I am a kimchi chigae crack ho. Give it to me three squares a day. Blend it and stick it in an IV. Hell, just let me drag my futon over to Kimball and the Kennedy and I’ll just live in Chicago Food Corp. Fie on you, dear Korean friend (I – don’t – friggin’ – look – like – Margaret – Cho) Rozella, for showing me how to make this traditional Korean stew. Fermented Chinese cabbage has taken over my life. But, damn, it’s so good. No, really.
I’ve always been the one who goes for the native food that makes outsiders turn up their nose. Alentejan garlic-cliantro soup? Blood-anything? Barnacles? Tripe? Bring it on. Been there, loved it, want more of it.
A few months ago when I was looking to sate a (stinky, slimy, smelly) Japanese natto fix and couldn’t make it out to the Mitsuwa market in the northwest ‘burbs, Rozella introduced me to Chicago Food Corp., an unassuming building on Kimball Avenue just north of the Kennedy that I’d been by many times but always assumed to be a warehouse. Walking in and finding an authentic, stocked-for-days Korean grocer was quite the shock, especially for this foodie.
After an hour we emerged with my natto and Rozella’s fixings for a kimchi chigae feast. The natto proved odiferous but boring (being someone who can swig Tabasco from the bottle, try as I might I can never seem to get past the blandness of Japanese grub). The kimchi chigae however…
The few times I came up for air as I guzzled the garlicky, spicy, slightly fishy, fermented cabbage-pork stew all I can remember is Rozella’s repeated refrain of disbelief, “Oh my God, you’re only the second Anglo friend I’ve ever seen eat kimchi like that in my life!” Slurp, slurp.
Maybe it’s the lactic tang of the fermented vegetables, or the nuclear kick of bright-red pepper sauce, or the fatty pleasure of pork belly. Or the Lusophilic fact that Korea owes its great love for spicy food to trade with the Portuguese (an adopted heritage of mine) in the 1600s. Don’t know. Don’t care. Just know I can’t stop.
I’ve taken to making Kimchi chigae a couple times a month now (for myself, Devyn is definitely not a fan), hitting Korean take-out place Lai Lai at Wells and Van Buren at least once a week (the Yuk Gae Jang is ace), and making runs to Chicago Food Corp. a regular part of my grocery rounds.
Not a kimchi eater, yourself? Afraid of spicy food? Good. More for me.
But if you’re game, head over to Chicago Food Corp. (3333 N. Kimball, two blocks north of the Belmont Blue Line stop), pick up the following, follow the directions, and feast. For real authenticity, serve your rice separately, on the left, and dig into it with a spoon–rice with chopsticks is just so…Japanese.
KIMCHI CHIGAE (alt. JJIGAE)
1 qt. cabbage kimchi, sliced
1 lb. pork belly, cubed
1 container med. Tofu, cubed
1 tablespoon Korean beef powder
1 large onion, sliced
1 green onion, small chop
Toss everything except the tofu and the green onion in a big stock pot with some of the kimchi juice and enough extra water to cover, and let it vigorously simmer for about half an hour. Take it off the heat and stir in the tofu. Serve it with medium grain rice (Japanese rice is best), served as a side dish and garnished with the green onion. Alternate between a spoon of stew and a spoon of rice.
You can pair this with any spicy red or sparkling white wine you’d normally pair with spicy or even fishy food (a Rioja, Rhone, Vinho Verde, etc.)
Even better, finish off with Korean red-bean-paste ice cream (also available at Chicago Food Corp). Mmm…
Categories: Food and Drink
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.