Sujin's Kimchi

Worth the effort

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

During a recent visit to the Edison Farmers Market, my husband and I were walking through the stalls when we suddenly both stopped and said “Ooh, kimchi!”

At the far end of the market, a booth featured a colorful pile of jars, with the owner, Sujin Jo, waiting to hand out tasting cups. We instantly tried several varieties and bought a jar to take home. A few weeks later, we were back for more.

I should start off by saying that I love kimchi. It isn’t something I grew up with, but ever since my first visit to a Korean restaurant I’ve been hooked. Whether it’s the plain napa cabbage version or other vegetables such as cucumber or fennel, I love the spicy sourness and crunch. I eat it plain, chop it up into Korean pancakes or fried rice, or pile it on burgers instead of pickles.

For many people, though, kimchi can be a difficult taste to acquire, although fermented foods are becoming more widely appreciated in the United States.

A good kimchi should be actively fermenting when you buy it, resulting in bubbles or hissing when the jar is opened, as well as increasing sourness as it ages, like sauerkraut. Sometimes a particularly lively kimchi will escape the jar altogether. It isn’t hard to make at home, but tracking down ingredients can be challenging—for me it always seems to require a trip down to the Korean grocery H-Mart in Lynnwood to stock up on the proper base ingredients like salted shrimp and Korean chili flakes. And while it really is delightful to have a fridge full of bubbling jars, I still never stopped looking for a good locally available product.

Now, I think, Sujin’s is that product. Made from local vegetables and seafood, homemade fish sauce, and sweetened with local fruit, it is nevertheless totally traditional in method and flavor. Sujin learned to make kimchi from her mother and grandmother in Korea, and the result is gloriously sour, salty and hot. Her Anacortes-based company’s marketing focus is on health rather than just flavor, hyping the probiotic qualities of kimchi. I can’t speak to the curative properties, but I can certainly vouch for the taste.

Our most recent visit to Sujin’s stall involved tasting quite a lot of kimchi. She offers more than a dozen varieties, including kale, Walla Walla sweet onion, beet, kohlrabi, daikon radish and unspiced white cabbage.

After a great deal of experimentation, my family has concluded that our two favorites happen to both be double-fermented kimchis—oiji moochim (cucumber) and daikon moochim (daikon radish). According to Sujin’s website, the vegetables are fermented for a month on their own before being made into kimchi and fermented again. Both of these are intensely flavored and quite spicy but with truly excellent crunch, and I love that both are thinly sliced, making them very easy to eat straight out of the jar or mixed into rice or noodles, or even piled on sandwiches.

Other varieties like the “ponytail,” which contains whole daikon radishes with the tops on, require a bit more preparation unless you eat them straight out of hand.

Sujin’s Kimchi is available for sale at the Anacortes and Edison farmers markets, as well as at her family’s business, Tokyo Japanese Restaurant (also in Anacortes). While she’s hoping to get back up to Bellingham in the next year or so, many of Sujin’s loyal fans are making it down to the markets in Skagit just to stock up. Good kimchi is worth the effort.

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