Five ways to eat kimchi, a Korean staple

More than just a side, the fermented vegetables add a delicious tangy flavour to myriad dishes, from soups to burgers.

By Judy Joo
Published 30 Aug 2019, 13:02 BST
In South Korea, every family has its own kimchi recipe, handed down like an heirloom through ...

In South Korea, every family has its own kimchi recipe, handed down like an heirloom through the generations, says Judy Joo.

Photograph by Getty Images

I’ve been eating kimchi my entire life. I remember my mother washing small bites of kimchi in cold water with chopsticks, freeing it of any spice for my young palate. She’d then feed me tasty mouthfuls of this tangy fermented vegetable with steamed rice. I loved it, and kimchi became a cornerstone of my meals. Its characteristic sour funk still came through even without the chilli flakes, and I’ve been addicted to this unique flavour ever since.

Like a true Korean, as I got older I broadened my kimchi repertoire, eating every type in its unadulterated, fiery state. Although most commonly made from cabbage, kimchi can be made from any fruit or vegetable, and there are more than 180 officially recognised varieties to choose from. Plus, every family has its own recipe, handed down like an heirloom through the generations. Radishes, garlic shoots, perilla leaves and broccoli can all be kimchi-fied, with the dish’s complex signature flavours generally coming from an obscene amount of garlic, fragrant ginger, spicy Korean chilli flakes and umami-packed salted shrimp paste and anchovy sauce. The ingredients mingle and develop through fermentation, creating a moreish, punchy taste as well as a pervasive, usually unwelcome, stench.

I always have kimchi handy when cooking, and it’s vital to my repertoire. I jazz up so many dishes last minute with a smattering of the stuff, whether it’s a garnish for burgers, baked into stuffing or stirred into scrambled eggs, spaghetti or ramen noodles. Once you start using kimchi, I guarantee you’ll always want a jar in your fridge too.

Five ways to use kimchi

1. Sauteed
Kimchi loves pork and you’ll find many traditional Korean dishes showcasing this brilliant combination. Sautee skinless, thinly sliced pork belly with kimchi for a quick, tasty stir fry, and serve with rice.

2. Soup
Use up older kimchi by making it into a soup. Use your stock of choice, mix in the kimchi and its juices, add bean sprouts, courgette slices, tofu, spring onions, beef or pork, and finish with a drizzle of sesame oil.

3. Sauce
Instead of adding gherkins and capers to your tartare sauce, try substituting them for chopped kimchi, along with its juices, for a spicy, tangy twist on this classic condiment. Fish and chips never tasted so good.

4. With cheese
The salty creaminess of cheese works so well with kimchi’s sour flavours, and it’s a combo that’s very much en vogue right now. Stir some into your mac and cheese, or top your next toastie with it.

5. Side dish
The traditional way to eat kimchi is simply as a side dish — in Korea, no meal is complete without at least one serving of the stuff. A humble bowl of steaming white rice, some meat, a side of kimchi, and you’re sorted.

Judy Joo is chef-patron of Jinjuu in London and Hong Kong, and the author of Judy Joo’s Korean Soul Food, published 8 October (White Lion Publishing).

As featured in Issue 6 of National Geographic Traveller Food. 

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