Eatn Korean kimchi

Published on September 16th, 2017

18

Sorry Kimchi – It’s Not You, It’s Me

Eating Chicken Feet in LaosMost anyone who knows me (especially if they’ve wandered by my side as I grazed the street food in some back alley in a far-away land) will attest that I will unhesitatingly eat most anything and everything – no matter how strange or exotic.

Delicious snails in Chefchaouen, MoroccoNosireee, I’m not the least bit put-off by 4-alarm spicy, nor squeamish about any and all manner of street-food.  Indeed, I actually prefer to SEE how my vittles are being cooked, than hope that the folks behind the Applebee’s kitchen wall aren’t collectively picking their noses whilst tossing my salad.

From boiled silk-worms in Thailand, to crispy chicken feet in Laos.  Grilled crickets in Vietnam, to a tiny Moroccan street cart offering delectable steamed snails in Chefchaouen (I returned every night for a week to pluck them from their tiny striped shells with the point of a safety-pin!)  Roasted “cuy” (a.k.a. your childhood pet in the U.S.) here in Ecuador, horse meat in France, and mopane worms in South Africa (served at one of the finest upscale restaurants in Johannesburg).  In short – if it’s on offer as edible, by golly I’ll try it!

Thus it’s not at all surprising that – when I recently read that a new Korean restaurant serving kimchi had opened here in Cuenca, my foodie radar went on red-alert.  That the address was coincidentally just around the corner from my apartment here in El Centro? Suffice it took less than 24 hours and I was standing on their doorstep.

A new Korean restaurant serving authentic kimchi opened up here in Cuenca, Ecuador

I’d already had lunch before I arrived, so I wasn’t up for a Korean full-meal-deal, but rather – it was solely the kimchi I was after.  I’ve always favored any and all things pickled, but had never gotten the chance to try this legendary Korean delicacy.  So I ordered kimchi “para llevar” (“to go”) to take home and eat with my dinner.  She asked me how “picante” I wanted it, and I hesitated.  As a nascent kimchi gourmet, I figured I’d best err on the side of caution so… I responded “solo un poco picante, por favor.” (only a little spicy, please).

Korean kimchi

a dish of Korean kimchi

And the verdict?

BLEH!!!

 
 
Seriously.  Before diving in I could see that the cabbage was verily *swimming* in chili pepper seeds.  So I was forewarned that it would likely be uber “picante”.  I even deftly scraped away all but the juice on a tiny piece of cabbage, before lifting it to my mouth and carefully sliding it onto my waiting tongue.

Still.

It was utterly TASTELESS, but for the heat of the chili pepper.  I tried a second bite – again patiently extracting as much of the peppery seeds and juice as possible in hopes of discerning just why this traditional cabbage dish is so beloved (leastwise by Koreans).

No dice.  Still as flavorful as crunchy cardboard, save for the heat.

Oh I’ll go back and have a proper lunch or dinner at “Mi Mamá Coreano” to sample some of the other dishes on their menu.  But what with all the many other yummy choices here in Cuenca (Vietnamese pho, Thai phad tai, Japanese sushi, Swiss fondue, French crepes, et al, not to mention the delish Ecuadorian specialties – succulent hornado and encebollado soup, I’m lookin’ at YOU! – I’m afraid that a passionate love-affair with fermented cabbage is not in my future.  Sorry kimchi – it’s not you, it’s me.

What about you – have you tried Korean kimchi?  Did you like it?
 


 

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



18 Responses to Sorry Kimchi – It’s Not You, It’s Me

  1. Joe says:

    I think you got a sub-par kimchi. Flavorless has never been a word I would use to describe any kimchi I have eaten. We just moved to Cuenca from FL and we had a local woman that made it there and it was full of flavor. So much so that my wife would leave the room when I opened the jar!

    • Dyanne says:

      Well first of all: “vienvenido” – welcome to Ecuador, Joe!

      And given that you’ve settled here in Cuenca – do check out the kimchi at Mi Mamá Coreano (on north side of Calle Sucre, a half block east of Mariano Cueva), and let me know what you think. As a novice kimchi eater, I have no idea if my first sample was typical or not.

  2. Elaine Ness says:

    I too saw the announcement of the new restaurant, but since I don’t live in Cuenca I can’t visit it very soon. As for kimchi: love, love, love it. I lived in Korea for many years and tasted all varieties of it. The one pictured in your post seems to be the most common one.

    Koreans don’t eat it separately. I did though. 🙂 I could eat it, “cun yang” or “as is.” That made my Korean friends laugh. It is eaten with rice, in particular, seaweed, and lots of other foods. When I came back to the U.S. friends used to make some for me and later, I bought it at the grocery store in a 2-pint jar for an exorbitant price. We had a second refrigerator next to the dryer in our downstairs, and that’s where I stored it, encased in a plastic bag to hold in the garlic smell. I kept a fork down there to fish out a piece or two to gobble while I folded clothes.

    In Korea, one of my fondest memories was “Kim Chang” in the Fall when family women got together and prepared the winter kimchee. Outside in the yard, heads of cabbage were readied and then the garlic, and red pepper and whatever else they used, were put in between the cabbage leaves and then put into jars to ferment. There was more to it than that. It was a big production. City people buy theirs now, but I imagine the country folk still do it the traditional way.

    So now you have me curious to see what the new place has to offer. I haven’t liked every batch of kimchi I have ever tried. So, we shall see.

    • Dyanne says:

      The Kim Chang tradition sounds wonderful Elaine. Now *that* I’m sure I would enjoy – even if I’d have to pass on the kimchi. And yes, when you visit Cuenca, do give Mi Mamá Coreano’s a try.

  3. I’d heard so much about kimchi that when I recently visited South Korea I absolutely tried it. Once. Twice. Three times. And I disliked it each time. I kept hoping it would be one of those “it grows on you” experiences but no. Like you, I felt I was eating cardboard wrapped in chillies. I’m not a huge pickle lover to begin with and I usually just “tolerate” them but this, no. Sorry, kimchi, it’s not just Dyanne. It’s me too.
    Leyla Giray Alyanak kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Sep 4, How to Fund Your Travels with Overseas JobsMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Good to know it’s not just me, Leyla. I actually *do* like most anything pickled, but yes, that slathering of chilies made my sample inedible. Sorry kimchi, I guess for some of us, we’re destined to be star-crossed lovers.

  4. A very clever title, Dyanne! I remember tasting kimchi years ago and being, almost literally, blown away! You’ve reminded me that I need to try this Korean staple again sometime and see what I think now. Sometimes, age and a spirit of adventure are all it takes to find a new food you like – or to confirm that your first impression was right! 😁
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    • Dyanne says:

      By “blown away” – I gather you mean that not in a good way, yes Anita?

      And yes, yes – it’s all about the spirit of adventure. Ever keeping an open mind. I too shall give kimchi another go – though next time with a little (*lot*) less chili seed!

  5. Leslie in Oregon says:

    A Japanese colleague sent a jar home with my father when I was a child. It smelled so incredibly awful that none of us could stand the thought of tasting it. Because of the strong impression left by that smell, I have yet to try kimchi (even though I too am willing to taste almost anything edible (excepting animals that have been my companions, including horses).

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Leslie, grilled childhood pets from our native lands are a tough sell when traveling (many of the expats here in Ecuador wouldn’t dream of eating “cuy” (guinea pig). But then – a hamburger makes folks from India gag, and ditto a pork chop to an Egyptian.

      Interesting the intense smell of kimchi made such an impression on you as a child. The dish I tried here didn’t seem to smell much at all. I guess yours was an especially old/fermented jar of kimchi. I guess we both need to give it a go another time.

  6. Lee Jacobs says:

    Oh, yes, Dianne, our kimchi was definitely pickled! I like most everything pickled, and rather enjoyed the kimchi after we’d gotten the heat down about ninety percent.

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes, yes Lee – as you suggested, I rinsed it to remove all the chili seeds, and… indeed, the cabbage alone was nicely pickled! I guess the chili was just so overpowering I couldn’t even taste the pickled cabbage. Rinsed, I actually LIKE it. Thanks for the tip!

  7. A Korean friend told me Kimchi is all about the sauce, with the cabbage merely a delivery method. I don’t eat it alone, but do like it when eating a bit of it on the same forkfull with meat. Never had any that was too hot.

    • Dyanne says:

      So you actually like it, Bill? I actually like cabbage, but even as a side condiment, this stuff was as tasty as hot cardboard. I guess I’ll have to try it elsewhere – though I dare say my first tasting doesn’t exactly inspire a trip to South Korea. 😉

      • I like it in the same manner I like pickle chips or jalapeno slices or chutney, in that I don’t eat it by its self, but would miss it if if it wasn’t there to accompany some foods. Also, for the kimchi I’ve had, best way to describe the cabbage is limp in the thin parts, rubbery in the thick. No cardboard.

        • Dyanne says:

          Yes Bill – thanks to Lee’s tip on rinsing most all the chili seeds off, it’s actually nicely pickled with just a hint of heat.

  8. Lee Jacobs says:

    Yes, I tried real Korean kimchi. We were living in Newport, Oregon, in the ’60’s & had a business there. A Korean ship was in dock, and we met some of the ship’s crew as well as the Captain. We invited them to dinner, and they brought us a large jar of kimchi from the ship’s kitchen. After a bite, I don’t think my taste buds recovered for days! Bet that stuff could keep a sailor warm in the worst of high seas storms! We kept it in the fridge for a year or so, occasionally sampling it again. After many tries, we ran it through several rinses, and tried it again. It really was good, though still hot enough to have earned the name ‘kimchi’!

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Lee, I can understand the 12-alarm heat factor, but I was hoping it would also have a tasty pickled flavor of some sort. No such luck with my sample here in Cuenca.

      So you say it was actually really good when you thoroughly rinsed all the red pepper off? Interesting – I’ve still got the remains here – maybe I’ll give that a try.

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