Sunday, February 23, 2014

Korean Love

When I was 10, my family moved from Taiwan to Hong Kong. My parents decided to put my sister and I into a Canadian international school. The study body at this school was 5% foreign-born Canadians and 95% children of Asian expats who spoke little English. Naturally, cliches of various nationalities formed. There were only a couple of Taiwanese kids at the school, and somehow I ended up hanging out with the Koreans. It was the beginning of my love for Koreans food.

My best friend in elementary school was Korean. I envied her lunch of kimchi and different pickled vegetables, Korean sushi (not to e confused with Japanese sushi!), flavorful beef slices over rice. Every lunch, she had an assortment of containers for each side dish. While mine was one-box-fits-all-leftover lunch. I remember looking forward to her birthday party when I was in 5th grade, I wondered all day what Korean dish was going to be served. It was chicken wings from KFC. Big disappointment.

I requested Korean barbecue whenever my family goes out to eat and I was ecstatic when my family took a vacation in Seoul in 2002 right after the World Cup. I ate as much kimchi as I could, along with the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted. Though similar ingredients as Chinese cooking, there is just something about the ways the flavors are brought with the fermentation and spiciness.

Since I moved to the United States 10 years ago, my only time for another hearty Korean meal was in San Francisco. Satisfying, yes. The thought of having ten side dishes in front of me with a bowl of boiling Soondubu Jjigae (kimchi tofu stew)...hmmm...

For my birthday this year, I requested Han Woo Ri, a "fast Korean food" restaurant on Limestone in Lexington. Despite its positive reviews on, the dishes somehow hit the flavor spot but greasy. There was no side dishes, spiciness was zero. Another disappointment. So I do as what foodies do, I make Korean food. Surprisingly easy, my first batch of homemade kimchi brought all the childhood memories of playing with a group of Korean girls and eating lunch with my best friend. Yes, fermented and spicy napa cabbage brought me good memories. Isn't that why we eat?

Recipe from

1 (2-pound) napa cabbage
1/2 cup kosher salt
About 12 cups cold water, plus more as needed
8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
2 teaspoons Korean salted shrimp, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2-inch pieces, discarding the root end. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss with your hands until the cabbage is coated. Add enough cold water to just cover (about 12 cups), making sure the cabbage is submerged (it’s OK if a few leaves break the surface). Cover and let sit in room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.

2. Place a colander in the sink, drain the cabbage, and rinse with cold water. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.

3. Place remainder ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.

4. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands until evenly combined and the cabbage is thoroughly coated with the mixture.

5. Pack the mixture tightly into a clean 2-quart or 2-liter glass jar with a tightfitting lid and seal the jar.

6. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 24 hours (the mixture may bubble). Open the jar to let the gases escape, then reseal and refrigerate at least 48 hours before eating (kimchi is best after fermenting about 1 week). Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
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