Can you honor your father and mother and their forebears through means they would have thought dishonorable? Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, Korean by birth and American by choice, faced this dilemma when she decided to use reminiscences of her traditional Confucian-Buddhist family as the focus of a cookbook for people in her adoptive country. Talking about one’s family in public was taboo in the Korea of her upbringing. She went ahead with the idea anyway, and we can all be grateful.
Previous Korean cookbooks for an American audience have done little to bridge two far-removed cultures. Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen is another matter. Hepinstall grounds her accounts of meals, flavor combinations, and cooking techniques in concrete, lovingly remembered household routine and ceremony. From her family’s homemade versions of preparations – like soy sauce and hot red pepper paste – that even Koreans ordinarily buy today, to wonderfully varied rice dishes, stocks, soups, grilled and braised meats, dumplings, and herb and grain teas, the recipes have a rooted quality found only in the most exceptional cookbooks.
The other good news is that the publisher has done justice to the author’s aim with a book design that lets Hepinstall address us visually (through her own black-and-white photographs of kitchens, ingredients, equipment, people, places, and, most memorably, her parents and siblings) in a “voice” as direct and original as that of the text and recipes. This is the breakthrough introduction to Korean cuisine many of us have been waiting for. – Anne Mendelson