (my daughter loves them!); the latter includes Cheesy Eggy Bread, which is more like French Toast with cheese on it than a dessert, and I’m sure is great for hangovers.

The last section tells you how to make seven Korean Sauces, described as being “integral to Korean cuisine – essential for delivering those big punchy flavours and for finishing a dish.” All are very simple, such as Bibim Sauce (basically chilli paste, garlic and sesame oil) and Spicy Seafood Sauce (Chojang) to Salt and Pepper Dipping Suace (Gireumjang) and Vinegar Soy Dipping Sauce. The book is almost worth it for these recipes alone, as you can spice up almost any meal with one of more of these.

At the end there is not only a list of Pantry Staples but very useful photographs of various brands, for those like me who are unfamiliar with some of these ingredients; ditto the Glossary also has photos. Almost all recipes in Little Korea are illustrated, which is great if you have no idea what they are meant to look like!

Overall, I like this book a lot more than I was expecting, and if you have teenagers – especially boys – or young adults in your household I’m sure there will be plenty for them to enjoy and to cook as well. It’s simple, tasty, straightforward Asian food that will please crowds, especially round a barbecue for something a bit different. Is it enough to make me visit Korea? Maybe not, but it’s given me a taste that one day might get me across the line.

 

About the author:

Billy Law is a former MasterChef Australia contestant, an influential food blogger (hitting the keyboard at A Table for Two), two-time book author (Have You Eaten? and Man Food), photographer, travel writer, food stylist and all-round good guy.

 Read the press release here » 

Little Korea  Iconic Dishes and Cult Recipes by Billy Law (Simon Park) is published in Australia by Smith Street Books (Collingwood, Victoria, 2018; hc 224 pp), distributed by Simon and Schuster, and retails for A$49.99.

It can also be purchased via Booko.com.au here »

 

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October 16th, 2018
 
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