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The quest for the perfect kimchi

by Ally Mutsmakher September 13, 2011

“Kimchi? Isn’t that a Korean version of sauerkraut?”

It’s alright, I understand; like many others who have yet to immerse their palates in this tangy delicacy, it might seem like a culinary mystery – the slightly offensive smell, the foreign taste and the burning sensation that ensues.

But kimchi is not only a staple of every Korean meal, it is also one of the first. Kimchi’s origins can be traced 3,000 years back, and to this day its fermentation process remains roughly unchanged.

Cabbage heads are saturated with sundried chili paste, then placed in clay pots and buried in the ground to ferment for at least three days. And according to my extensive research (i.e. gorging on it), nothing beats the flavour of old-school kimchi.

Forget about the Eskimo word count for “snow,” Koreans are serious about their kimchi; there are over a hundred different varieties depending on both season and region. Baechu (cabbage) kimchi is the most common type and its signature taste encompasses the best Korean cuisine has to offer. It is spicy, sweet, salty, crunchy and it can perfectly compliment any range of tastes and textures, from stews to grilled meats, to plain rice.

So really, my quest for the perfect kimchi went beyond roaming the city for some ‘spicy cabbage.’ I was looking for authenticity, taste and hospitality; in a sense, I was looking for the Korean experience and the rich culture behind it.

So, here’s the list of Montreal’s kimchi goldmines:

Man-na 1421 Bishop St
Now we’re talking! The kimchi-chigae is so spicy it will make you shed tears (of joy, of course.) The lunch specials are cheap, the chefs don’t skimp on the flavour, and the friendly staff will attentively watch you eat in case you need constant water refills and a shoulder to cry on.

Chez Hwang 5545 Upper Lachine Rd.
The staff is friendly, their banchan plates are generous, their seafood pancake is stickily wonderful, their range of stews is impressive and their appetizers are cheap. As well, they always ask you if you would like some more kimchi, which is the right temperature (between brain freeze and warm), the right spiciness (between tongue-numbing and boring) and sufficiently crunchy.

500 Ans 5737 Monkland Ave.
This is one of the few restaurants in Montreal that doesn’t have a six-person limit for the All-You-Can-Eat BBQ. The atmosphere is intimate and cozy, like that of a neighbourhood pub. The menu offers a lot of options and the food is plentiful for a reasonable price. Their BBQ comes with a dolsot bibimbap, their two variations of Korean pancake are delicate in flavour with a hint of sweetness that’s wonderfully contrasted with the special sesame-soy sauce.  And their kimchi? I could write haikus about their kimchi (“Oh kimchi, my love. Nothing compares to your taste. Only the pancake.”) I wholeheartedly recommend it.

If you must have your kimchi within reach at all hours of the day, you can always swing by your local Korean grocery store.

Jangteu 2109 Ste-Catherine St. W.
Offers a variety of Korean and some Japanese products and always has a stock of kimchi to quench your cravings. Here you’d also find popular Korean products and even Korean twists on many familiar snacks, like kimchi-flavoured cheetos. Avid ramen fanatics would enjoy this store’s variety, even if some of the flavours seem quite unorthodox (like the cheddar cheese flavour!)

Marche d’Alimentation Coreen Mtl 6151, Sherbrooke St. W.
A cozy Korean-Japanese grocery that boasts a variety of fruits, meats, an array of Asian canned goods, cookies and udon noodles. Try the egg cookies, a popular Korean snack reminiscent of butter cookies. They have a kimchi-dedicated fridge that includes both the Korean-imported kimchi and the less spicy variety made in-store.

 

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