Up until this past weekend, I knew little about kimchi, except that it makes a tasty, spicy little side dish whenever I go for Korean barbecue. But a few days ago, I learned more than I ever thought I could know about this delicacy of pickled cabbage. Like, that it goes really well with cheese. And bacon. And that the older it is, the better it tastes. And that there are so many flavours than just spice to it, such as sweet and tangy and savoury and, yes, burn-your-mouth-right-off spicy.
I learned all this at the Battle Kimchi at Yakitori Bar on Baldwin Street in Toronto. I was there with a few other blogger babes, including Spunkygirl Pamela MacNaughtan, Unbrave Girl Sally Thelan, My Life Untethered’s Alicia Taggio and Travelicious Dee Deborah Peniuk, as well as heaps of food bloggers who were all snapping photos of each kimchi dish like they were works of art. Which, in a way, they were.
The first annual battle, hosted by Yakitori owner-operator Sang Kim, pitted several chefs against one another in a match to see whose kimchi recipe would win over the crowd and panel of judges. Each had to present a sample of their kimchi on its own, as well as served up in a unique dish. The winner’s kimchi would then be added to the product line-up at Yakitori’s sister store, Seoul Food Co.
There was kimchi on seaweed, kimchi pancakes, kimchi bruschetta, kimchi with salmon sashimi, bacon kimchi bi bim bap, and kimchi poutine. Yes. Kimchi poutine. It was incredible. All of it.
I’m a moderately adventurous eater. I will generally try anything once with the exception of anything still living or with more than four legs or that looks like it belongs on an episode of Fear Factor. Really, I just love trying any food I’ve never tasted before, or learned to appreciate before, especially when it’s a dish from another culture. Which is also why I love Toronto so much—this is a city where you can find everything from Spanish tapas to Tibetan momos, and where creative combinations like kimchi with cheese and gravy come to life. (It’s also why most of my pay cheques go to dining out and why I regularly have no groceries in my fridge except for wine, beer and cupcakes.)
At Battle Kimchi, I got to experience a cultural dish I had never fully appreciated. There were slight nuances to each version, like how one was strong with spice, another was sweetened with pear, and another had a sugary tang similar to Buffalo barbecue sauce (as Sally ingeniously pointed out, but she’s also from Buffalo, so I suspect she legally has to compare everything to chicken wings).
The winner of the battle was home chef Belle Park, who charmed the audience and judge’s tastebuds with her pear-infused kimchi and hearty dish of soba noodles and kimchi. (I admit, I went back for seconds of that one. And of the poutine. And the bruschetta…)
Battle Kimchi was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon. For one, I was with a great group of girls, but secondly, it just reminded me of how many unbelievably cool, cultural things there are to do in this city. (A kimchi throwdown?! How awesome is that?!) I’m not travelling at the moment (it’s a downfall of being a travel editor—you spend most your time holding down the fort while others are out globetrotting), but when you live in Toronto and have events like this happening just a streetcar ride away, it’s kind of like you’re travelling every day.
CTV News was on-hand at Battle Kimchi; you can check out their coverage here (complete with Pamela being interviewed and the occasional shot of us ladies in the background stuffing our faces).