After seeking it for the past six months, I finally get serious about my quest for kimchi in Madrid. I’ve known my beloved Mercado de Maravillas has a dedicated Korean stall for some time now, but never have I seen anyone manning the register. That’s right, scores of Korean goodies on display within spitting distance, and absolutely no way to exchange my hard earned euros for their forbidden flavor goodies.
I research the hell out of making my own kimchi, in fact – it doesn’t look all that difficult, but I fear possibly grody, certainly smelly fermentation experiments in the shared kitchen may push the boundaries of what constitutes respectful co-habitation. So I return to Alimentación Coreana, again, and again. I make excuses to walk up to Cuatro Caminos: it’s sunny out at last, the exercise is healthy, there’s always the tea store to fall back on, I might find kale instead (still haven’t!!! major kudos if you can give me a lead here).
Last Friday, I dedicate my morning to one final balls-to-the-wall attempt at petitioning the Spanish bureaucracy for my NIE renewal; the grueling process ends up involving several near hour-long metro stints racing around like a rat, being screeched at in between by nasty women at the helm of Help Desks who do anything but. By the end I feel I have either managed to resolve absolutely everything, or I have utterly trashed any remote possibility of legality that I may have still been holding onto. As such, I need a victory. I need validation. I need kimchi, and I need it now.
I tromp north, determinedly, metro-free and valiant, the breeze laden thick with destiny and fermented cabbage. I enter the Mercado, beelining it to the back, past the spices and greens, past mongers of every variety, all the way to the back-left-corner: the Korean product enclave, the abandoned Kimchi Palace.
And LO!!!!! A woman behind the counter spies my approach. Likely she is psychic in some fashion, or perhaps simply a run-of-the-mill mystic. It seems She Of The Kimchi bestows her homemade parcels so replete with lactobacilli when and only when they’ve been properly paid for, preferably meted out in their weight in salty hot sweat, and/or fresh blood from a true warrior.
My prize is sourspicysweet, crunchy and complex, insistently fermented, anything but meek. It is perfect on its own. It is lovely prepared this simple way as well, complemented by gochujang (hot pepper paste), tuna, and tofu. Mostly, it is simply triumphant.
Kimchi Chigae (Kimchi Stew with Tuna and Tofu)
Adapted for personal taste from Maangchi.
1 cup chopped kimchi
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 tablespoon gochujang (hot pepper paste)
1 sliced onion
1/4 cup diced scallions
1 can tuna in water
half a package of tofu, drained and sliced
drizzle sesame oil for finishing
1. In medium-size pot, combine chopped kimchi (and its juice!), sliced onion, hot pepper paste, hot pepper flakes, sugar, scallions, and tuna. Pour water over top until all the ingredients are submerged. Close the lid of the pot and boil it 25-30 minutes.
2. Add tofu and boil it 5 minutes more. Drizzle with sesame oil right before serving.