My idea of comfort food changes depending on where I am, where I’ve been, or who I’m with. When I’m at home in Minneapolis, I crave spicy Thai flavors, NY style pizza, or a big bowl of Pho. Here I crave burgers, maybe because here, I don’t each much red meat. Or maybe because burgers are delicious. In any case, if there were as many burgers as there are waffles in Seoul, I’d be in a whole lot of trouble.
Our school provides lunch everyday, and it’s good, actually. Much better than the Italian-Dunkered school lunches of my youth (remember those?). Some days, Helen wraps up bags of leftover rice for us to take home. When this happens, I wait a day for the rice to harden, and then I make kimchi bokkeumbap. Humble and forgiving like comfort food should be, a bowl of kimchi-kissed rice tastes best when eaten with legs tucked under. I’m going to be making it for a very, very long time.
Kimchi bokkeumbap (or kimchi fried rice) recipes vary, but they all begin the same. You want to start with old, overripe kimchi, the kind whose taste is acquired at best and overtly offensive at worst. You fry it with a little oil, garlic, and sugar. The sugar melts away the rough edges of the sourest kimchi and renders it helpless, or at least much softer. Like a curmudgeon in love, sugar turns kimchi into a better version of itself. And from there, the options are endless. I add different vegetables depending on what’s in the fridge, but a few finishing ingredients are mandatory: thick spicy gochujang (or Korean chili paste), salty crushed gim (or dried seaweed), and a fried egg with a soft yolk for the top. And what is it about eating from a bowl that always feels so much more grounding? Aside from eating with your hands, that is.
Kathryn asked me for this recipe today, and so Kathryn, this is for you. x
Kimchi Bokkeumbap, for 2
The measurements here are rough, but don’t worry. In addition to being fucking tasty, kimchi fried rice is incredibly good-natured. Don’t burn the garlic. Don’t burn the kimchi. (I give this advice because I’ve done both, twice). The rest will come together quite easily. On a final note, my friend MJ took the photo above. Love you, M.
To fry the kimchi:
¾ cup sour kimchi, squeezed of excess liquid and chopped (if you don’t live in Korea or you don’t have access to a variety, use what you can find)
1 tablespoon oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, then the kimchi and a teaspoon of sugar. Stir-fry over medium-heat until the edges of the kimchi brown. Taste and add more sugar to your preference. Once it’s ready, set the kimchi aside off the heat.
For the rest:
1 ½ cup medley of diced carrot, zucchini, potato, chopped broccoli, onion, mushrooms, anything you have
2 cups cold, day-old white rice
½ teaspoon sesame oil
red chili paste (gochujang)
dried and salted seaweed (gim)
Quick-fry the vegetables in a scant amount of oil, enough to get the job done, but not too much to make greasy vegetables. Add the rice, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, and the kimchi. At this point, you can add a spoonful of kimchi juice if the rice is too dry. Add soy sauce if it needs more salt. Add the sesame oil at the end. Once the rice is hot and the ingredients are incorporated, pack the rice across the pan and let the bottom get crispy over low heat. Stir and flip to crisp evenly. Meanwhile, cook your eggs as you like them.
In deep bowls, layer the fried rice, a dab of chili paste, a fried egg, and a scattering of crushed gim.