Keep The Kimchee Comin’
When it comes to kimchee, dining in Hawaii simply would not be the same without it. Extending far beyond just a banchan (side dish) found in our favorite Korean restaurants, this coveted fermented food has become a staple here that goes well with just about any savory dish. Got fried rice? Go ahead and add some kimchee. Going out for ramen? Be sure to order the spicy kimchee broth.
Like many of you, I love to eat kimchee on its own, with rice or on the side of my favorite foods, and I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy the red-hot mix of cabbage and spicy seasonings. I also love getting tips from my friends on where to get the really authentic homemade-style ones — you know, the ones made at the Korean mom-and-pop shops. For some folks, the more spicy, fermented and sour the better, whereas others prefer a milder local version that doesn’t need to be aged very long.
Here are the latest ways I’ve been enjoying kimchee, mixed into some classic local foods.
AHI & VEGETABLE
Sam Seo, owner of Ahi & Vegetable, eats kimchee every day and always has. Originally from Korea, the island resident of more than 20 years makes some delicious kimchee to share with customers at his poke and bento shop in Kapalama Shopping Center.
You can buy the good stuff on its own (a small portion is $4) or try it mixed into Kimchee Spicy Ahi Bowl ($10), which features spicy ahi and kimchee on top of rice. Now, this kimchee is a perfect blend of authentic Korean and mild, local stylings. It has a nice bite to it, but it’s not too spicy, and it features a classic recipe of won bok, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, green onion and pepper powder.
Seo adds that the kimchee, like all of the eatery’s fare, is MSG-free and made in small batches a few times a week for maximum freshness and quality control.
Many regulars like to customize their meals at Ahi & Vegetable, and Seo says adding natto, Japanese fermented beans, to the Kimchee Spicy Ahi Bowl is a popular choice — especially with the health benefits associated with both natto and kimchee. Customers also like to order a classic Poke Bowl ($10) and request kimchee on top, which Seo adds free of charge. “Kimchee and tuna is a very good mix together. Kimchee already has its own flavor, and mixing it with any kind of fish makes a really good taste,” adds Seo.
Ahi & Vegetable is known for offering the best in fresh ahi, as Seo goes to the fish auction every morning to secure prime catches. “I try to offer affordable prices, but we make high-quality food. We are not a high-end sushi bar, but the quality we try to keep is at that kind of level,” he says.
Ahi & Vegetable
Kapalama Shopping Center
1210 Dillingham Blvd., Kalihi
SHIRO’S SAIMIN HAVEN
One of my favorite ways to enjoy kimchee is inside a hot, soothing broth to get that extra pop of flavor into any soup. At the moment, I can’t get enough of the Kimchee Saimin ($7.95) from Shiro’s Saimin Haven in Aiea.
According to general manager Bryce Fujimoto, the dish was added to the menu about 10 years ago and has been a popular selection ever since. At first, the kimchee was offered on the side, but staff members kept noticing customers throwing it right into the soup. So eventually, the shop began to serve the kimchee already mixed into the saimin.
“The kimchee changes and enhances the flavor of the broth, so it’s really nice,” says Fujimoto.
Kimchee Saimin simmers with homemade wonton, vegetables and delec-table garnishes, all floating in a clean and pure, yet flavorful, soup base.
At Shiro’s Saimin Haven, the kimchee is perfect for those who don’t like a lot of spice, as it’s a mild, local-style version that’s made fresh in house. And if patrons do like a little more heat, Fujimoto suggests ordering the hot and spicy broth to go with it. He notes that
kimchee also is featured in a few other dishes: “We have a kimchee fried rice and pair our barbecue short ribs, or kalbi, with kimchee.”
As an eatery that’s been around for nearly 50 years, Shiro’s has a lot of regulars. To keep them satisfied with fresh choices, the establishment is introducing more daily specials. “We recently came up with fresh corned beef, and we’re probably going to do a roast turkey and bring back pork tofu,” says Fujimoto. “We know everyone’s always in a rush and there’s a lot of traffic out there, so we get them in and out really quickly.”
Shiro’s Saimin Haven
Waimalu Shopping Center
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea (Also in Ewa Beach);
488-4834 (takeout) 488-8824 (restaurant/catering)