That happened for Kim during the pandemic, when he moved back to Atlanta for a year to work on “Korean American” with his mother, Jean. Writing down her recipes, he realized that his cooking was a reflection of her cooking, as well as her two nations, the United States and South Korea.
“I had this idea about what I wanted my adulthood to look like. It certainly didn’t involve me moving back home for a year,” Kim said. “But I’m really glad I did. I think the pandemic did this for a lot of people. It really reset my values, and it sort of reset what I would like to prioritize in my life.
“I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know what was under my nose the whole time. I feel like I really took Atlanta for granted. I think I also took my family for granted. And my mom. So I think this book is sort of a prodigal son moment of coming home.”
When Kim’s parents moved to Atlanta from South Korea in 1983, there wasn’t a single Korean grocery store near where they lived. And as he explains, “nontraditional” ingredients show up in “traditional” recipes, because that’s the way his mother does it.
“A lot of the headnotes for the recipes are about specific meals that we have in Atlanta and that we really look forward to, especially on Buford Highway, where a lot of Korean restaurants are,” Kim said. “And a lot of immigrant cuisines reside there. I think that’s the way you feel Atlanta through the book.”
Among the significant foods he celebrates in the book, Kim loves the Caramelized Kimchi Baked Potatoes that Jean helped create.
“The baked potatoes were inspired by the baked potatoes we would always get at Ryan’s Buffet and Sweet Tomatoes,” he said. “My mom would put sugar in her baked potato at the buffet. We just thought that was normal, and what you did. The kimchi baked potato in the book was certainly inspired by that.
“I think that’s the point about taste memory and flavor. So much of our memories and experiences in life are tied to sensory stimuli. There are studies that show taste is both smell and what you eat. It’s the olfactory part of it that is connected to the same part of the brain that deals with memory and emotion. That’s why we are so emotional about food.”
Among the places Kim shops when he’s in Atlanta, he declared Buford Highway Farmers Market “so gorgeous.”
“I love going there because the aisles are labeled after different cuisines and cultures. I really love shopping like that,” he said. “I think it’s a way to see the different immigrant communities that are in Atlanta. It tells such a great story. The DeKalb Farmers Market is also really great. There are plenty of H Marts all over the city. It’s where I would currently get my Korean groceries when I come back home.”
One of Kim’s favorite places to eat is Ton Ton at Ponce City Market. “That’s actually one of my favorite bowls of ramen in the world,” he said. “I’ve been to Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto, and had ramen, and I like Ton Ton the best.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, Kim said he might come back home for good one day.
“At the end of the day, what I’m really excited about is someday moving back home to Atlanta,” he said. “That’s kind of a dream I have. Not for the near future. But I think you fully become an adult when you realize that the place you grew up in was actually quite idyllic. I met my partner in Atlanta. Both of our families live in Atlanta. We both live in the Northeast right now, but I think it’s really lovely to have this pull from home.”
These recipes from “Korean American” by Eric Kim illustrate the way Atlanta immigrants fused two different food cultures to create an inventive hybrid cuisine that Kim says “tastes like home.”
Sesame-Soy Deviled Eggs
“These are the deviled eggs I make the most,” Kim writes in his cookbook. “They sort of taste like if you took gyerangbap, or egg rice, and turned it into a single party bite: salty from soy sauce, nutty from sesame oil, and full of deep savoriness from the roasted seaweed. My parents love these because they taste, well, Korean.”
Sesame-Soy Deviled Eggs
- 6 large eggs
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, plus more as needed
- Black sesame seeds, for serving
- 2 small sheets gim, edible seaweed that’s chopped and dried in thin sheets (from a 5-gram packet), for garnish
- In a small pot, place the eggs in a single layer and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately turn off the heat, cover, and set your timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of steeping, pour the hot water out and place the pot under a cold running tap. The eggs should be cool enough to touch now. Crack the bottom of each egg on a hard surface, such as the sink or counter, and return to the cold water, letting them sit for a few seconds.
- Peel the eggs and halve them lengthwise.
- Pop the yolks out into a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise, soy sauce, and sesame oil to the yolks and whisk together until smooth and fluffy. Add more sesame oil if dry. Transfer this filling to a resealable plastic bag and snip off 1 corner of the bag. Pipe the filling into each egg. (If making ahead, cover the eggs and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.)
- Right before serving, sprinkle some black sesame seeds atop each egg. Using kitchen shears, snip the gim into a dozen 1-inch squares and top each egg with a single square.
Makes 12 egg halves.
Per serving: Per egg half: 52 calories (percent of calories from fat, 67), 3 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 94 milligrams cholesterol, 92 milligrams sodium.
Yangnyeom Roast Chicken
“Though you could swap a turkey for this roast chicken, in those earlier Thanksgivings when all the teenagers in my family cooked the big feast on our own, we often just roasted a chicken — sometimes two, if the guest list was long,” Kim writes. “But as an adult, I now find that brushing the sticky, spicy-sweet yangnyeom sauce normally found on Korean fried chicken, makes for an incredible centerpiece bird that glistens red.”
Yangnyeom Roast Chicken
- 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon gochujang
- 1 tablespoon strawberry jam
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 3 large garlic cloves, finely grated
- Heat oven to 425 degrees.
- Place the chicken on a sheet pan (the best vessel for crisping up a roast chicken) breast side up and rub it with olive oil.
- Season all sides, crevices, and inside the cavity with salt and pepper.
- Roast the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the juices at the thigh joint run clear and the meat reaches 165 degrees.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the ketchup, maple syrup, gochujang, strawberry jam, brown sugar and garlic. Set the yangnyeom sauce aside.
- Once the chicken is done roasting, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the bird to a wooden cutting board and rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Brush the chicken with the yangnyeom sauce and carve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 589 calories (percent of calories from fat, 57), 42 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 37 grams total fat (10 grams saturated), 204 milligrams cholesterol, 302 milligrams sodium.
Caramelized Kimchi Baked Potatoes
This sweet baked potato feels like a full meal. You could serve it alongside a side salad or just eat it as is. If you want to make a large party platter of baked stuffed potatoes, use smaller spuds.
Caramelized Kimchi Baked Potatoes
- 4 large Korean yellow or Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 pounds)
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces), chopped
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped Napa cabbage kimchi, store-bought or homemade
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, for serving
- Sour cream, for serving
- Chopped chives, for serving
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Arrange the potatoes on a sheet pan and bake until fluffy and tender on the inside (when checked with a paring knife) and crispy on the outside, about 1 hour.
- In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over medium high heat until crispy, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Crumble and set aside.
- At this point, you can drain some of the bacon fat if there’s a lot more than 1 tablespoon. Over high heat, add the sesame oil and carefully nestle in the kimchi (it may splatter). Season with a pinch of sugar. Stirring occasionally, cook until the kimchi is caramelized and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
- When the potatoes are done, let them cool slightly before handling. Cut a lengthwise slit down the center of each potato and gently press the 2 ends together with your fingers to widen the slit. Use a fork to fluff up the inside of each potato.
- Now, load them up: First sprinkle some more sugar into each potato. (Just trust me! Kim says in his cookbook.) Then top with the mozzarella (it should melt slightly from the heat of the potato), caramelized kimchi, sour cream, cooked bacon pieces and chives.
Makes 4 baked potatoes.
Per serving: Per serving (with all toppings included): 439 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 16 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 20 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 41 milligrams cholesterol, 373 milligrams sodium.
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