At lunch I sat looking down at my food in awe. Cafeteria food, globally, is not generally looked upon in a favorable light.
Thankfully, my school happens to frequently turn out dishes that are above par, at least in comparison to my “french fries and burgers” upbringing in Canadian public schools.
The reason I was so enthralled was because of the ribs. A cafeteria that serves ribs is rather rare in itself, but these particular set of ribs on my plate had a one-up on any that I had eaten previously.
They had been steam cooked in kimchi. Yep. Kimchi ribs. Doongdalbi Kimchi Jjim (등갈비김치찜) to be precise. At it was pretty much the best goddamned thing I’d ever eaten in the teacher’s cafeteria.
And I guess that pretty much sums up one of the core values of Korean cooking. When in doubt, cook it in kimchi. The phrase has been rattling around in my brain all afternoon. Cook it in kimchi. As if some zen-like culinary mantra. Because it almost always works.
In Itaewon (이태원), Seoul’s international neighborhood, a phenomenal Mexican restaurant by the name of Vatos Urban Tacos serves kimchi fries. Sure, at first blush it sounds like a rather forced marriage between east and west. But the way that the kimchi sauce smothers the fries, and consummates a ménage à trois with tender pulled pork; its almost sexual.
Cook it with kimchi.
Don’t like tofu? Give dubu kimchi (두부 김치) a shot. The fire and fermentation of sauteed kimchi with pork (or even better, Tuna) offsets otherwise bland boiled tofu. It’s a classic drinking companion in the ROK, and goes great with makgeolli (막걸리) or Dongdongju (동동주), two great rice based wine-like drinks that are possibly the best Korea has to offer.
Cook it with kimchi.
Bland rice? Spice it up with some kimchi, gim (김) and maybe some gochujang (고추장) and you’ve got yourself a nice fried rice mixture. And it’s even better if you burn that bottom layer. Trust me.
I could, of course, go on forever about the possible kimchi combinations, but I think I’ve made the point. Just cook it with kimchi.