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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Kimchee spicing up menus everywhere

Chef Justin Keith serves his housemade kimchee with duck atop green onion hoe cakes at Food 101. (Photo credit: Becky Stein)

Chef Justin Keith serves his housemade kimchee with duck atop green onion hoe cakes at Food 101. (Photo credit: Becky Stein)

By Felicia Feaster for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Like the Vietnamese hot sauce Sriracha that popped up with startling regularity in chefs’ dishes in 2011, the savory Korean fermented vegetable dish, kimchee, is proving to be the go-to condiment of 2012.

Suddenly, kimchee is everywhere, showing up on food truck tacos and in food-fad central, the Trader Joe’s refrigerated case.

Atlanta chefs are blending kimchee into Southern classics like grits at Empire State South, melding it with collard greens at Two Urban Licks, serving kimchee as an oyster garnish or alongside duck and green onion hoe cakes at Food 101.

Richard Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique has featured a Korean barbecue burger garnished with a kimchee ketchup. Guy Wong at the Japanese izakaya on Edgewood Avenue, Miso Izakaya, serves a pork kimchee rice topped with a fried egg. Meehan’s Public House chef Jordan Wakefield plants his sesame-crusted ahi tuna on a mattress of kimchee and Georgia peanuts, blending the flavors of Asia and the South into one dish.

Pork belly spring roll served with kimchee at Tap gastropub. (Photo credit: Rowina Amick/Concentrics Restaurants).

Pork belly spring roll served with kimchee at Tap gastropub. (Photo credit: Rowina Amick/Concentrics Restaurants).

Indicative of a new hybrid cuisine mixing regional and more exotic flavors, kimchee is the new coleslaw, sauerkraut or – as many chefs put it – chowchow of the global South. Kimchee typifies the fascinating complexity of Atlanta’s food scene. And it’s hard to think of an ingredient that better represents Atlanta’s unique, culturally rich culinary diversity.

Empire State South owner and chef Hugh Acheson sees kimchee as emblematic of Atlanta’s mix of old South and new. “There is a kinship with chowchow and the like in Southern foodways,” Acheson said of kimchee’s resemblance to the pickled vegetable relish chowchow, a staple of the Southern supper table.

But Atlanta is more and more a hybrid of the South and other cultures. “The Asian influence on our culture is happening big time, and kimchee has a place in that evolution,” Acheson said.

Empire State South executive chef Ryan Smith creates a kimchee rice grits dish with pork belly that typifies the blend of the South and other cultures.

“To me, the dish takes kimchee as an expression of Buford Highway, mixes it with the tradition of middlin’ rice [broken kernel Carolina Gold rice], tops it with the ever-present pork on the stage of Southern food, adds the garnish of roasted peanuts that bridge cultures and then finishes with a pickle of radish, ubiquitous to both Asian and Southern foodways,” Acheson said.

Acheson’s kimchee includes Napa cabbage, smoked paprika, lime juice, salted shrimp and scallions combined and allowed to ferment for three days.

For Tyler Brown, the executive chef at Nashville’s Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel, the prevalence of kimchee on Atlanta menus is obvious.

“I think in Atlanta it makes sense because you have Buford Highway and that whole influence there,” Brown said of that one-stop destination for fans of Asian cuisine. “It is a real institution of Atlanta.”

Making kimchee involves preserving a mix of vegetables – most often including some kind of cabbage – in salt. It has been made for thousands of years in Korea, most likely to preserve vegetables through the winter. In ancient times, the fermentation process, often involving burying earthenware jars in the ground, might last for months or even years.

Pork tacos with kimchee at Taqueria del Sol. (Photo credit: Green Olive Media)

Pork tacos with kimchee at Taqueria del Sol. (Photo credit: Green Olive Media)

Contemporary chefs tend to ferment their kimchee for a far more truncated two to five days. A savory, pungent, deliciously tart dish, kimchee can be made from a variety of ingredients, from Napa cabbage to cucumbers to radishes, and often seasoned with garlic, salt, vinegar, chile peppers and other spices.

The ingredients are as changeable as a sandwich filling, but consistently so packed with vitamins and low-fat goodness that a 2008 Health magazine article named kimchee one of the world’s healthiest foods. Kimchee contains the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli – also found in yogurt – which aids in digestion.

Enough of a fan to roadshow his kimchee-making process in Atlanta, Brown recently offered a kimchee tutorial at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. He, too, extols the health benefits of this staple of the Korean dining table. “It’s so good for you,” confirmed Brown, “with the probiotics. And it’s super high in vitamin C and vitamin A.”

At Capitol Grille, Brown likes to serve his kimchee alongside charcuterie as part of a hunter’s plate or atop a homemade hot dog. “It’s crisp, it’s satisfying, you get that umami; the saltiness I crave. It’s just very comforting.”

One of kimchee’s primary benefits is its versatility. The ingredients are interchangeable and often adapted to the season.

Food 101’s executive chef Justin Keith replaces the familiar Napa cabbage with local green cabbage and adds shaved carrots, chopped green onion and radish. Flavorings for Keith’s kimchee include Korean chili powder, Korean hot pepper paste, fish sauce, salted shrimp, fresh ginger and rice vinegar.

Two Urban Licks chef Cameron Thompson serves a Korean beef taco with his own housemade Southern spin on kimchee with collard greens that he marinates in a mix of salt, brown sugar, red pepper paste, fish sauce and Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce.

But all the talk of blending Atlanta’s diverse cultures and culinary traditions on a plate would mean very little if it weren’t for the taste. And that is one of kimchee’s most endearing qualities.

“I love the flavors and the crisp texture of the kimchee,” Keith said. “The complex layers of spice and slightly briny flavors really play on your taste buds. It’s spicy, yet at the same time refreshing. Any given time of the day, I can just pull a jar out of the fridge and have a few bites.”

30 comments Add your comment

Brian

May 31st, 2012
9:37 am

Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce, not Vietnamese FYI

Kar

May 31st, 2012
10:02 am

Brian

May 31st, 2012
10:35 am

The BRAND of sauce in the nyt article may not be from Thailand, but sriracha is a type of hot sauce and certainly originates from Thailand:

Sriracha (Thai: ศรีราชา [sǐrātɕʰā]) is a type of Thai hot sauce, named after the coastal city of Si Racha, in the Chonburi Province of central Thailand, where it was possibly first produced for dishes served at local seafood restaurants.[1] It is a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt.[2] In Thailand the sauce is most often called sot Siracha (Thai: ซอสศรีราชา) and only sometimes nam phrik Siracha (Thai: น้ำพริกศรีราชา).

Made in USA

May 31st, 2012
10:39 am

The red bottle with the rooster is actually made in California

Kar

May 31st, 2012
10:45 am

Yes, there is a sriracha sauce in Thailand, but since we’re using the capitalized brand name, the article is referring to the one in the rooster bottle.

As the article noted, it’s not close to the original one. Kind of like the Ramen/ramen distinction or Ragu/ragu sauce.

R. Lee

May 31st, 2012
1:49 pm

Bring on the Kimchee! I’d love to be able to buy good Kimchee at my neighborhood Pulix one of these days!

crackbaby

May 31st, 2012
2:26 pm

Kimchee is great with beef dishes and steamed white rice.

Try a couple slices on your hamburger, too. YUM!

WHITNEY

May 31st, 2012
2:34 pm

Siracha is actually domestic imitation of a Thai hot sauce.
Has always been made in the USA!

Roekest

May 31st, 2012
2:43 pm

More proof the South is 30+ years behind other parts of the country. I’ve been seeing and (sometimes) eating kimchee since I was a wee lad in California, circa 1978.

What’ll they think of next??? Pants!?!?!?!

Geoff

May 31st, 2012
2:43 pm

…discovering cuisine that’s been happening in CA for 15 years…

sam

May 31st, 2012
2:59 pm

People and their high horses make me laugh. Shut up already. Trends hit different areas at different times. Move along…

carla roqs

May 31st, 2012
4:00 pm

and the medal goes to…Sam!

Been here a while

May 31st, 2012
4:31 pm

Thank you Sam.
Now tell me about these ‘pants’ y’all are talking about.
Ain’t they kinda like trousers?

Edward

May 31st, 2012
5:42 pm

Goodness knows I love Asian foods, but I just cannot stomach kimchee. But then, I don’t like anything pickled, including cucumber pickles. I never developed a taste for the sour stuff.

honest_abe

May 31st, 2012
7:45 pm

georgia is about as backwards as you can get. atlanta is slightly better. how open to “kimchi” do you think folks in hartwell or valdosta would be? ha!

honest_abe

May 31st, 2012
7:46 pm

edward: now all kimchi is sour. in fact you can even get kim chi that isn’t fermented. some versions are sweet some are incredibly spicy.

honest_abe

May 31st, 2012
7:46 pm

honest_abe

May 31st, 2012
7:48 pm

and judging by the number of comments on here i would dare to say most white southern folk don’t care for kim chi.

Matt

May 31st, 2012
9:41 pm

honest_abe: people in Valdosta are actually fairly open to kimchi. Since there’s Moody AFB, a lot of GI’s have been to Korea and have tried and love kimchi and they introduce their friends to it. Also, like the article says, kimchi is a close relative to chowchow, which is a stable to southern cuisine. I think if anyone is hesitant to try it, you could just call it “Korean Chow Chow” for them. And most people that I know who have tried it, love it

Matt

May 31st, 2012
9:48 pm

Roekest: don’t you feel special. You had kimchi earlier in the state with the most Koreans in the US.
Also. the article is not about just eating kimchi, it’s about integrating it into new dishes that represent the ever changing Southern landscape.
I highly doubt you anything the remotely resembled ESS’s Kimchi Rice Grits with Pork Belly in 1978. And that’s the point. It’s about changing what we think we know about certain cuisines and ingredients and creating something. And tasty. It’s gotta be tasty

B. Thenet

May 31st, 2012
10:26 pm

Had an interesting version the other day at South City Kitchen made with Collard Greens, quite interesting.

Thy

June 1st, 2012
10:10 am

Sriracha was invented by a Vietnamese immigrant from southern California. It is a Vietnamese hot sauce used in popular Pho soup.

Allentown, PA

June 1st, 2012
10:33 am

Kim Chee riper the better, sauteed in bacon lard, stir fry basmati rice in, add green peas and cracked egg and a touch of cilantro. What a great Fried rice option. I use it as a side, or make it the basis for Asian tacos/burrito fusion.

Folks

June 1st, 2012
10:54 am

Great observation honest_abe. Very insightful. The only thing you have brought to my fair State is attitude and skinny jeans.

bongostella

June 1st, 2012
11:31 am

Whenever I go the BHFM, I pick up a small container in the chiller, a six pack of good asian beer,
head home, pop them both open and chow down.

Thy words are false sir

June 1st, 2012
4:39 pm

Thy-read the links, it’s a thai sauce that a vietnamese guy started marketing from california

PapaDoc

June 2nd, 2012
10:09 am

Kimchee on the Korean bbq sandwiches at Heirloom is the bomb. Take containers of kimchee are also available.

tripledart

June 2nd, 2012
12:14 pm

Gee at Gold dust in Tucker has a lot of Kimchee dishes including soup.
Best bar and Kimchee in Tucker.

bongostella

June 2nd, 2012
6:25 pm

tripledart, where and what is Gee at Gold Dust?

Michelle

June 5th, 2012
12:33 pm

How is there all this talk of kimchee and no mention of Heirloom Market BBQ? I have eaten at many of the listed places and they are all wonderful, but when it comes to infusing kimchee into a dish, Heirloom Market has been doing it longer and in my opinion does it better.