The Atlanta subway spots that inspired Eric Kim’s cookbook, Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home
For his first cookbook, Eric Kim originally planned to visit other cities and ask other people’s families what they ate. He had previously published work that touched on the Atlanta area, where he was born and raised: in 2018, for example, writing for Food52, he prefaced a recipe for his mother’s kimchi fried rice with the story of hanging out with his parents over salmon skin rolls and hot sake at Sushi Yoko in Norcross. But Kim, now a New Yorker and columnist for the New York Times– changed the premise of the book during the pandemic, when he spent nine months in confinement with his family in the northern suburbs. “Coming home made me realize how much I was staying in this city that I took for granted until recently,” Kim says.
Korean American: cuisine that tastes like home expands on his family history, which is closely tied to the growing Korean population of the Atlanta metropolitan area, the largest in the South. Kim’s book reinterprets the KFC cookie her father sought out after he arrived in Georgia in 1983. In some recipes, like chicken tacos, jalapeños replace kkwarigochu (aka shishito) peppers because her parents didn’t have access to the latter—at least, until the neighborhood H Mart arrived. The Crispy Lemon Pepper Bulgogi is, of course, inspired by “Atlanta’s deep and passionate Lemon Pepper fan base.” And the dessert chapter begins with the story of White Windmill, the local bakery chain and gathering place for Korean immigrants like Kim’s mother, Jean.
“This book isn’t just about Jean, my family, or Korean American cuisine,” Kim writes. “It’s also a love letter to Atlanta. A place, a feeling, an era. I asked him to tell me about some spots in the Atlanta area that inspired me korean american.
[State Route] 141 is our yellow brick road. You go through Oasis [Goodtime Emporium] and Krystal, who is so good when you’ve had a little drink. Good to have these staples, and Sushi Yoko was our staple. My parents work on Buford Highway, and our church was there, so it was always on the way. My mother used to say, “I don’t feel like working today. Should we stop at Sushi Yoko? I’m like “Yeah!” and she would make an abrupt right to go. 7124 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Norcross
It’s fun to do the stupid hibachi dance and have shrimp thrown in your mouth. But really, the reason I like going there is because of that high heat, like with the kalbi. You can only get that kind of char on the zucchini and onions there because of that fire on that griddle. 10820 Abbotts Bridge Road, Duluth
Sumo Hibachi & Wings
Korean fried chicken stays crispy because it’s double fried and the sugar in the candy glazes a bit. It’s like [Aunt Georgia’s] Fried chicken with soy sauce [with Jalapeños] in my book. But Sumo’s glaze is special. They use pepper and lemon juice, but what they do is different is they use lemon extract. Koreans make fruit syrups by letting the fruit harden with sugar for a long time. If you cook lemon juice and reduce it, it loses that shine. So, it’s great to use this Korean syrup. 5450 Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Corners, 678-691-5884
During the pandemic, we were ordering their sushi platters. But once there, you order the set menu. They give you hobakjuk first – I love this porridge because it’s pure kabocha squash taste. You might have it at your grandma’s house, but no one else does it anymore because it takes forever. They take out the albap, which I have a version of in my book. Theirs is basic, which is the best, honestly: it’s rice, sesame oil and multicolored flying fish eggs, where each egg has a different flavor. 5715 Buford Highway, Doraville
Buford Highway Farmer’s Market
I started my job [at the Times] in Atlanta in February . I was testing recipes for my colleague, Nigerian food writer Yewande Komolafe. I had to find red palm oil, really specific root vegetables, and ingredients that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. Buford Highway Farmers Market isn’t just a place to buy these things; it’s a place where these communities also have that connection to their home. 5600 Buford Highway, Doraville
Plate Japchae with Roasted Wild Mushrooms
For 4 to 6 people
8 ounces dried dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles)
1 pound wild mushrooms, such as oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms (stems removed) and chanterelles, torn into bite-sized pieces
5 large green onions, cut into 3-inch lengths
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1 large garlic clove, finely grated
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving
- Place a rack as close to the broil element as possible and preheat the broil.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the dangmyeon according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, arrange the mushrooms and green onions on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Broil and roast until deeply caramelized and crispy, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully. Remove the skillet from the oven and season with salt and pepper.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, maple syrup and garlic. When the noodles are cooked, drain them and add them directly to the plate with the roasted mushrooms. Pour the dressing over the noodles and toss everything together with tongs.
- To serve, transfer the japchae to a large platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Crunchy Lemon Pepper Bulgogi with Pickled Shallots
For 4 people
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon demerara sugar (like raw sugar)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound thinly sliced ribeye (or other meat for bulgogi-style dishes; see Tip)
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rounds
Fresh coriander leaves and tender stems, lots
Cooked white rice, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 170°F.
- Spread the lemon zest evenly on a baking sheet and bake until completely dry, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and shallots in a small bowl, season with salt, toss and set aside to marinate quickly.
- Add the dried lemon zest and black peppercorns to a spice grinder or mortar/pestle and grind until coarse. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 1 tsp salt, demerara sugar and garlic powder.
- Use a paper towel to pat the meat dry and spread it out on a cutting board or baking sheet in a single layer. Season both sides with lemon pepper.
- Heat a large grill pan or skillet until very, very hot (you can see a wisp of smoke rising from the surface) and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the bulgogi to the pan in a single layer and cook until crispy and golden brown, about 1 minute on the first side and literally a few seconds on the second. You may need to work in batches so as not to overload the pan. Transfer to a plate and garnish with the pickled shallots, jalapeño and cilantro. Serve with white rice.
Point If you can’t find bulgogi-style beef, you can make it yourself: place a boneless rib eye in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up, then thinly slice it with a sharp knife.
Sheet-by-sheet version Instead of searing in a pan, you can actually drizzle the meat with a little oil and grill it on the top rack until crispy and nicely browned, 2-3 minutes (watch it carefully so that it does not burn). This will only work with very hot broilers. If you think this is not the case, stick to the pan-frying method in the recipe.
Recipes reprinted from korean american. Copyright © 2022 Eric Kim.
This article originally appeared in our May 2022 issue.