On Kimchi
June 12, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

These days, spice is integral to ideas of kimchi in both the West and Korea—it’s always a funny game trying to convince various restaurant ladies here that I can, in fact, eat kimchi without spewing two ribbons of fire from my nostrils, thereby singing the wallpaper and confirming their suspicions that we white folks are just a bunch of food pussies. “Maeun-kot” (“spicy shit!”), they say, making flamey-flamey motions with their hands; “Yes,” I say, “Maeun umshik-ul chal mogoyo” (“I can eat spicy food, no lie, please stop looking at me like I’m a recalcitrant goat who’s about to try to eat a roll of barbed wire”).
posted by jason's_planet (64 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, dude. I hated kimchi so much when I was a kid that I've been avoiding it for something like twenty years. I have no idea now what it tasted like at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:16 AM on June 12, 2008

I have a friend whose parents are from India. Her mother makes the best Indian food I have ever tasted in my life. But they always warn me when things will be very hot or spicy, and then I taste the food and it tastes fine. There was one dish in particular that they (and some of their friends from India) were sort of just watching me eat, and one friend finally remarked "you... like spicy food?"

RACISM, man. Racism. The fact that I'm all Irish doesn't mean I like or prefer bland food. I used to make roast beef and Tabasco sauce sandwiches for lunch almost every day for lunch in Elementary school. It'd soak through the bread. I live for spicy foods.

But I haven't had Kimchi yet. And this guy has inspired me to fix that.

There's one bit I have a problem with.

spewing two ribbons of fire from my nostrils, thereby...confirming their suspicions that we white folks are just a bunch of food pussies

I don't think reacting to spicy foods makes you a food pussy. I think the mark of someone who really likes spicy foods is the guy who spews fire from his nose and smoke from his ears... and then takes another bite. And then finishes the dish. And then, shirt soaked with sweat and with mouth on fire, asks for seconds.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:18 AM on June 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

I think the mark of someone who really likes spicy foods is the guy who spews fire from his nose and smoke from his ears... and then takes another bite. And then finishes the dish. And then, shirt soaked with sweat and with mouth on fire, asks for seconds.

That guy is probably also great in bed. ;)
posted by rokusan at 10:26 AM on June 12, 2008

My boyfriend complains miserably when I make a batch of kimchi. To me the smell is wonderful, especially after the initial fermentation is done. And nothing, nay nothing, is more delicious than a steaming bowl of kimchi jjigae on a cold day, made with a particularly strong batch of homemade. I adore it, also, in pancakes. It is an amazing and delicious food. I can understand the national obsession!

I'm currently obsessed with South Indian food, though. I have exchanged one spicy cuisine for another. :swoon: I like it hot. :)
posted by hecho de la basura at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2008

Mmmm, kimchi!

For those who truly love extreme spicy heat, may I recommend food from Sichuan? I have relatives who can pack away SuperDuperDeluxeExtraDoubleGoodHot food, and they all say Sichuanese food is the apex of burning. I'm not sure myself, the one "Five Chili" Sichuan dish I tried made my mouth numb.

(Sichuan's still a mess. So much tragedy.)
posted by illiad at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2008

That guy is probably also great in bed. ;)

Maybe once he gets off the toilet, but that won't be for hours and he'll be walking a little funny.
posted by dersins at 10:42 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to work with a Korean guy who grew up on his mother's cooking. When we went out for lunch at a Thai restaurant, he'd always order something hot. They'd ask him how hot he wanted it, on a scale of 1-10, and he'd answer "20".
posted by Class Goat at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe once he gets off the toilet, but that won't be for hours and he'll be walking a little funny.

ANOTHER sure indicator. :)
posted by rokusan at 10:44 AM on June 12, 2008

I'm always down for spicy food, but my ego got the best of me one day when I went out on a first date with this girl. I'd already boasted that I could handle any spicy food, and she just kind of rolled her eyes.

We went to one of those Tapioca joints where they serve spicy chicken, and I usually ordered a 5 (a 1-5 scale) with little problem. I'd heard about a secret "6" they served, but no, I had to prove myself. I told the guy at the counter, "Hey man, let me get the chicken...at a 7!" The guy was unimpressed and the girl just smiled and shook her head.

When the chicken came out, it was blood red. I took a bite, and my lips immediately went numb. I choked back the tears and surreptitiously stole sips from my drink. By the third piece, I had already finished my beverage, my face was bright red, and I was sweating buckets. Yet I persisted in my nonchalance. "Whew, these summer days are hot, look how quickly I downed my drink...I'm gonna get another." The girl crossed her arms and smiled amusedly at me.

You know how dogs pant with their mouths open to maintain body temperature on hot days? That was me while I was trying to talk to her. "So...what did you ..... think of the movie?...."

I finally caved in. "Holy hell this shit is hot. I can't stand it." I threw the rest away, and thought the whole ordeal was one of the cutest displays she'd ever seen.

And I would have brought her home, but my gastrointestinal tract reminded me to tell her I had an early class the next day.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 10:47 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the mark of someone who really likes spicy foods is the guy who spews fire from his nose and smoke from his ears... and then takes another bite. And then finishes the dish. And then, shirt soaked with sweat and with mouth on fire, asks for seconds.
Hey, that was me Saturday night! We ate Korean barbecue, about 20 of us at a long table filled with all sorts of kim chi and sauces and pickles and such--I think it was something like 18 different dishes. Yummy. Anyone in the greater DC area who wants to try it, lemme know, and I'll join you.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:01 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got nothin' against kimchi. In fact, I quite enjoy it (as well as other super -spicy foods), but not when a plastic container of it I am bringing to my father (who is stranded in a small town without access to Asian foods) bursts in my suitcase, soaking all my clothes in fermented cabbage liquid.
posted by Fennel B. at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2008

And then, shirt soaked with sweat and with mouth on fire, asks for seconds.

I know this person. I've gone out to eat with them and sat in amazement as they wolfed down plate after plate of food that the mere smell of which had my eyes watering and watched as they pointed to the empty space and nodded to the waiter indicating "Hell yeah, I want another".

And then I watched the guys we were there with, feel the need to compete with the very tiny Hmong girl who we watched just eat three plates of the hottest food the restaurant had to offer.

I've watched these guys come to realize that there is very little competing with someone who grew up eating dishes this spicy. At best they could hold their own, at worst...

Well, I won't go into what happens at worst.
posted by quin at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never had kimchi, but I did have the owner of an Ethiopian restaurant come to my table and try to convince me that I really didn't want to eat what I had ordered. Not only was it raw beef (like steak tartare), but spicy. Really spicy. "I'll make it mild for you" No, no, I love spice. I eat spicy food all the time. "Ok, but I'll make it just a little mild for you." Really, I love spice, I have a high tolerance for heat. "Ok, so I'll make it just a little mild for you."

The food came and was tasty, although a little mild (just like he promised), and I'll never go back to that restaurant again.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:11 AM on June 12, 2008

mmmmmmm food pussy *oops, was that out loud?*
posted by BaxterG4 at 11:13 AM on June 12, 2008

Oh yeah, he also tried to convince me to let him cook my steak tartare. "It's raw, you know. I'll cook it for you. And make it mild." Ugh.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2008


I also like pussy


We should totally be bros
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:18 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reading this and [url=http://www.walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2008/04/10/stuff-korean-people-like/]another article[/url] made me terribly nostalgic for the land of my ancestors.

I also couldn't stop laughing at the dd'ongchim part, something I remember quite well as a child.
posted by qcubed at 11:19 AM on June 12, 2008

I also couldn't stop laughing at the dd'ongchim part, something I remember quite well as a child.

The needle?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:20 AM on June 12, 2008

My boyfriend complains miserably when I make a batch of kimchi. To me the smell is wonderful

Oh, man, that brings back life at the New Haven apartment house the denizens called the Babcock Arms (run by an ancient lady called Mrs. Babcock who didn't realize rents had gone up in the last couple of decades and kept hers at $25/week); just down the hall from me was a Korean guy who made his own kimchi. How I hated that smell! If he hadn't been such a nice guy I'da... well, just cursed to myself anyway, I guess.

my ego got the best of me one day

That story reminded me of the time my first wife wanted to prove her fortitude and started chowing down on a plate of hot peppers. After the third one she was pretty much the way you describe yourself. It was hilarious to everyone but her.
posted by languagehat at 11:39 AM on June 12, 2008

I think you mean, Metafilter's Own KimChi.

Also, I love kimchi and will no doubt to make my own if this year's cabbage crop turns out.
posted by stet at 11:40 AM on June 12, 2008

Thanks for posting this. I regularly make sauerkraut, and have been meaning to give kimchi a go for some time now.

For those of you looking for some good hot pepper schaudenfreude, watch this.
posted by cog_nate at 11:50 AM on June 12, 2008

articwoman, kitfo is one of my favorite things ever. I get "warned" that it's raw, too, but at least here they believe me when I tell them that I know about the raw and the spice.
posted by desuetude at 11:50 AM on June 12, 2008

It's just a spicy pickle (and not always spicy, even - my favorite, mul kimchi, is slices of lightly pickled radish swimming in sour, smooth, icy brine you're meant to take a spoonful of once in a while). No more offensive than sauerkraut. The long-buried, super-potent stuff is a little fierce and muddy even for me, but fresh kimchi is almost effervescent with fermentation action, tangy, wilty-crunchy, spicy.

It is excellent in place of pickles on a medium-rare burger.

It goes shockingly well with blue cheese.

It's also good in my mom's favorite empty-cupboard dinner, kimchi bokkumbap (kimchi fried rice) - mince some meat and some baechu kimchi, stir-fry with leftover rice. Top with a thin sheet of omelet. Good home-from-the-bars-nothing-in-the-house food.

So I love kimchi, but yeah, even we acknowledge that it can be a little intense. Lots of people have a separate kimchi fridge - not just because the smell takes over, but because gas buildup can cause the brine to bubble up and over a jar lid. The cabbage, peppers, and vinegar are often seasoned with pulverized shrimp or anchovies or even oysters - there's a lot going on in there.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:56 AM on June 12, 2008

Argh. I love spicy food from all over the globe, but to this date I can't eat kimchi.

I'm going to have to try again, I suppose. I can eat heaping spoonfuls of wasabi straight. I like horseradish. I like my salsa so hot it'll etch metal. When presented with a "how spicy do you want it?" scale I have to resist ordering off the charts. I once ate a fresh habenero, seeds and all - probably one of the spiciest things I've ever eaten. My lips actually were swollen and I had trouble breathing for the rest of the day. I like saurkraut. I even like natto. I'll eat various yogurts and other fermented foodstuffs.

But kimchi? It smells like my compost bucket! What the hell is wrong with you people!?
posted by loquacious at 11:58 AM on June 12, 2008

I had my "too hot" moment in Maine, of all places. There was a jar of pickled peppers sitting on the bar, stuffed with prosciutto - I'd never seen one before, but my wife was all "You're from Oklahoma! You can eat spicy food!" so I popped a couple in my mouth while the locals chuckled and watched the flatlander turn bright red from the habanero.
posted by yhbc at 12:01 PM on June 12, 2008

I discovered Kimchi during my year in Korea...I learned to like it...not "love" it, but like it... I think the negative vibe for it came from getting into too many tiny Korean taxi's right after lunch... during the summer, sure, not a problem, during the winter with the windows up... nope....
posted by HuronBob at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2008

If the kimchi gets a little hot for you, you could always cool your mouth down with a few spoonfuls of durian.
posted by kozad at 12:16 PM on June 12, 2008

My high school roommate Beom Seok (pronounced "Bum Suck" no lie) kept fresh kimchi in my miniature dorm fridge my whole Senior year. All throughout college and well into my twenties anything kept in that fridge tasted and smelled like pickled cabbage after a few hours in that thing. Thanks Beom Seok wherever you may be. Oh, and thanks for introducing me to the tasty treat that is pickled grasshoppers, yum!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2008

If the kimchi gets a little hot for you, you could always cool your mouth down with a few spoonfuls of durian.

Oh, that'll help. Follow up spicy, pickled, fermented stuff that smells like my compost bucket with a fruit that has all the sex appeal of a sun-bloated, rotting corpse. One of the fridges at my place still smells vaguely of durian. The last time there was durian in there was about 6 months ago!

God I sound like a whiny, prissy little bitch. I like weird, diverse food, I swear. I'll eat insects. I'll try anything at least once, and, well, I've tried kimchi a dozen times and durian twice and I still dislike them so much it makes my toes curl!
posted by loquacious at 12:24 PM on June 12, 2008

I love Kimchi. It's just the right accompaniment to a nice meal, not too spicy, not too bland. If Kimchi is too hot then stay away from Thai food, and watch what you order at an Indian restaurant. If you need to kick up your meal a notch, try a drop or two of Jersey Death. (really, don't do that, that sauce is just insane)
posted by caddis at 12:32 PM on June 12, 2008

Yes, Durian deserves its own thread but there have been a couple durian threads over the years on MeFi.

I opened up some durian in an Aesthetics class once (you can imagine the point I was trying to make)...I had to have to next couple of classes meet outside that day until the room aired out.

Haven't had it? Been told it tastes better than it smells? Not much. Think rotten, garlickly mango if you've never had it. Of course, some swoon by it, as in the link I added above.
posted by kozad at 12:34 PM on June 12, 2008

Durian tastes like a slice of vidalia onion dipped in the fresh shit of a baby fed on nothing but lentils. It's smell is worse.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:39 PM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Durian also has the look of lung and the texture of custard. Mmm, lung custard. Lung custard that smells like the gaseous emissions from a bloated corpse.

That said, durians also taste wildly different one from another, and connoiseurs will talk about them much as others would talk about wine. I have had some durian that I liked, but only when I actually was in Malaysia and the durian was fresh as fresh can be.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:50 PM on June 12, 2008

You know what's really good?

This kimchi-covered, bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog, that what.
posted by neroli at 12:53 PM on June 12, 2008

Way to make a guy feel homesick, bastards.

posted by kittyprecious at 12:58 PM on June 12, 2008

But kimchi? It smells like my compost bucket! What the hell is wrong with you people!?

This is true but there are as many recipes for kimchi as there are people who make it. If you keep trying it you may come across some that is more to your liking. Personally the "normal" ones made with fish sauce and/or fish are not to my liking. Fish sauce free is much better I think though heresy to many. Homemade is generally better (in my experience), too. After many months and trying kimchi about 15 times my boyfriend (absolutely NOT someone inclined to diverse food) actually found himself *liking* it.
Man, this thread is giving me some serious kimchi craving.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2008

I live in Vancouver. Halfway between Korea and Quebec. Where is my kimchi poutine, damnit.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:12 PM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh man, kimchi is one of those things of which I was always a little wary, but wound up loving. I love anything spicy. If I order curry and it's too hot to eat, you've done a good job, so far as I'm concerned. There's a Thai restaurant in my hometown called Tiny Thai whose name describes it perfectly. Maybe six or seven tables, one waitress, one busboy, impossible to be seated on a Friday or Saturday without being very lucky. Being so tiny, of course, and run by Thais, there's a bit of a language barrier with the waitstaff. I ordered drunken noodles one night when I felt like something spicy. She asked me, "how many pepper?"

Assuming that she meant the one-two-three spiciness indicators from the menu, I asked for three. She said, "I can give you five, six." I said, sure, six, sounds good. Then something flipped in her brain. She turned over her order pad and frantically wrote on the cardboard backing, "30." Told me she could give me up to thirty peppers.

Okay, I said, give me twenty-five. She reacted in horror and backpedaled. Fine, lady, don't offer me thirty peppers if you're not going to bring me thirty goddamn peppers. I mean, I'm a reasonably white-looking dude, but not that white. After some very confusing negotiations, she agreed to order me a fifteen-pepper dish and bring some chili sauce on the side.

Time passed. Lots of time. Tiny presumably also describes the kitchen. Finally the waitress came from the kitchen carrying my noodles. I swear you could actually see the cartoon spiciness lines coming off of it. Just being near it cleared out my sinuses. I took a few bites. Flames shot from my nostrils. Steam billowed out of my ears like Doc Brown's time train. I might have travelled through time, actually. It was transcendent. I ate the whole plate.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:13 PM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Kimchi is amazing. Last night, I ate some kimchi whilst also drinking a habanero pepper infused shot of shochu (or soju, for the Koreans in the house). That was pleasant.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2008

As others have been saying there's kimchi and there's kimchi.

Unfortunately in most Korean restaurants outside of Korea one does not get exposed to the full range of kimchi varieties, differing in ingredients as well as the regional variations. Even in restaurants in Korea one is likely to only be served one type of kimchi, the stereotypical stinky red-hot cabbage kind.

Growing up, depending on the seasonal ingredients available, there would be up to three different types of kimchi at the table, more if a relative or neighbor had dropped off a batch. Not all kimchi is intended to ferment for a long time, either - some are essentially eaten as salads.

Eye-searingly hot kimchi is not high-quality kimchi, period. Some households make it that way because they like very hot food, but it's just not the norm. In well-made kimchi the goal is a balance of flavors. Higher quality Korean restaurants will not make a big deal about foreigners wanting to eat hot and spicy food, nor will it be an issue, since their kimchi will probably be less spicy than the typical American supermarket salsa.
posted by needled at 1:29 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I even like natto

You sick fuck. I like to think I'm fairly adventurous, but I can't even look at natto without gagging.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:29 PM on June 12, 2008

I find it strange how many people who can take wasabi or habanero peppers can't eat kimchi.

I love it. I'd eat it a LOT more often if I can find a brand without MSG. I love the flavor of the cabbage and the spiciness --- but I also limit the quantity I eat per bite and make sure I eat plenty of rice along with it. That brings the spiciness to about Tabasco level (and I don't have trouble with Tabasco in reasonable amounts).
posted by chimaera at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2008

Ooh, I love kimchi. My wife and kids think I'm crazy, but I eat it right out of the jar. How can you not love something that is "under continous fermentation".

Years ago (pre-web) I found a recipe for it in the library, and misjudged the intensity of the peppers I added to it. I literally could not keep it in my mouth long enough to chew even once.

Since then, I've satisfied myself with the variety on hand at the grocery store.
posted by hwestiii at 1:43 PM on June 12, 2008

What is the good grocery store sort of kimchi, by the way? It seems like something I should start eating incessantly at home the way I do hummus.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2008

Personally I have not found satisfactory grocery store kimchi in the U.S., at least the stuff that is made locally and sold in jars. (A cousin of mine found the kimchi so unacceptable she had her mother ship her homemade kimchi in tins soldered shut.) Some of the Korean grocery stores sell vacuum-sealed kimchi from Korea, and this I have found acceptable.

Also, Koreans do not eat kimchi by itself. You have a piece of kimchi with a spoonful of rice.
posted by needled at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2008

Where is my kimchi poutine, damnit.

posted by kittyprecious at 1:54 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find it strange how many people who can take wasabi or habanero peppers can't eat kimchi.

I can take red pepper capsicum hot stuff all day long, but horseradish mustard oil hot kicks my butt.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:55 PM on June 12, 2008

A cousin of mine found the kimchi so unacceptable she had her mother ship her homemade kimchi in tins soldered shut.

Beom Seok (see above) had his mom fly in from Seoul every other week with a supply of fresh Korean food in Tupperware to ensure that he did not waste away.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:03 PM on June 12, 2008

Kimchi is amazing. Last night, I ate some kimchi whilst also drinking a habanero pepper infused shot of shochu

Oh yeah? Last night I ate a plate of Bhut Jolokia peppers smothered in homemade kimchi with a tabasco infused bloody mary while sitting naked in a bathtub full of Blair's 16 Million Reserve sauce with a piece of coal fresh from the barbeque as a suppository.

I love kimchi, but I'm no great shakes in the spiciness competition. I like to taste other things besides "burn" and "numb."
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:06 PM on June 12, 2008

The place where I shop (Dominick's in the Chicago suburbs) only ever has one brand available, so I get that. It used to be Frieda's, but now it is something else that I don't recognize. I just buy it and eat it.

I don't know if it would pass muster with people who really know their kimchi, but it works for me.
posted by hwestiii at 2:23 PM on June 12, 2008

Chicago peeps seeking kimchi should go to Chicago Foods, a Korean grocery and restuarant on Belmont and Kimball. They have multiple varieties for sale, some imported, some locally made.
posted by jtron at 3:31 PM on June 12, 2008

I can take red pepper capsicum hot stuff all day long, but horseradish mustard oil hot kicks my butt.

Interesting - I'm exactly the opposite (so no kimchi for me, sadly). Even the milder stuff like jalapeños is too strong for me, but I can take wasabi and horseradish no problem, and I'll happily munch on the little pile of pickled ginger that comes with sushi. I wonder how we got to be this way - is it genetic or learned?
posted by wanderingmind at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2008

I had a Korean friend in China who made the most heavenly homemade kimchi - I have been hunting for a similar store-bought brand for years with no luck.

The Korean restaurants in Beijing were pretty darn good, and really taught me and my husband to like kimchi a lot - in most any variety. Thanks for the suggestion, MrMoonPie, we are still on the hunt for a good Korean restaurant in northern VA. Gonna have to try it sometime.
posted by gemmy at 5:17 PM on June 12, 2008

Mr. Moon Pie, WooMi Garden in Wheaton is also most excellent.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:26 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you find storebought or restaurant kimchee too spicy, make your own. This is pretty similar to the recipe my brother and I have been using for the last few years. Cayenne makes a good substitute for Korean chillies, and you can put in any vegetable that seems like it would still be crunchy after a few days in the old fermentorium. I like mine less hot, and I just use regular cabbage, turnips, radishes, celery. Every batch has its own special flavour. It's fun to make, and not difficult. The fish sauce is optional.
posted by sneebler at 6:53 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always feel a little self-conscious walking up to the liquor store at this hour - the morning sun is still crawling its way up the sky and having to wear sunglasses just makes me feel dodgy. I'm not here for the booze, but I imagine sidelong glances from the judgmental as the steady flow of traffic rumbles past. Someone clued me in on a little secret about this place and I've been a loyal client for months now. "Best ever," she'd said, and she was completely correct. I live a good 30 minutes away by highway, but my stash had gone dry last week and I couldn't get here quickly enough for my re-up. I'll make sure to get enough to last a bit longer this time.

The glass doors are tinted a glossy black, and the only thing I can see as I reach for the handle is my own warped reflection. Judging myself. I pull the door open and enter; it swings quickly closed behind me, and I'm engulfed in darkness. I wait for my retinas to dilate. Sometimes there are boxes or errata stacked in the narrow aisles and I could easily do damage if I'm not careful. It'll only take a few seconds. I have time.

Gradually I regain my sight. Waiting was the right choice - directly in front of me is some kind of display stand made of thin black wire that didn't register before. Nothing on it. Looks second hand. I squeeze past it and approach the counter, which would appear unattended if I didn't know better. I bend over the counter and glance down behind it - "Hello." She looks up at me, doesn't say a word. She's sitting on a short stool watching a miniature TV on a shelf under the counter. To her side is a large ceramic bowl filled with a pork mixture. Her hands are busy. On her other side is a half-full tray of mandoo. In seconds, she's fabricated another and adds it to the stack. I point to a curtain off to her left - "Can I buy?"

She stares at me for a beat, then grabs a towel and rubs it through her hands. She stands and takes a few steps over, pushing the long curtain to the side to reveal a small room. It's too dark to see what else might be in that room, but what I'm here for is front and center and lit from within - a tall glass-doored refrigerator filled with plastic jars and trays. From where I stand, I can only distinguish the primary vegetable ingredients, but my stomach starts rumbling and my mouth waters at the very sight of anything swimming in that thick, red gold.

"Which kind?" she demands.

"Won bok, please."

"How big?"

I'm still staring. I won't bother with the small trays - the dime bags. I need more than a quick fix and I'll probably end up getting a few of the pint-sized jars. But for the moment I'm captivated by the bottom shelf. The big jars. Gallon sized. Inside them are whole heads of cabbage, as if they were specimens of some sort. Spicy, fermented specimens of deliciousness. There's no way I could eat it all before it went bad, but you know, maybe I could cut it and hook some other people up? No... no. I don't want to manage some kind of kimchi ring. Plus, you don't want to piss off your supplier.

I resist the urge to go for bulk and after handing her the cash (which goes into her pocket; these transactions are apparently off the books) I take the kimchi and thank her profusely, promising that I'll return soon. She nods, but says nothing. "You're small-time to her," I think to myself. I pause before leaving to put my sunglasses back on. Outside will be bright and hot. The jars in the bag are already sweating, and I check to make sure they're well concealed - I'd rather people think I was a degenerate alcoholic than discover my kimchi connection. Every few times I come, she's completely dry so I don't need the extra competition. For now, I'm set. Beads of Pavlovian perspiration dot my brow, just thinking about opening the jar at home. I'm on my way.
posted by krippledkonscious at 8:03 PM on June 12, 2008 [10 favorites]

Holy crap, dude. Awesome.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:15 PM on June 12, 2008

For spicy:

I say Tibetan is my nemisis. I've scoured the bottom of the wasabi dish with my last shreds of sushi, I've drowned nachos in the spiciest of jalepeno concoctions, I've buried dog-fried rice in mountains of kimchi, and I've happily swallowed the last bony bits of Chongqing's finest, and Indian and Thai are child's play. Xinjiang doesn't even bear mentioning. But never have I been so floored as when confronted with piles of yak meat soaked through with god knows whatever the hell they use in that shit. Oh my sweet christ does it BURN. And they even put that shit in their DRINKS. HOW DO THEY EAT?
posted by saysthis at 10:11 PM on June 12, 2008

I've decided there's a fundamental difference in spiciness that is the key to surviving spicy food. It either goes up your nose or down your throat, right?

I'm an up-your-nose kinda person. Wasabi? Yum yum. Thai food damn near killed me and they laughed at me while they served it. On the other hand, Thai tea is *awesome* for taking away the throat pain...

I've never tried kimchi, but from what it sounds like, kimchi is a throat spicy. Not sure how daring I'll have to be to try it, but I guess I will someday.

As for the rest, natto is *fine* (I didn't realize until after it was offered to me that there was some great controversy associated with it), and durian doesn't smell (you know how there's super-tasters and regular tasters? my theory is that there's supersmellers of durian, and then there's me. Couldn't even tell when it had been cut open).
posted by librarylis at 12:59 AM on June 13, 2008

I love kimchi. One of my favourite foods in the world is a bowl of pork on rice with kimchi at Matsuya. You put money into a machine and out comes a little coupon which you take to the counter so that they will give you a few sweet moments of pork and kimchi joy. I love it so much that I kept eating it even after I read somewhere that the salt and nitrites in kimchi are why Korea has the highest rates of stomach cancer in the world.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2008

gemmy, you have been to Super H, right? They sell kim chi there in big plastic bags, as well as little tubs of all kinds. I think we have three of their offerings at home now. Plus, the soups and such at their prepared-food counter are amazing.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:10 AM on June 13, 2008

I eat kimchi every day.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:47 AM on June 13, 2008

1) Maybe once he gets off the toilet.

2) my gastrointestinal tract reminded me to tell her I had an early class the next day

I've never understood these sort of comments. Does spicy food cause some people to crap their pants or something?

I've also heard people imply that spicy food burns on the way out, too. Are these people unable to digest capsaicin? I though only relatively inert substances like fiber and corn pass through unaltered. What gives?
posted by ryanrs at 3:10 PM on June 21, 2008

ryanrs, some people get diarrhea from very spicy food if they're not used to it, as if the food pretty much goes right through them. (In my vicarious experience, this is especially true if they wolf down their food too fast, which is how I've seen some people get through meals when they are too embarrassed to admit that they are uncomfortable with unfamiliar food.)
posted by desuetude at 5:16 PM on June 21, 2008

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