Hipster gastronomes are currently in a ferment over ferments. The buzz really is a buzz, like licking a 9-volt battery, an effervescent prickle on your tongue from food that is alive with yummy bacteria. They say those tiny critters are good for you too, probiotics and all. Mostly, though, it’s scrumptious.
A staple of the Korean kitchen, kimchi is any of a variety of pickled vegetables (and rarely fish), most commonly cabbage. It’s essentially sauerkraut flavoured with fish sauce, scallion, garlic and hot chili. The process transforms and preserves—both the veg and you. It’s a main, a side dish and a condiment. The fermentation should be active so that when you open a jar the stuff inside climbs out and makes a run for it. Kimchi and Sushi at Atlantic Place make their own and it’s terrific, of the first water. You can also buy decent kimchi imported from Korea at the Magic Wok grocery on Duckworth Street. Deploy to jack ramen or make a savory pancake. Seoul food.
These are little cucumbers in a salty vinegar with chemical added to provide an illusion of freshness. A real pickle is, of course, pickled. There are indeed great pickles—fermented briny things related to kimchi, and real dill pickles can be had in town: Mrs. Whyte’s are available at Costco, Strubbs in the refrigerated sections of the chain supermarkets and, to my taste the best, the Bubbies available at the unfortunately-named “Fat Nanny’s”. There is nothing offensive about a denatured, industrial dill pickle—maybe it can elevate a simple sandwich or burger—but it has no guts, no oomph. Not a big deal? You’re putting it in your mouth and ingesting it, so it’s prudent to care. When I lived in Montreal in the 80’s there was a shop bottom of The Main where “full sours” were sold out of a barrel, and they were brilliant. If only Philip Sprung could have tasted one of those babies.
By Ed Riche. Illustrations by Kelly Bastow.