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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Kim chee is a whole family of dishes, not always spicy

By Wanda Adams
Advertiser Food Editor


In a quick tour of the new Palama Market near the Daiei store, chef Chae Won Choe outlined ingredients, techniques and kim chee types:

  • Key ingredients for kim chee are bright red, coarse-ground hot red pepper powder, kochu karu, plus the more familiar garlic, green onion, ginger and sweet rice flour (used to thicken the spice mixture). You can find fresh-chopped garlic in Korean stores, as well as many fresh greens, hard vegetables and salted fishes. You'll also see pale-skinned Korean cucumbers; they taste just like Western cucumbers.

  • There are three main types of cabbage kim chee: mak kim chee, the common chopped cabbage form; whole cabbage kim chee, with spices hand-stuffed between the leaves; and white or water kim chee, a clear form without hot red pepper powder. A special fourth type is one in which the spiced mixture is stuffed into a whole cabbage.

  • Dong chi mi or paek chi mi — two forms of water kim chee — are made with cabbage, or cabbage and radish, and other ingredients that might include nuts, sweet peppers, fresh or pickled green or red peppers and even fruit (Asian pear and dried red dates). What's important here, said Choe, is the juice, which is savored over rice. Sil kochu, hot red pepper threads, are used for appearance in some water kim chee.

  • Korean radish (daikon is a substitute, but not the same thing) and turnip are probably the second-most-common family of kim chees.

  • Also very common is "instant" cucumber kim chee, so called because it needs no fermentation time and can be eaten right away. It's more akin to a Japanese tsukemono, but with kim chee spices added.

  • MSG is a common ingredient in Korean spice mixtures and kim chees; if you're sensitive, read labels.

  • Kim chee is especially prized to go with fatty grilled meat dishes in order to clear the palate. In contrast to Europeans, who prize creamy, fatty textures, Koreans prefer sharp flavors and a clear palate, Choe said.

  • Two ingredients that make an important difference in kim chee flavor are fish sauces and sugar, Choe said. In Korea, pungent fermented fish or shrimp pastes are used; in the Islands, patis is more often used. A little sugar aids in fermentation. Both ingredients help round out the flavor, Choe said.