[RECIPE] Vegetarian Kimchi

I’ve been dying to write a post on this ever since the idea of making the fermented stuff burrowed itself deep within my mind.

After all, I’ve been missing Korea and with Korea is its food. Now, what do we all think of when we ponder the topic of Korean cuisine? YES! Korean barbeque – but I won’t be making a post on that. Nope – next guess! EXACTLY. Kimchi.

KIMCHI! Oh, how I adore thee… most half most of the time.

**photo from seriouseats.com

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it when I first arrived in Korea. In all honestly, I only knew one thing: I would be encountering it a lot when I moved to Korea and it was true. I had it with every meal and not only that, but I soon learned to appreciate it and even love it because there were times when I only had kimchi to accompany my rice, and so we developed a love-hate and semi-symbiotic relationship.

I needed to eat (and I prefer to eat well when given the chance) and it needed to be eaten (as opposed to being thrown in the trash).

The flavors are complex although the ingredients simple. There’s the cabbage and there’s the intense punch in the mouth when the insanely spicy notes kick in – this is where I make a note on how my tolerance for spicy food usually lasted for no longer than the first 3 bites pre-Korea. Then the different voices start to call out: the slight ‘crisp’ give when you bite into it, the tangy-ness, the sour undertone (depending on how long it’s been left to ferment), the pure acidity of it. Absolutely magnificent! And what really takes the cake: there are hundreds of different kinds made from all kinds of vegetables!

Now, imagine my reaction when I found out that most kimchi isn’t vegetarian, as they may add in some fish sauce or something distinctly animal based. I went on a hunt, especially after I returned to the States and found myself craving the stuff – and I found one.

Then I made it.

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[PLACE] Maggiano’s Little Italy

Oh, Italian food.

Spaghetti was one of the first things I learned to cook, right after the art of making rice in a rice cooker and scrambled eggs. Then came learning to make a larger variety of pastas and then making a pizza from scratch. On top of that, I love tangy foods so I love the tomato that is featured in most Italian dishes. It’s no surprise that I still have a soft spot for Italian and it was pure luck that my work is right in the center of an area home to a number of good restaurants in Houston, with Maggiano’s being one of them – a little taste of Italy, indeed.

The first time, I went with a good friend of mine, but we had gone a little later and with the dimly lit interior, there wasn’t enough natural light for good photos. This time, I went with another friend and we ended up meeting slightly earlier, so it was enough for a few decent photos, but even so, I apologise for the poor quality; I did my best.

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[PLACE] Patisserie Jungle Cafe

I’ve heard of this place several times – mainly how delicious their desserts are and how utterly expensive it is. As someone with a sweet tooth, I decided that I would give it a go one day. When one of my friends got me a slice of cake for my birthday from there and my entire family gathered around it and exclaimed over its beauty and taste, it cinched it: I was going to go very soon.

And so I did.

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Spiced Beondegi??

I went out with my sister today at our usual and favorite vegetarian Indian restaurant. We piled on the food and sat down, while waiting for the steaming naan to come out. Then, we shoveled it in, as if regular breaths were not necessary for survival. The flavors were extraordinary and as I wiped my nose – though Korea has increased my tolerance of spicy foods exponentially, I’m still far from being immune from it’s effects (i.e. pink tint to the face, runny nose) – I took another bite of the palak paneer, my favorite Indian dish… only to encounter a crunch.

Palak paneer is basically paneer, or Indian cheese, in a curried spinach puree. At the most, the only resistance my teeth should be feeling is the slight texture change of the cheese, which is reminiscent of extra firm tofu. Being as this is my favorite dish, I’ve had it multiple times before and it was one of the main reasons I return to this restaurant. They always have it on their buffet menu. There’s nothing in it that should be that crispy or crunchy – like a frito chip. I suddenly felt like something was wrong so I froze and stopped chewing after that first chomp down.

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Vegetarian in Korea

It’s exactly three months until I’ll find myself in Korea once more. This time, it’s just an opportunity to travel and explore the rest of the Korea experience while I can; I honestly don’t know when’s the next time I can visit. This is also a trip where I’ll be taking two friends of mine over and I will be the unofficial tour guide. I’m rather excited: Korea’s a great place. It’s beautiful, the people are nice (for the most part but this is normal for most people), the culture interesting, and the food delicious.

I’m not entirely biased, because as a vegetarian, I know that in Korea, you’re going to have to work a little harder than others to get food. After all, when I think of Korean food, I think of flavorful soups, rice, fermented vegetables (i.e. kimchi) and meat (and when I listed ‘meat’, I also meant seafood) – not to mention alcohol and their love for spicy things. When other people think of Korean food, they think of Korean barbecue. This is where things can get a little complicated. I’m a semi-vegetarian. I’m mostly vegetarian but when I go somewhere that’s less-than-friendly to vegetarians, I loosen up my restrictions a bit: I might take a sip of the soup broth that I know was cooked with some meat, I will pick out the meat and eat the rest, etc. However, one of my friends who will be going is a strict vegetarian. As such, I found myself compiling Safe Foods for him to eat and decided that it would be nice to make a post on it. Why not, right?

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