By Eleanor Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
At first glance, Peter Park, a 28-year-old male law student, doesn’t fit the bill as a traditional Korean food connoisseur. But check out his cooking blog, Home Cooking Diary, and it’s obvious he can give any Korean grandma a run for her money.
When he makes doenjang jigae — a spicy miso stew — Park goes the extra mile and brings out his very own tuk bae gi — a traditional Korean earthenware bowl rarely seen in home kitchens these days.
Park immigrated from Korea when he was 15 and has been exposed to great cooking growing up as his parents own a soup restaurant in Westlake Center in downtown Seattle called McKinley’s Soup Plus.
By day he attends law school at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. By night Park maintains his blog, providing instructions for cooking dishes such as naengmyeon — buckwheat vermicelli noodles — the aforementioned doenjang jigae and haemool pajeon — a tasty seafood pancake.
Park’s blog also contains Japanese, Chinese and Asian fusion recipes, as well as a special category just for “instant foods.” And yes, the ever-conscientious Park painstakingly provides step-by-step instructions and photos for each category. It’s more than enough to make any Korean mother swoon.
Park admits that “many Korean mothers really like me after seeing my blog or trying my food,” although he adds that some find it strange that a man would have so much interest in cooking.
He added, “Also, I ended up teaching many of my girl friends how to cook. I definitely feel more welcomed by people since I published my blog.”
We found his blog so informative and endearing that we asked him to elaborate on his experience as a food blogger.
NWAW: Where did you learn to cook like that?
Park: I definitely learned how to cook from my mom. She taught me how to use condiments and herbs for flavoring including, but not limited to, Korean food. Also, whenever I eat out at good restaurants, I am usually analytical in guessing the ingredients when I taste something really good. I think I always had a genuine interest and appreciation for food and flavors.
NWAW: What gave you the idea to start the blog?
Park: When I first moved to a small town in Oregon for school, there weren’t many good restaurants near my school, and I remember always craving some good Asian food. ... Thanks to all the dried chili powders, soybean paste and all the condiments my mom packed for me before I left for school, cooking Korean food was easy when I finally became determined to set aside some time to cook almost every day.
Moreover, I felt really lucky that Safeway in my town had a small Asian section with stuff like wasabi and fish sauce. I had all I needed to cook whatever I wanted to eat and later really enjoyed myself from cooking to the point where I wanted to share the food by inviting some school friends who never had Korean food before.
They kept coming back to my apartment every weekend with six-packs of beer asking for recipes and to observe me while I cooked. So I thought maybe I will just create a blog and put up my recipes and pictures online so they don’t ask me for the same recipe, like, a hundred times. They loved it, especially that I took pictures of the step-by-step process.
Then I realized that there are a lot of people out there who will appreciate my recipes and the visual instructions.
NWAW: How much time do you spend working on the blog?
Park: Whenever I cook something new, I take pictures and that adds an additional 10-20 minutes to my normal dinnertime. After that, I upload and write recipes on weekend nights. I upload one or two recipes per week, and on average, I spend about an hour per week working on my blog.
NWAW: Do you prepare a sit-down dinner every night? What are some Asian restaurants in Seattle that you like?
Park: Right now, I am ... at my parent’s house for summer and I eat at home 80 percent of the time. I cook for my family a lot and love to see them enjoy eating, but really, nothing beats my mom’s Korean food, and that’s when I enjoy my dinner the most.
In Seattle, my favorite restaurants are Blue Ginger, Haru, Cedars, Taste of India, Thai Tom, Wasabi Bistro and Jade Garden.
NWAW: Do you think it’s important for Asian Americans to know how to cook traditional food? Can culture be retained without knowledge of one’s ethnic cuisine?
Park: I think food is such a big part of one’s culture that everyone should appreciate their own ethnic food culture. ... The easiest way is through experiencing ethnic cuisines at earlier ages.
Although there are other parts of a culture besides food that one can retain, such as studying the history or the politics, understanding the ethnic cuisine is so fundamental as it helps you appreciate the flavor of your own culture and provides an important opportunity to socialize and build a stronger bond between family members and friends.
I would say you should learn how to cook at least one ethnic cuisine, but if you’re really not a kitchen person, at least know some great Asian restaurants!
Visit Home Cooking Diary at www.homecookingdiary.com.
Eleanor Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.