On Monday, I decided that I was going to make spicy Korean tacos, which I've been wanting to try since they became super trendy like a year and a half ago. Since I don't live in LA, nor do I have the patience to track down the Kogi truck anyway, making them myself seemed like my best option. In order to do this, I needed to acquire some gochujang (red pepper paste) and some vegetarian kimchi, and I decided that it would be a good excuse to find a Korean grocery store. (I like going to grocery stores. Yes, I am weird, news at 11.) And that's how I ended up wandering around in Hankook for at least half an hour, probably more like forty-five minutes. I may have lost track of time a little bit.
There were many kinds of gochujang. I'm not sure you'd find that many kinds of ketchup in a standard American grocery store. I wanted a container the size of an index card box (do people even use index card boxes anymore? suddenly I feel old), not a five-gallon container, which narrowed it down to a couple of varieties. They were the same brand and their ingredients were very similar, but one of them had some additional seasoning and slightly less sodium. Beyond that, I'm sure the packaging explained the difference quite clearly to people who can read Korean, a category that I definitely don't belong to. I ended up choosing the plainer one, more or less at random. When I opened up the container, there was a plastic flap on the inside that said "NO!" along with a bunch of other Korean writing.
I think it probably says something like "NO! MSG" or "NO! artificial ingredients," but it could say "NO! don't use this as an ice cream topping" or "NO! dilute! dilute!" with equal accuracy, and I would not know the difference.
There were also many kinds of kimchi. In addition to the jars and packets of kimchi, there's a section of the store that sells prepared food in bulk, like the salad bar at Whole Foods, and a large proportion of it is kimchi. But for all that, it turns out that there is no such thing as vegetarian kimchi. It all has shrimp and anchovies, kind of like all Vietnamese food has fish sauce. (I swear I've seen kimchi that is just cabbage, salt, and red pepper...but it might have been Japanese kimchi, and Japan is the country that decided it was a good idea to put corn and mayonnaise on pizza, so.) Anyway, after I'd looked at about fifteen different kinds of kimchi, I finally found a package that did not list anything fishy in its English ingredients. The problem here is that products sold in the US have to have an English ingredient label, but sometimes the translation is...loose. In this case, after I'd gotten home, I realized that there were cute little icons on the front depicting cabbage, peppers, garlic, ginger, shrimp, and fish.
Sigh. I used it anyway, because I'm the worst vegetarian ever. (I'm a vegetarian mainly because I object to how animals are treated on factory farms, not because I feel a deep mystical connection to animals. As such, in situations where I have to choose between eating an animal product or wasting food, I tend to believe that eating the food is the lesser evil.) In any case, next time I'm making my own darn kimchi.
The tacos probably made my non-existent Korean and Mexican ancestors spin in their graves, but they were pretty good (and also INCREDIBLY spicy). I modified the recipe by just cooking the tofu with the sauce, rather than coating it with the sauce and then deep-frying it. This made me feel all health-conscious, but honestly, I'm sure I would have liked the deep-fried version better.
I also made kimchi sweet potato salad, omitting the mayonnaise (because I can't stand it) and the bacon (because so far, there are no pigs made of vegetables), and that was pretty awesome. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for both sweet potatoes and kimchi, but I think they do actually work well together.
I'll add pictures of the actual food to this post tomorrow.
Update: I clearly flaked out on taking pictures, but I did make My Own Darn Kimchi, which you can see over here.