- Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History by Michael J. Pettid
Compared to the vast number of books treating Chinese or Japanese foods and culinary histories, few have been written about Korea. This dearth became quite apparent recently during an admittedly non-scientific survey of two large urban bookstores, which produced not a single tome devoted to Korean foodways, and only a single recipe titled Bool Kogi (translated in-text as “Spicy Fire Meat”) in a cookbook devoted to pan-Asian dishes. The author of Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History, Michael J. Pettid, aims to remedy this deficiency with his slim volume exploring Korean food, its history, and connection [End Page 132] to the culture of that land. Profusely illustrated with more than one hundred mouth-watering photographs of traditional dishes, Korean utensils, implements, and kitchen spaces, and supplemented with a selection of recipes, the book goes far in dispelling what the author contends is a prevalent (Western?) perception that Korean cuisine consists only of kimch’i (fermented vegetables) and pulgogi (thinly-sliced marinated beef; the same dish romanized as Bool Kogi above).
In the Introduction, Pettid writes that the purpose of the book is to provide a window into Korean culture — one that extends back more than twelve hundred years — by examining its food. To start, he explores the melange of mythical, historical, and environmental influences that affected premodern Korean cuisine. Chapter One, “Daily Foods,” discusses both everyday and ideal meals consisting of rice, a soup or stew, accompanied by a variety of side dishes. The author explains the Korean notion of social status as expressed in three-, five-, seven-, nine-, and twelve-dish meals. He also emphasizes the harmony between flavors, textures, and temperatures for which a Korean cook strives even today. Chapter Two, “Ritual and Seasonal Foods,” expands on some of the foods and food types mentioned in the first chapter, but sets them in the context of celebrations and rituals, many of which are documented here.
Chapter Three, “Regional Specialties,” shows how geography historically influenced regional foodstuffs, flavorings, and seasonings throughout Korea. It is a chapter that one wishes were much longer. Chapter Four, “Drinks,” covers water(s), alcoholic beverages, and different types of tea, consumed by all social classes in Korea. All were important to social interaction because their consumption was governed by formality and etiquette rules detailed in this chapter. Chapter Five, “Foods of the Royal Palace,” reveals that Korean royal court cuisine was actually not one specific type, but was composed of regional specialties. By virtue of their sheer numbers and exquisite preparation, these dishes matched and enhanced the prestige and opulence found at court, particularly during the Chosun dynasty (1392–1910). This chapter traces the movement of dishes, beverages, and etiquette from the provinces to the palace, from the court to the noble houses, and from there to the commoners’ tables.
Chapter Six, “The Kitchen Space and Utensils,” discusses some particulars of food preparation, utensils, implements, and spatial organization in premodern Korean homes. As with Korean food and etiquette surrounding its consumption, all of these are uniquely Korean and serve as identity/ownership markers. Chapter Seven, “Food in Contemporary Korea,” traces change in modern Korean food culture that is, nonetheless, underlain by historical constancy in terms of philosophy, seasonings, and presentation. To support this argument, Pettid cites restaurants in South Korea whose menus are peppered with formerly “high-end” foods modified to meet contemporary taste, foreign foods and “fusion cuisine.” The “Recipes” section covers the gamut of Main Dishes, Side Dishes, and Drinks. The recipes are for typical Korean foods and beverages. The ingredients, except for dog meat and abalone (listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of threatened species and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act), are readily available in most urban Western groceries or in Korean/Asian specialty shops; the preparation and cooking instructions are clear, and give lie to the notion that making this style food...