Happy Monday intrepid readers! My weekend didn’t turn out anything like I expected it to. I somehow got the idea that I had a ton of stuff lined up and couldn’t for the life of me remember what a whit of it was. So instead, a bohemian Saturday morning lead to questions about the Korea Market, which I had cased a week or so prior. It’s a cute little market in the Mission Village shopping center, having moved I’m told from somewhere in the wicked North. We’ve been short on a couple ingredients I use for my faux Japanese style meals and some of the culinary tales from friends who’ve been to Korea pretty much cemented an afternoon food safari in our itinerary.
Now, I learned the fine art of browsing and bargain hunting from my dear mother. So when I hit a spot for the first time, I’m quite thorough in my snooping and sifting through their capitalist offerings. Like most grocery stores, they also have a small selection of cooking implements, appliances and curios. My two favorites were the oodles of pink salt bricks and hunks for display and plating purposes and the little electric tableside hibachis. Not to mention a fair selection of Korean language movies and shows if that’s up your alley.
But we’re here for food baby! And it’s a wide and weird selection. Absolute tons of red chili paste and powders, a nicely varied selection of rice and noodles, fresh and frozen fish (anchovytastic!). Sauces, oils, lotions, potions, you name it. And dumplings! Frying dumplings, steaming dumplings, boiling dumplings, precooked dumplings…I’m about to have a dumplegasm! Terrestrial meats are more limited, mostly in nicely pre-shaved shabu shabu style beef and pork, or some gorgeous looking unsmoked pork belly, lookin all sexy like a fat slab of unsliced bacon. I refrained from rubbing it up and down my gut like an obese Roman gladiator scraping scented olive oils from my rippling Americanness as to avoid an international incident.
So we trundle home with our goodies and begin to ponder how to turn them into something resembling a meal. We’ve still got some dumplings in the freezer, so gyoza sauce is a must. But we’ve got all these noodly things crying out to be consumed! So the round-eye improvised hot-pot shall be birthed! We’ve got the fresh ramen, some great mushrooms from Sun Smiling, sexily thin beef and tons of seasonings. I think we can make this work!
2 packs fresh Korean ramen noodle soup
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced baby garlic
1 tablespoon minced baby shallot
¼ cup soy sauce
1/8th cup mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1/8th cup rice vinegar
½ teaspoon red chili paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (yuzu preferred)
So, next time you’re in your ‘hood and notice that there’s a little shop opening up that sells munchies from magical and exotic lands. Stop in and snoop around for a bit. Let your inner food nerd get a little high off the strange sights and smells, a sort of metaphorical “moment behind the backstop” if you will. Shout down the little apple polishing bastard and settle in to something a little more simple. Who would ever think to step up to ramen as a delicious exploration into a nation’s food? Ok, probably Koreans and folks from just about any culture where ramen is actually good. Touche. But to Crackey McCrackerson over here, it was quite the revelation to be delightedly tearing through a dish that in other, lesser preparations, I had gone to bed hungry rather than suffer through.
And kim chee! I dunno who though up letting cabbage layered with chiles, spices and anchovies rot in a jar, but I could kiss that stanky breath’d bastard. It’s got this…farty aroma that you notice well before the spicy garlicky notes. Your first taste, it’s dare food. Could be Fear Factor, could be Iron Chef. But after that first bite I was crazy impressed. As I was chewing the crunchy, sour, salty and spicy affair, I immediately noticed a deep craving for a beer. Goodbye salted nuts! Hello fermented cabbage! And it’s got such a great heat level. Not superomfgwheresthemilk hot. It hits a nice medium heat level (on my scale anyway) without going over the top towards actual pain. It’s scary stuff conceptually. Hell, mine burped at me when we opened the jar! It’s ALIVE! But it’s also hella good!
Kickin’ back with my hot cabbage pickles, my spicy shrimp chips and an ice cold beer, I still have no idea what I was supposed to do this weekend. Fuck it, I got me some kim chee.