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Between Two Whales: How China and Japan Influenced Korean Cuisine

  • Museum of Food and Drink 62 Bayard Street Brooklyn United States (map)

As the Korean idiom goes, Korea is positioned between China and Japan like a shrimp between two whales. These two powerful countries have shaped Korean culture and its food through peaceful exchange as well as occupation. From the early influence of Chinese language and religion, to the destabilization of Japanese occupation, and communist China’s support of the current divided state, the cultural and political exchange between the three nations is complicated and ongoing.

Throughout the turmoil, a distinctly Korean hybrid cuisine emerged: the marriage of Northern Chinese and Korean dishes are the crux of modern Korean delivery services today. And Japanese-Western foods have been co-opted by Koreans chefs, becoming staples of comfort food cooking in Korea. These exchanges have fundamentally changed the ways that Koreans eat, from soy sauce manufacturing to rice agriculture.

Join Irene Yoo as she provides the context for the complex history of Korean cuisine, she will then moderate a discussion with Esther Choi, Sohui Kim, and Eric Kim about the impact on their own personal, culinary histories. An informal reception with samples of Korean-Chinese and Korean-Japanese dishes prepared by Yooeating & MOFAD featuring products provided by Gotham Grove will follow.

This program is part of our Global Cultures, Global Cuisines program series.



Irene Yoo runs Yooeating, a Korean-American comfort food pop-up that highlights Korean home-cooking, street food, and drinking culture in relation to other cultural cuisines and comfort foods. She is Detroit-born to Korean immigrant parents, raised on home-cooked Korean meals in California and street vendors in Seoul, and currently residing in Brooklyn.



Chef Esther Choi, owner and founder of New York City’s mŏkbar and partner of Ms. Yoo, is an influential female chef driven by her Korean roots. With a personal passion for introducing New Yorkers to the flavors of Korean culture, Chef Esther’s cooking combines traditional and modern influences with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Inspired by the old-aged techniques of her Korean grandmother’s cooking, Chef Esther believes that food is the ultimate expression of a country’s culture. From its history and social customs, to its language, geography and arts, Chef Esther seeks to offer guests an understanding and appreciation of Korean foods. Chef Esther received formal training at New York’s institute of culinary education and has worked across the kitchens of ilili, La Esquina, and the Food Network. Esther has received numerous awards for her culinary pursuits and was named “New York City’s Culinary Rock star” in Zagat’s 30 under 30.



Sohui was born in Seoul, Korea and lived there until the age of ten, as part of a household where food and entertaining were a regular event. In 1981, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in the Bronx. After acquiring a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College, she was hunting for life’s meaning and discovered her quest for passion. And it was in cooking.

After graduating from Institute of Culinary Education, she started her career with an externship at Blue Hill, and then went on to work at Savoy and Annisa in the West Village, quickly rising through the ranks. After Annisa, she did stints working for the Batali/Bastianich, recipe testing for Cesare Casella, and as a private chef at the Sony Club. In 2005, she was convinced by her husband Ben Schneider to go forth on her own, and together they opened The Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Well over a decade later, Sohui’s highly personal, totally accessible style of cooking has ensured that The Good Fork remains both a beloved neighborhood eatery and a destination restaurant.

In 2015, Sohui opened Insa to a glowing two-star review from Pete Wells of New York Times.  Insa is a Korean BBQ restaurant in Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn that boasts fun Karaoke Rooms as well as a craft cocktail lounge. Sohui has published two cookbooks, The Good Fork Cookbook in 2016 and Korean Home Cooking in the fall of 2018.  She lives in Red Hook Brooklyn with her husband/partner and their two picky eaters.



Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia to Korean immigrants, Eric Kim is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of and a writing instructor at Columbia University, he was featured in The New York Times in 2018 for a piece on cooking for one and only cried a little when he met his hero, Nigella Lawson, earlier that year. He writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in Manhattan with his dog.

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A purveyor of fine food products from Korea, Gotham Grove offers a collection that stay true to tradition and its ingredients. With a focus on natural products made by small producers using Korean grown ingredients, Gotham Grove’s goal is to bring these small producers closer to the US food community by sharing their great products along with the stories behind them. For more information, please visit or follow @gothamgrove.

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Tokki is the first American handcrafted traditional rice soju. The vast majority of sojus on the market have drifted away from traditional ingredients and practices. The most popular brands are often made from harsh chemicals and sweet potato starches. Tokki’s goal is to bring high quality clean soju back to the public using only the best ingredients and no artificial flavors or chemicals. Tokki soju is made from American sticky rice, water, and a traditional yeast that we hand cultivate called nuruk (누룩).

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