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Exploring Korean Cuisine: 7 Great Books for Food Enthusiasts

Exploring Korean Cuisine: 7 Great Books for Food Enthusiasts

Korean food’s distinguished flavor profile incorporates bold and harmonious combinations of sweetness, spiciness, tanginess, and umami.

Here we will look at seven great books on Korean food culture and cuisine that will take you to the heart of Korean cooking. Whether you're interested in traditional dishes, the Korean diaspora's recipe adaptations, or the innovative creations found in Korean restaurants, these books offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.

Traditional Korean Cuisine

Korean Traditional Local Cuisines by the Korean Food & Culture Division

Korean Traditional Local Cuisines

Korean Traditional Local Cuisines, published under the direction of the National Academy of Agricultural Science in Korea, offers a comprehensive exploration of the country's regional food. With its focus on 100 distinct dishes — spread across nine chapters dedicated to each province — this book provides a rich expedition across Korea.

While not explicitly tailored to vegetarians, the book emphasizes cooking with local crops from various regions, including the mountainous northeastern area, the coastal regions, and the expansive southwestern plains. These chapters allow readers to delve into the unique characteristics and flavors of different parts of the country.

Individual recipes include step-by-step photo sequences and occasional footnotes explaining notable ingredients throughout the book. While assuming a basic familiarity with fundamental techniques of the Korean kitchen, the book remains accessible to motivated cooks with reasonable kitchen skills. Readers can easily approach these dishes with the book's guidance, whether they’re preparing fresh buckwheat noodles with vegetables, chilled white bean soup, or pan-fried tofu with pork.

Korean Traditional Local Cuisines is more a systematic catalog of Korean cooking than a book with cultural references. It looks at Korean food from a traditional viewpoint harkening back to the middle of the 20th century. While you won’t find innovative recipes here, you will learn about Korean food as perceived and cherished by Korean people.

Maangchi's Big Book of Korean Cooking by Maangchi

Maangchis Big Book of Korean Cooking

Maangchi is a YouTube sensation with over six million subscribers, bringing her passion for Korean cooking to life. With a steadfast belief that traditional methods and ingredients should not deter any home cook, Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking showcases over 140 detailed recipes that epitomize Korean cuisine.

Maangchi goes beyond the familiar favorites and classic dishes like kimchi and bibimbap to spicy soups, stews, various tofu preparations, and hearty grilled meats; she demonstrates that popularizing a cuisine does not necessitate simplification.

Maangchi's exploration also extends to lesser-known staples of Korean food, such as octopus porridge, braised taro roots, mung bean jelly, stir-fried dried anchovies, and an assortment of vegan recipes inspired by Buddhist temple cuisine. A dedicated chapter on street food offers a glimpse into the bustling food culture in Korean markets and roadside stalls.

Each recipe is thoughtfully presented, including the dish's name in both Korean characters (Hangul) and Roman script. The book also features informative sidebars throughout, providing valuable insights into Korean food culture. These sidebars cover diverse topics ranging from the versatile onggi pottery used in various ways to holiday menus and lunchbox staples.

Maangchi's cookbook is a bright and compelling guide for people who wish to understand Korean cooking as a Korean cook would. Her unwavering enthusiasm and commitment to authenticity make this book a valuable resource for anyone seeking to scour the flavors, techniques, and cultural nuances of Korean cooking.

Magazine F: Kimchi Issue 12 by Magazine F Editors

Magazine F: Kimchi Issue 12

Magazine F is a Korean food documentary publication that scatter bombs readers with information on a single ingredient in each issue. 

In Issue 12, Magazine F pays tribute to kimchi through the perspectives of renowned chefs sprinkled across the globe, spanning from Tokyo and Bangkok to Paris, London, and Amsterdam. Delving deeper, the director of the Korea Royal Cuisine Culture Foundation sheds light on the varieties of kimchi that once graced royal courts but have since faded from contemporary fashion. 

Readers are treated to a guide on various vessels used for kimchi storage, ranging from ancient pottery to modern kimchi refrigerators. The magazine also offers valuable insights into kimchi retail destinations worldwide, featuring profiles of dedicated cooks and artisans who approach kimchi production with unwavering seriousness.

Magazine F may not dig too deep, but it covers a broad spectrum of information on the single subject of Kimchi with factoids and photo essays that give you much to say on the topic at your next dinner party.

Korean Diaspora Cuisine

Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home by Eric Kim

Korean American Food

Korean American is a charming book on multiple levels. Eric Kim, the son of Korean immigrants who raised him in Atlanta, weaves a heartfelt narrative exploring the contrasting experiences between his mother's traditional Korean home cooking and the myriad of influences he encountered on his journey learning to cook.

Within this book, Kim skillfully intertwines recipes with headnotes and chapter openings that capture the tensions and intersections between cultures. While ingredients like jalapeños may not be traditionally Korean, they became integral to his family's cooking due to the lack of Korean grocers in their new city. Likewise, while his father cherished American A.1. sauce on steaks, Kim bastes them in gochujang butter.

Amidst the stories and insights shared, the book is replete with enticing recipes that showcase the blend of Korean and American influences. From creamy bucatini with roasted seaweed to seolleongtang, an ox bone noodle soup elevated with scallion gremolata, and sheet-pan bibimbap, each dish offers a harmony of flavors. The journey continues with a tantalizing pear galette accompanied by salted cinnamon whipped cream.

It's important to note that this may not be the book for you if you aim to explore Korean cooking as conventionally practiced in Korea. However, if you're intrigued by the evolution and adaptation of a transplanted food culture, you'll find Korean American a gratifying experience. 

Learning Korean: Recipes for Home Cooking by Peter Serpico with Drew Lazor

Learning Korean Recipes for Home Cooking

Learning Korean is a guide by Peter Serpico that follows his journey as a Korean living in America from a young age, tracing his roots via cookery. Grounded in tradition, practicality, and a thoughtful approach, the book explicitly addresses elements that Koreans may take for granted in the kitchen.

Serpico, who was born in Korea and adopted by an Italian-Polish American couple, relays that his early food experiences revolved around dishes like spaghetti, green peas, and garden salads. Even today, he makes his mother's mac and cheese for his daughter. 

Although he would later embark on a professional culinary journey, including a notable role as chef de cuisine at the Korean-influenced Momofuku Ko, his love for a Korean-American woman, whom he eventually married, sparked his deep dive into Korean cuisine. Serpico believed that the finest Korean food is created in the home kitchen.

Within Learning Korean, Serpico shares 100 authentic home recipes along with insightful headnotes. These headnotes provide valuable context, distinguishing between everyday dishes and those reserved for special celebrations. In cases where techniques require further clarification, he includes step-by-step photo sequences, offering guidance on preparing stuffed dumplings and hand-cut noodles. Additionally, Serpico includes beloved favorites that serve as many people's introductions to Korean cuisine, such as a variety of banchan (side dishes), succulent beef short ribs, kimchi, and hearty stews.

With a focus on the essence of Korean home cooking, Serpico's thoughtful approach, combined with his personal experiences and passion for the cuisine, provides an authentic perspective that captures the heart and soul of Korean home cooking.

Korean Restaurants

Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen by Edward Lee

Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen

Edward Lee, a native of Brooklyn, has successfully introduced his distinctive Korean-American cooking style to the eclectic food scene in Louisville, Kentucky. This vibrant fusion has garnered immense appreciation from locals, evident by the two James Beard nominations he received for his exceptional work at the renowned 610 Magnolia restaurant.

While there are apparent connections between Korean and Southern cuisines, such as the presence of pickles and barbecue, Lee skillfully employs these similarities as a launching pad for his innovative creations. He takes the familiar elements and transforms them into delightful surprises that tantalize the taste buds. 

For instance, his beef rice bowl combines the bold flavors of Korean cuisine with Southern influences, featuring ingredients like collard greens and topped with a chili corn rémoulade. Another inventive dish on Lee's menu is the tamarind-and-strawberry-glazed ham, showcasing his ingenuity in infusing Korean and Southern flavors into a classic ham preparation. And for those seeking a playful twist, Lee's kimchi poutine reinvents the Canadian favorite.

Lee's creations are a testament to his ability to harmonize the distinct flavors and heritage of Korea and the American South. The bold combinations of ingredients and flavors exemplify Lee's knack for pushing boundaries while honoring the roots of each cuisine to find out what works and tastes good.

My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes by Hooni Kim & Aki Kamozawa

Traditional Korean Flavors, Modern Recipes

My Korea is a remarkable cookbook that captures the essence of Korean food culture. Its evocative writing, coupled with a deep exploration of both traditional and contemporary perspectives, makes it a significant contribution to Korean cookbooks in English.

Written by Hooni Kim, the chef of Hanjan and the Michelin-starred restaurant Danji in New York City, this book reflects his profound understanding and passion for Korean cuisine. Having trained in esteemed Manhattan restaurants, Kim aimed to infuse his establishments with the same level of professional rigor and pride in a national cuisine that he witnessed in renowned kitchens like Daniel and Masa.

While the dishes may not mirror precisely what you might be served in Korea, Kim is committed to the integrity of time-honored Korean flavors. He adamantly avoids diluting or substituting integral ingredients, ensuring the authentic flavor profiles remain intact. While Kim applies sophisticated cooking techniques beyond the typical Korean kitchen, his goal is to elevate and enhance the original dishes' texture and sophistication without compromising their authenticity.

My Korea offers a comprehensive exploration of Korean cooking, starting with detailed guides to traditional ingredients. The spotlight falls on the Korean flavor trinity of doenjang (fermented soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce), and gochujang (fermented red chili paste). Accompanying the informative ingredient guides are 90 meticulously crafted recipes. Each dish name is provided in English, transliterated Korean, and Hangul characters, allowing readers to engage with the language and culture of Korea. Extensive headnotes further enrich the experience by discussing the cultural context of the food and offering suggestions on ideal accompaniments.

In addition to well-known and beloved dishes like bibimbap and barbecue short ribs, Kim introduces enticing creations such as buckwheat noodles in chilled beef broth, tofu with kimchi and pork belly stir-fry, and an array of banchan (side dishes) and muchim (seasoned dishes) that commonly commence a Korean meal. Amidst these gastronomic delights, readers will also encounter fascinating glimpses of the cultural intersections that have shaped Kim's life, exemplified by dishes like bacon chorizo kimchi paella with French scrambled eggs. To add further delight, the book features a selection of Korean-inspired cocktails.

Vibrant, fascinating, and inspiring, My Korea is an invitation to try unexplored Korean cuisine flavors, techniques, and cultural nuances. Hooni Kim's deep knowledge, thorough attention to detail, and dedication to preserving the essence of Korean flavors make this book an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to explore and appreciate the richness of Korean food heritage.

7 Books for a Holistic Approach to Korean Cooking

Korean cuisine is a feast of flavors, traditions, and culinary techniques that have captivated food enthusiasts around the world. From its vibrant assortment of side dishes to the enticing array of main courses, Korean food offers a delightful experience for the taste buds.

With these seven great books on Korean cuisine, you have the opportunity to understand the rich cultural heritage, ancestral practices, and flavors that make Korean cuisine truly exceptional.

Explore our extensive collection of compelling Korean cookbooks available online. From traditional recipes to innovative creations, we offer many options to satisfy your craving for authentic Korean cuisine. If you can’t see what you’re looking for on the website, contact us at, and one of our expert team will find the perfect book for you.
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