A Kamikaze Kimchee Challenge

Korean Kimchee is not its own best friend. It’s like a newly pubescent teenager who hasn’t discovered acne cream or deodorant. It’s loveable, but approach cautiously.

Kimchee often comes in a clear glass jar, and that jar is jammed to the top with a mashup of white Napa cabbage and red chilies. Slice Art Director Scotty O’Daniel had a good take on what it can evoke.

“It looks like you’d find an eyeball in there.” Scotty hates kimchee.

The fermented Korean national dish’s second drawback is the “kimchee funk.” Its aroma can be spicy sweet, but falls heavily on the pungent/sour side. This smell can speed around a room like a 3-year-old on Blow Pops. After our kimchee judging session, Creative Director Mia Blake propped open a door to air out the office. Mia hates kimchee.

Nonetheless, there are kimchee fanatics out there. It’s a staple dish in Korean-Oklahoman homes. Local Korean restaurants cluster around Tinker Air Force Base, where squadrons of service members got hooked on it while serving in Korea.

Chopped cabbage is the primary ingredient, usually with smaller amounts of daikon radishes, onions and carrots. Spicy-hot dried chilies or paste, garlic, salt and ginger are the typical flavor foundations.

Historically, kimchee was perfected as a winter-storage dish. Buried in frigid ground, fermentation and “good bacteria” growth preserved the nutritious ingredients and enhanced the flavors. Today, kimchee refrigerators mostly fill that role for home preparers.

Slice sought out four locally made kimchees and one national brand for judging. Four adventurous staffers – all kimchee newbies – volunteered. We were looking for crispness, spiciness, aroma and flavor.

Although this is how they ranked on one day, kimchee’s flavors and other characteristics change naturally over time. This week’s ho-hummer can be next week’s wow. 

No. 1

Jeon Ju Korean restaurant
217 S. Sooner Road, Midwest City
Well-balanced flavors. Spicy, mild aroma, good crunch.

No. 2

Vamonos Mexican Grill (yes, Korean-Mexican is available)
125 W. Britton Road, OKC
The least heat. Mild, attractive flavors.

No. 3

Whole Foods
6001 N. Western, OKC
Rejuvenative Foods brand
Heavy ginger. Sweet.
Nontraditional.

No. 4

Mi Ju Oriental Food Market
4404 S.E. 44th, Del City
Very mild.

No. 5

OK Ko-Mart Foods
6000 S.E. 15th, Midwest City
Strong salty taste.

Categories: Eat & Drink, Food Lover’s Guide