A light, fresh and lemony kimchi from Borough’s newest recruits, Eaten Alive
On the London food scene, kimchi plays just a small part in the vogueish revival of all things fermented, but head to Korea and it’s as familiar and traditional as wine and cheese—products similarly reliant on the magic of bacteria to alter and preserve an ingredient—are in Europe, and its creation involves balancing science and art with the same skill demanded of a winemaker or affineur. “Lots of different factors will affect the flavour, the speed of fermentation, and how long you should leave it once fermented to get the perfect end product,” explains kimchi aficionado Pat Bingley. His stall, Eaten Alive, a Borough newcomer, is well stocked with all kinds of pickles and ferments, made by him and partner Glyn in south-west London. “It’s a simple technique, but there’s a very complicated process going on in the background.”
Pat and Glyn use a method known as ‘lacto-fermentation’—the same reaction that turns milk into cheese, hence the name. “Unlike making yoghurt, there’s no heat involved in what we do,” he continues. “You’re encouraging lactic acid-forming bacteria by using a salt or brine-based pickle. These bacteria like a salty environment. They feed on the starch in the vegetables, creating lactic acid as a biproduct of respiration. It’s this acidity that pickles the vegetables. We’re farming microbes, basically.”
Light and refreshing ferment
Only the freshest whole vegetables are used to make the pickles. “We never buy old or prepped veg, because if anything has gone a bit manky it can interrupt the process.” In the case of Eaten Alive’s golden kimchi, that means Chinese leaf, daikon, spring onion, celery, whole and preserved lemon, apple, ginger, garlic and red chilli. “While we do add a few slices of chilli, there’s no real heat in the kimchi at all. One of the reasons it’s been so popular is because it’s familiar flavour-wise to the Western palate, or those who might be nervous about eating fermented foods, but it’s also unusual and interesting for those who are familiar with traditional kimchi.” Fresh turmeric is added to round and balance out the saltiness—“much like sweet does sour, bitterness is a foil for salt. And it gives it a fantastic colour”—resulting in a light and refreshing ferment.
Naturally, being chefs by training, Pat and Glyn have discovered myriad ways to make the most of it. “We love the flavour and it’s super-versatile,” Pat continues. “Because the golden kimchi is really light and fresh it’s great in a salad, particularly grain or wild rice. Something we like to cook for lunch is sautéed courgette and chickpea salad with golden kimchi, just eaten on its own with black pepper and maybe spring onions. It also goes well with white fish—perhaps a little barbecued sea bream—or in a mixed veg curry. If you want it warm or hot, a good thing to do with it is blanch some green vegetables, chop the kimchi up a bit, and once you’ve drained the veg just toss it through with a little olive oil. Delicious.”