K is for kimchi

Published November 11, 2021, 12:15 PM

by Nina Daza-Puyat

Chef Summer Gonzalez on everything we need to know about this Korean staple, from traditions to food pairings

SAY KIMCHI! Chef Summer Gonzalez and her kimchi

Kimchi to Koreans may be what atsara is to Filipinos, but in truth, it is much more than that. A side dish to mains like Samgyupsal and Bulgogi, kimchi is also a cooking ingredient for Korean soups, stir-fries, and fried rice. It is also served as pulutan paired with makgeolli, a light, white rice wine, or soju, a distilled liquor made from rice, barley, or sweet potato. But if we take a closer look at kimchi’s flavor profile, we will find that it can complement many Filipino dishes, too.

Kimchi comes in many forms. It can be prepared with various vegetables like radish, cucumber, sayote, mustard leaves, and perilla leaves, but the most common form of kimchi is the baechu kimchi made with Napa Cabbage or Baguio pechay. While this humble, traditional dish has endured for centuries in Korea, it is only now becoming more mainstream and readily available in the Philippines. How much do Filipinos really know about kimchi? Can it be paired with other types of food, apart from Korean dishes?

Working and cooking from home

Shimkeun “Summer” Huh Gonzalez is the woman behind Kimchi Dynasty, a pandemic-born homebased business fueled more by passion and desire for quality kimchi than for profit. Her Busan-style kimchi has bright, balanced flavors of umami mingled with spicy and sour, topped with a fragrant aroma that can only be obtained by proper fermentation. High-quality kimchi, even though it has been fermented for months, “has to be malutong,” according to Gonzalez. Its kimchi juice called kimchi googmul must have a homogeneous color, usually bright red-orange (unless it is white kimchi made without the red chili pepper powder).

HOT AND CRUNCHY Chicharon with kimchi

The idea for Kimchi Dynasty started in 2020 when Summer saw YouTube videos of mass-produced kimchi made in another Asian country (not Korea). The video showed factory workers inside a deep pit packed with cabbage, walking on the vegetables with their shoes on. Another video featured a shirtless man waist-deep in a pool of brown sludge with kimchi swimming around him, completely oblivious to food safety and sanitation practices. Summer was horrified and disgusted. Offended by the people’s disrespect of her country’s beloved kimchi-making tradition, she felt anger well up inside. That is not how kimchi should be made!

Out of frustration, Summer resolved to make her own small batch kimchi with love, care, and respect for tradition. Thus, Kimchi Dynasty was born. Her special recipe is unique because she uses only authentic Korean ingredients but also incorporates local ingredients. “I want to help Filipino farmers and fishermen so I try to use local ingredients, too. The Philippines needs our support now so that industries will grow,” says Summer. She also expressed concern at how scheming merchants have now tampered with gochugaru (dried chili pepper flakes), an essential ingredient in making kimchi. Beware of cheap gochugaru that is not from Korea, Gonzalez warns, as it may be adulterated with finely ground wood chips.

Finding love and career in Manila

Shimkeun Huh came to the Philippines as a Korean-English translator for Korean Airlines and Philippine Airlines 26 years ago. She met and married a handsome Filipino gentleman named Adolfo “Ompong” Gonzalez, belonging to a family of foodies from Pampanga. This association with food clicked with the young Shimkeun because her mother owned a noodle restaurant in Busan, Korea, and her maternal grandmother was also a great cook. Soon, her brother-in-law Chef Gene Gonzalez invited Summer to be a culinary instructor for Korean cuisine at his new cooking school then, now known as the Center for Asian Culinary Studies.

Chef Summer, as she is fondly called by her students, ended up teaching for almost 15 years. She taught courses on traditional cooking, the history of Korean food, and also cultural practices such as table manners and Ban sang table setting. Ban sang is a particular style of Korean table setting that has designated places for the spoon, chopsticks, rice, soup, and side dishes, depending on the number of viands served.

Kimchi Dynasty

Summer speaks fondly of her hometown Busan, which she describes as “the Cebu of Korea because it has many beautiful beaches… and a lot of seafood!” Its kimchi makers include ingredients such as oysters and seaweed because these add a unique salinity and flavor to the kimchi. Every November in Korea is a special time when Kimjang, an age-old tradition of community kimchi-making, takes place. Neighbors and friends gather to prepare a big batch of kimchi, working all day chopping up vegetables, mixing up spice paste, and carefully spreading it on each cabbage leaf while catching up on the latest gossip. They could process up to over 100 heads (or more!) of cabbage, enough for everyone to share and last throughout the winter. Summer remembers how her mom’s relatives would come over to their house to make kimchi together every year, fostering closer family ties.

These memories constitute the framework for Summer’s recipe for Kimchi Dynasty. “The best kind of kimchi has three kinds of fermented fish and shrimp,” she says. “If you put only one kind, it has a very simple taste. If you put more than three, it’s more complex. When fermented, it tastes very different. Kimchi can be simple only but I want to put different kinds of nutrition from the sea and from the ground, like beef bone broth or oxtail broth. In the northern part of Korea, they even put chicken feet broth.”

Shimkeun ‘Summer’ Huh Gonzalez is the woman behind Kimchi Dynasty, a pandemic-born homebased business fueled more by passion and desire for quality kimchi than for profit.

What is kimchi to Filipinos?

What are some misconceptions about kimchi? “Last year, there was a rumor that kimchi is a cure for the virus,” says Summer. “It’s not anti-COVID. Maybe it helps because it has probiotics and it’s healthy, but it is not a cure.”

Most Filipinos learned to eat kimchi only with Korean food. But how can kimchi be incorporated into the everyday Filipino diet? “Kimchi is bagay with nilagang baka or nilagang baboy,” quips Summer. “I eat also kimchi with beef tapa, instead of atsara. If you want kimchi to have a ‘friendly’ taste, just chop it and sauté in a bit of sesame oil and then add two to three pinches of sugar to balance the sour taste. You can put it also on ramen noodles—it’s so sarap.”

For orders, Kimchi Dynasty is on Instagram and Facebook or call Mameng or Corazon at 83732790 or 89.

Bacon Kimchi with steamed tofu

GETTING SPICY! Steamed tofu with sauteed kimchi

1 tsp. cooking oil

5 strips bacon, cut in half-inch pieces

1 small onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup sliced kimchi (or 1 whole kimchi, cut into 1” pieces)

½ tsp. sugar

1 tsp. sesame oil

¼ tsp. sesame seeds

1 pack Korean medium-firm tofu, sliced into squares

Sliced onion leeks or chopped spring onions, to garnish

  1. Heat cooking oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add bacon bits. Cook until bacon to a crisp.
  2. Toss in onions with the bacon. Cook until soft and fragrant, then add garlic.
  3. Cook garlic for a minute then add kimchi, including kimchi juice.
  4. Season with sugar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Simmer for a few minutes, then turn the heat off. Set aside.
  5. Cut tofu into squares. Arrange on a plate and steam for 10 minutes, or heat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Arrange steamed tofu on a plate with bacon kimchi on the side. Top with sliced onion leeks or spring onions, and sprinkle more sesame oil and sesame seeds.