Maangchi, the Korean mother of internet

Maangchi was already a cult figure when she published her first cookbook in 2015. Now, with the release of her second book, Maangchi & # 39; s Big Book of Korean Cooking, she is practically a YouTube legend. Here is a particularly impressive example of her influence: she dakbokkeumtang recipe was recently displayed in one Enjoy your meal video series where a food editor reverse-engineeres recipes from famous chefs based on scent, touch and taste alone. In her monthly newsletter, Maangchi summarizes the video: "They didn't even tell him what food it was, but he tasted it blindfolded, suspected what it was and then made it again. You know, I was surprised he said it tasted like & # 39; something from Maangchi! & # 39;


Since Maangchi (real name: Emily Kim) started its channel in 2007, she has uploaded hundreds of recipe videos that expose Korean food to a global audience. The & # 39; global & # 39; part is not an exaggeration: as soon as she uploads a video, international fans immediately get to work and translate her videos into up to 50 languages. Her videos & # 39; s make cooking accessible to everyone and guide home cooks at every step. And she does it all in a soft, good-humored style that has led fans to her & # 39; mother & # 39; a phenomenon that she noticed a few years ago. "I love it. If you think: & # 39; Oh, she's just like my mother. She reminds me of my mother, it's the best compliment, & # 39; she tells me.

For years, fans have attuned to this her. She is a reassuring presence in her consistency and gives viewers the things they know to expect from a Maangchi video: her distinctive greeting, "Hello everyone!" In her thick, engaging Korean accent. Glitzy outfits, complete with extensive headers. The occasional text that appears on the screen to give personalities to the ingredients with which she cooks. ("Oh, we look good anchovies! :)") But most importantly, she is an authority in Korean cooking – a real ajumma, an affection period for middle-aged Korean auntsThat is what makes her so attractive.

It is a relief when I meet Maangchi in a Starbucks in Manhattan and discover that her real personality is almost exactly as we see her on the internet. She walked in with white stiletto heels on the plateau, and after giving me a warm hug, she ordered a caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream. When her drink appeared, I regretted not living with the same life force and looking sadly at my icy latte.

In her new book, Maangchi writes about how her videos & # 39; s helped everyone, from Korean adopters who wanted to learn more about their cultures to families who lost mothers and were brought together by food to non-Koreans who run and restaurants started with her recipes. Her Twitter feed is filled with retweets of the faithful creations of her followers of her recipes, and her monthly newsletters are full of praise and positive encouragement for her viewers. She writes about a reader's presentation of her recipe: “When I saw Brigitta & # 39; s kimchi pancake photo on her Facebook, I had to make it myself because it looked so good! Many people tell me that I inspire them to cook, but I am also inspired by my readers such as Brigitta. "

The video & # 39; s from Maangchi have made a special connection with immigrants like those who are homesick for the meals they grew up with. I discovered Maangchi one evening at the university, spinning around in my first apartment in San Diego, when I suddenly craved Korean food. It was 2007. I didn't have a smartphone yet, so to get my mother's recipe in Korea, I had to dial an obscene number of numbers via a calling card to make international calls. I wondered if there was an easier, more visual way to learn, so I typed & # 39;Kimchi Jjigae& # 39; On YouTube and found her video & # 39; s.

There was no question whether the recipe would be authentic. The fact that she was one ajumma it meant that it was automatically reliable. I saw her cook everything all over again – gimbap, tteokbokki, soondubu – meals that I had taken for granted and never bothered to learn how to make when I had the chance. It was a revelation to have step-by-step video tutorials on how to make all the food that reminded me of home. It immediately felt like a door had been opened from my kitchen in San Diego to my mother's homemade meals, making the distance seem more manageable. In the weeks that followed, I took photos of all the stews and banchans I made them and sent them to my mother by e-mail as proof: "Look, I don't die from school. I eat well. Everything is good!"


Before Maangchi found her on YouTube, her first encounter with an online community was through the MMORPG City of heroes, which she played obsessively when she lived in Canada. During the day she worked as a family advisor; & # 39; at night she was immersed in her virtual world, leveling her characters and maximizing their statistics. She excitedly remembers after work to play for hours with her internet friends whose names and phone numbers they still have. “My task was usually an attacker. I just always wanted to use my sword and hammer, "she says. Once she was scammed by virtual money. She managed to track down the player to confront him online and discovered that he was only an eight-year-old child.

She continued her day / night routine for three years, sometimes until she was so dizzy that she had to rest, until one day her adult son suggested that she channel her energy into something healthier, such as a YouTube channel. "Maangchi", which means "hammer" in Korean, was the name of one of her characters who she liked to dress in "sexy costumes" when she had enough virtual money. If she had chosen a different character name that day on a whim, we might have gotten a YouTube sensation named Dumok, what & # 39; gangster boss & # 39; means, or Ssang-kal, "Double sword." Maangchi says she has not played a video game since.

Although she has been on YouTube for over ten years, Maangchi's spirit is still full of video & # 39; s ideas. "I have to update the recipes, because if I make a video, this should be the best," she says. She thinks her viewers are customers who deserve the best product, and in return pay & # 39; she her with their love and admiration. "Although they don't pay me directly, their compliments … you can't buy these compliments with money. It's much more than money. Because of their compliments, my self-esteem goes up and I get healthy. My endorphins go up. & # 39;

The enormous breadth of Maangchi & # 39; s recipes means that she has videos about making Korean staples such as kimchi and bulgogi, as well as food that people living in Korea would not necessarily make at home because they are on almost every street corner sold. It never occurred to me that anyone could make it gyeran-ppang (egg bread), a street food that I look forward to the most when I visit Korea, until I saw Maangchi. And that is all part of the can-do attitude that makes her so sweet. For immigrants, if you can't go and eat what you crave the most, she will show you that you can take matters into your own hands to recreate it at home.

It is clear that nostalgia plays a powerful role in what recipes Maangchi decides to make. In a video in which she makes matdongsan, she happily sings the jingle of one 1975 commercial for the crispy peanut crackers. It is a sustainable brand that you can easily get in Korean supermarkets, but commentators say that the homemade version of Maangchi provides a new appreciation for the classic snack. Matdongsan is just one of the many old-fashioned recipes on the Maangchi channel and she explains that her cooking style is influenced by the way she was taught by her mother, aunts and grandmothers.

Based on her preference for traditional recipes I ask her if she has experienced "immigrant timewarp, "The phenomenon described by writer T.K. Park in which "immigrants tend to maintain the way they think and conduct the country when they emigrated." Her eyes light up in recognition and she tells me about the meetings she had in her community of Korean immigrants when she came to America in the 90s. “We had a karaoke night every weekend, but all my songs were old songs that were popular when I lived in Korea. When I got there, the immigrants who had been there twenty years before me, the boys' favorite songs were real great-great-grandmother's songs, & she says, laughing. “Food is the same. I know all the traditional, authentic ways of making things, but sometimes I know what I know about (newer recipes) through my Korean viewers. "

The effects of timewarp on immigrants can be prevented by regularly returning to the motherland, which Maangchi does every few years to visit relatives. But last year, she set out to educate herself in the Korean Buddhist temple kitchen and to contact the Korea Agro-Trade Center to ask if they could help put her in contact with Buddhist monks. The result was a beautiful, healthy video that documented her quiet days of learning in Goun-sa, a Buddhist temple, and the search for root vegetables in the lush mountains of Gyeongsang province.


Vegan temple dishes differ fundamentally from the understanding of most people of Korean food, because it does not use meat, spicy ingredients or anything else that can "over-stimulate" the body and prevent relief. But because Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the country, the cuisine is authentic Korean. The video is especially refreshing because it is one of the few times that Maangchi has left her kitchen comfort zone and we see her as a serious, inquisitive student alongside Wonhae, the Buddhist nun who teaches her the basics of temple cuisine. The usual roles have been reversed – Maangchi is always the teacher of her audience – but seeing this other side of her speaks to the lasting power of her personality. She has been an internet program for more than 12 years, but she can still find ways to change roles.