SPX review: Banchan in Two Pages

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I had the pleasure to attend the Tasty Comics panel during SPX and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the chefs’ stories about their inspirations for making comics about food.

I was particularly drawn to Robin Ha‘s Banchan in Two Pages. Her comic guides you in one or two pages per recipe through the process of making a variety of Korean dishes. She even provides descriptions of unfamiliar ingredients and prep techniques, using her delightful drawings to take the reader step-by-step through key parts of the recipe.

Ha’s illustrations have crisp, expressive lines that don’t lose any of the details important to making the food look delicious. For example, the drawings for stew recipes could easily devolve into a mess of colors and lines. But Ha’s drawings pick out just the right number of details to emphasize the variety of ingredients and demonstrate how the dish will look after all your labors.

I love Korean food, but it hasn’t been easy to recreate some of the dishes I enjoyed when I lived there. I had never tasted Korean food before I lived in Dangjin, a small town south of Seoul surrounded by rice paddies. My boss’s mom would bring in lunch and dinner for the staff at the English language school where I taught, so my initial exposure to the cuisine was through home cooking.

It wasn’t love at first bite. I came to Korea not liking white rice or tofu because I thought they were both bland, mushy, and pointless. The textures were strange. I felt weird eating gelatinous fat and hard crunchy roots. The flavors were overpowering and pungent. The smell of extra-aged kimchi drifted down the hall whenever it was lunchtime. I struggled for weeks to master metal chopsticks and only managed to feed myself because spoons were available. But week after week of eating food of such intensity and variety, I developed a new range of culinary appreciation.

Eating Korean dishes was my initiation into the food enthusiast club. I had enjoyed food before then, but Korean food awakened me to food as an experience like no other cuisine had. I started to know the difference between high quality rice and lower quality rice. I eagerly chowed down on steamed or fried tofu dishes. I couldn’t identify half the things I was putting in my mouth at times, but they were so flavorful and rich in texture, I couldn’t get enough. Banchan in Two Pages gives readers unfamiliar with Korean food a friendly and approachable introduction to the cuisine.

As I read through the descriptions of dishes I had eaten while in living in Korea, I was surprised how straightforward the preparation was. Ha’s comic helped to demystify some of those processes for me. I’m excited to dig in to her recipes and see if I can recreate some of the flavors and sensations from my time in South Korea.

I’m looking at you black soybeans in soy sauce and Korean chive salad.

 

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