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Keeping Up With Kimchee

By Ali Resich Photos By LAWRENCE TABUDLO
January 29, 2017

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The editor is ready to spice things up at Ahi & Vegetable.

The editor is ready to spice things up at Ahi & Vegetable.

We all have Korea to thank for creating arguably the most flavorful preserved vegetables in existence: kimchee, in all its glorious forms.

Though we’re most familiar with the standard wonbok, or Napa cabbage, variety of the banchan (side dish), there are actually an estimated 200-plus styles of kimchee and a far greater number of personalized family recipes.

It’s no surprise to you and me that Hawaii’s dining culture has adopted kimchee as if it were our own, and unlike other parts of America, you don’t have to go to a Korean restaurant or grocery store to find it. In addition to accompanying traditional meals, the ubiquitous pickled vegetable also is a dream ingredient for modern fusion cooking, as its spicy and tangy flavors lend themselves to virtually any type of cuisine.

So let’s go ahead and take a look at how some of Hawaii’s hot spots are kicking up their kimchee:

KEEP THE KIMCHEE COMIN’

Like many local Koreans, Sam Seo eats kimchee every day. The Ahi & Vegetable owner says that at any given moment, his fridge at home is filled with a variety of it, and when friends and family come to visit from Korea, the No. 1 item they bring for him is an authentic batch of the fermented specialty. At his takeout poke and bento shop, Seo shares his love for kimchee by offering customers many ways to enjoy it.

Ahi Vegetable's Kimchee Poke Bowl ($10)

Ahi Vegetable’s Kimchee Poke Bowl ($10)

Regulars and newcomers alike can purchase fresh kimchee at the eatery, including wonbok, cucumber, daikon and even tako varieties. But perhaps the best way to munch on it is in conjunction with the auction-fresh ahi that the shop is known for — which Seo hand selects each morning.

“Kimchee and ahi go very well together because the tuna is a good base for the kimchee, which already has a lot of flavor,” Seo explains.

Experience this flavorful combo for yourself with Kimchee Poke Bowl ($10), presenting limu-speckled poke and kimchee on a bed of rice, along with pickled ginger and vegetables. Kimchee Spicy Ahi ($10) offers a similar assortment with sushi-style spicy ahi instead of poke.

Ahi & Vegetable's Kimchee Spicy Ahi ($10)

Ahi & Vegetable’s Kimchee Spicy Ahi ($10)

In both of these bowls, you can appreciate the homemade freshness of Ahi & Vegetable’s MSG-free kimchee, which is made about twice a week in small batches for quality and consistency. Though it’s milder than some traditional kimchee that is fermented for longer periods of time, “fresh kimchee is still really good for you,” assures Seo.

Patrons may now enjoy the shop’s kimchee, tuna, sushi and more in Ahi & Vegetable’s expanded dining space, which can be reserved for groups of 40-50 people. If you’re interested in hosting your next special occasion there, call the restaurant to request more details.

Ahi & Vegetable

Kapalama Shopping Center
1210 Dillingham Blvd., Kalihi
845-3500
ahiandvegetable.com

BANCHAN MEETS BENEDICT

Included on Big City Diner’s long list of comforting local-style dishes is Grandma’s Incredible Kimchee Fried Rice, which remains an ever-popular classic at the local dining chain. Regulars will be happy to know that now they can enjoy that same delicious kimchee in an exciting new brunch dish.

Enter Bacon-Kimchee Benedict ($12.99), which is served during weekend brunch from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and major holidays. This delightful twist on a classic Benedict is prepared with honey-cured bacon, fresh Ka Lei eggs and corporate executive chef Dennis Franks’ homemade hollandaise sauce. But the additions that really make this dish unique are Grandma’s Incredible Kimchee and some extra spice from a drizzle of Sriracha. Rounding out the flavors are fresh island fruit and the customer’s choice of hash browns, paniolo potatoes or steamed white or brown rice.

Big City Diner's Bacon-Kimchee Benedict ($12.99) PHOTO COURTESY OF BIG CITY DINER

Big City Diner’s Bacon-Kimchee Benedict ($12.99)
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIG CITY DINER

According to owner and president Lane Muraoka, “We were inspired to make this dish because of the current trend for bold, spicy flavors.” Kimchee clearly fits the bill for that, and as Muraoka continues, “The kimchee we use is appealing to most tastes, as it’s medium-hot, but with a touch of Sriracha, it kicks it up a notch.”

In addition to Bacon-Kimchee Benedict, the restaurant also dishes out Classic Canadian Bacon, Salmon & Fresh Spinach, and Fire-Roasted Portobello Mushroom & Avocado versions of the iconic Benedict. Enjoy them at one of six Big City Diners across Oahu — in Kaimuki, Ward Entertainment Center, Waipio Shopping Center, Pearlridge East, Kailua and Windward Mall.

Patrons are encouraged to reserve a seat for the eatery’s upcoming Miller Lite Super Bowl Party to get a chance to win one of six Vacations Hawaii trips to Las

Vegas (one per location) as well as other great prizes. The fun begins Sunday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m., and guests will enjoy $4 Miller Lite pints and Special Combo Pupu Platters for $24.99. If you can’t make it down for the big match, you can still bring a platter of Famous Guava-Barbecue Baby Back Ribs ($89.99) to your game party.

Big City Diner

Six locations across Oahu, including
3565 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
738-8855
bigcitydinerhawaii.com