Kimchinary first came to my attention last year at Taco Wars. Of all the delicious tacos on offer, this one was a masterpiece that captured my tastebuds like no other: succulent slow-braised bulgogi ox cheek supporting a piece of soju- and gochujang-battered cod cheek, hidden under a blanket of homemade kimchi, and finished off with a teetering pile of toasted seaweed, chives, chilli powder, radish and sesame seeds. I was instantly hooked.
Over the next few months I happily stuffed myself with every iteration of toasted burrito to be found at the cheerful red food stall. The hefty burritos, with their multi-textured and wildly flavourful contents, are swaddled tightly and turned on a griddle to give them that slight satisfactory crunch. Inside, the main ingredient of choice (slow-braised bulgogi ox cheek, pulled pork belly ribs, or aubergine and braised kale) nestles comfortably with gochujang-slathered kimchi fried rice, apple slaw, spring onion sour cream, sesame seeds, chilli powder, etc… and at £6.50, it’s one of the best value-for-money street food items you can find in London. Are you drooling yet?
Since street food exploded into the zeitgeist of London this past summer, a few savvy businesses have invited traders inside to have residencies, serving their food from real kitchens and blissfully climate-controlled environments. For the next three (and probably cold, blustery, wet) months, the lucky Kimchinary will be pushing Korean-inspired items across the pass at Catch, a bar on the south end of Kingsland Road.
A few weeks ago, Hanna invited press and friends along to try out her new menu, created specially for her time at Catch. The menu focuses on tacos rather than burritos (which I can understand, as little tacos are much daintier to eat and leave more room for boozing) and is imaginatively divided into two sections: “Tacos” and “Not Tacos”.
All tacos are £6 per order, which includes two in house hand-pressed corn tortillas topped with one of five medleys of fillings: gochujang pulled pork with apple and sesame coleslaw, house kimchi, and chives; buttermilk fried squid with pickled pineapple relish, kimchi guacamole, and herb salad; “bulgogi” ox cheek and tongue with radish kimchi, blackened sprig onion, and horseradish; corn flake chicken thigh with doenjang buttered corn, potato salad, and crispy chicken skin; and one for the veggies, braised cavolo nero with soy pickled enoki, kimchi puree, and queso fresco. The side range from £4-£6, including “mulita” (I can’t possibly tell you what that is—when I googled it I was shown pictures of an armadillo) with XO butter, kimchi, and cheese; ssam plate with kale kimchi fried rice, pickles, kimchis, and soy glazed aubergines; and awe-inspiring dukbokki (but more on that later).
At the launch, we were treated to four of the five tacos. First came the buttermilk fried squid, which was like a chewier take on a fish taco. I enjoyed the fresh, tropical flavours imparted by the pineapple relish and kimchi guacamole; this taco was probably my second favourite. The next taco was the cavolo nero, and unlike a good majority of vegetarian options, this one was packed with flavour (though possibly slightly oversalted). The corn flake chicken thigh taco followed, and a few people said it was their favourite. This one didn’t impress me as much as the other tacos; I didn’t find it to be as flavoursome as the others, but it was still a decent taco. Lastly, we were served the bulgogi ox cheek and tongue taco, which had a sweet but vaguely ferric taste from the tongue. The huge chunks of radish kimchi that came with this one offered a great tang to offset the flavour of the meat. Sadly, we weren’t able to try to gochujang pulled pork tacos, but considering that this is far and away my favourite Kimchinary burrito filling, I’d be comfortable saying that this taco would probably be the best. I’ll be going back to test my theory soon enough.
As for the sides, the only one we were served was the dukbokki (or tteokbokki). Dukbokki is a popular snack food served by street food slingers (pojangmacha) in Korea. It consists of boiled rice cakes (tteok) and gochujang, that delicious soy-and-chili paste that gives so many Korean dishes that addictive, mildly spicy, salty-yet-sweet punch. Other ingredients vary from vendor to vendor and many kinds exist. Hanna’s dukbokki were covered in a sticky, sweet caramelized sauce, braised rainbow chard, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds—I’m inclined to think they also included illegal addictive substances because once I had tasted one, I couldn’t stop eating them. One wasn’t enough. Three weren’t enough. A whole bowl wasn’t enough. I finished the bowl at my table and went creeping around the room to see if anyone else had unwisely left their bowl of dukbokki unguarded. Much to my dismay, the sticky, sweet rice cakes had been hoovered up by every person, and many had that same wild look in their eyes, mirroring mine, that implied they’d do anything to get their hands on more. When more bowls were brought out, I tried to intersperse polite conversation between grabbing extra pieces to maintain a sense of decorum… I probably failed.
It may seem odd that Hanna, a Swedish girl living in London, could nail the explosive flavours of Korean food so well, but she’s had first hand experience with both authentic Korean and Korean fusion cuisine. She left her hometown of Österlund, Sweden to study in Santa Barbara, California, where she was influenced early on by Korean street food trucks, such as Kogi, that populated the Los Angeles area. “Kimchi blew me away the first time I tasted it; fermentation and its moodiness and inconsistency keeps me excited!” she related via email. After then finishing a degree in London (in Geography and Agricultural Development) and working for Ottolenghi, she began to have ideas of doing Swedish street food in London. However, after some time spent travelling in Korea, her love of all things fermented and delicious was rekindled; she returned to London with her mind completely changed, determined to do Korean-inspired street food. Thus, in March 2013, Kimchinary was born.
I fully believe that Kimchinary is one of the best street food traders in London, offering exciting, flavourful dishes that are imitated nowhere else in the scene. Be sure to check out her residency at Catch, and if you’ve never had the pleasure of stuffing your face with one of those burritos, check out her Twitter to see when she’ll be back on the streets toasting some tortillas again. Hopefully when she is, she’ll bring those tantalizing, dreamy dukbokki with her.
You can find Kimchinary at Catch for 3 months from January 17th.
22 Kingsland Rd
I was a guest of Kimchinary, but all opinions are my own. Pics are obviously not from Catch; they just looked a lot better than the ones that were.