Way back, I posted a version of kimchee a Korean friend gave us once
. Since then, I have experimented with all kinds of different kimchee recipes to get a particular flavour I remember from the Korean restaurant near our house in KL. After a few years of trying stuff, I finally came up with a flavour I really liked. The secret to good kimchee is that there is no substitute for Korean chilli powder. It's the actual floral-fruity perfume of the chilli powder that opens the tastebuds in kimchee for me. Substituting it with other kinds of chilli powders or flakes gives the wrong scent and the wrong colour. I get my Korean chilli powder from Hmart
, which has online orders and home delivery, as well as various sizes of chilli powder packs in varying levels of spiciness.
My entire opinion on fermented foods hinges on the idea that it is tasty. I've heard the health stuff one way or the other, but my final verdict on the subject is that it's tasty. Fermented foods were a big part of my taste vocabulary growing up. At least half of the Chinese/Malay dishes we ate at home or outside contained belacan
, spiced fermented shrimp paste, which lends a distinctly pungent, warm aroma and flavour to foods. scanner_darkly
once described a dish of water convulvulus fried in belacan
I ordered as tasting like car exhaust, but there are more ways to cook it I have yet to experiment with. If I wasn't so afraid of making my kitchen smell like oil and fermented shrimp for the next year, I would probably make belacan
fried chicken, a treat I still sometimes crave.
Many fermented foods in Malaysia were treats, or daily foods. Mom got on the miso bandwagon early, long before it was popular, so I had miso soup regularly as a kid. Chinese cuisine invented tofu, soy sauce and salted bean pastes, so these flavours naturally influenced my taste in food as an adult. Soy sauce is the main flavouring of my household. The Kampar chicken biscuit (does not contain chicken) is a savoury-sweet cookie considered a regional specialty in Malaysia, whose main flavouring is fermented, salted tofu. Cincalok
, another regional specialty, is basically dried prawns in the runoff from washing rice, which, if done right, actually smells fresh and pleasantly shrimpy with the sweetness of rice (otherwise, it just has the most incredible pong). One of the most coveted fermented flavours in Malay food comes from fermented durian, tempoyak
, which is like, double the pungent, nostril-stopping action. My favourite thing from the Ramadan markets is sweet potato shoots cooked in coconut milk with tempoyak
, if it can be found. It's salty, pasty and ideally a little sour, with the richness of durian.
The only fermented food I've found a little too strong for me has been Thai fish sauce. Used sparingly, in Thai cooking, balanced with other flavours, it's awesome. As a flavour on its own though, it's like the stiff, peaty, fermented swamp water quality of Seth's preferred whiskey.
Kimchee is possibly the only pickle I've ever had time to make. A little kimchee, a bowl of rice and an egg on top is a quick meal when I'm particularly busy. The leftover kimchee liquid is a marvellous marinade and a great base for savoury pancakes. I tend to make small amounts, about one month's supply for a single person, as I'm the only person who eats it in my house. No vats, sterilization or specialized jars required.( Kimchee ver. 2.0 )