I’m caught in an Asian food vortex lately, specifically Japanese and Korean. I’m not complaining, but who’d have thought it would take a gig in Bozeman, as athletic support unit for a pair of distance runners, to bring the trend into relief?
After writing about kim chi two weeks ago, I thought I had written the book on that spicy fermented cabbage pickle at the heart of Korean cooking. Apparently I’m not ready to leave the monastery.
At 6:05 a.m., Chef Boy Ari delivers Runs Alone and Bull Calf to the trailhead, late for their race. They pin on their numbers and chase after the pack.
At 9:37 a.m., Bull Calf and Runs Alone are still running, high in the mountains above Bozeman, while CBA and his buddy Speciman engage in a light-hearted discussion of Michel Foucault’s thesis regarding the post-Enlightenment evolution of Western medicine’s gaze upon the patient, as it relates to filmmaking.
Then we wandered over to the Rocky Mountain Seafood and Asian Market. I was singing in the aisles as I inspected the merchandise, some very good stuff you can’t get at home. For example, goma wakame seaweed salad—the neon green stuff you can’t get enough of at Sushi Hana—by the pint. I also scored some seaweed/sesame sprinkles, and a bag of galanga root, which is good in Thai-style coconut soup. And: three packs of NOH brand powdered kim chi mix—just add salted cabbage!
The Rocky Mountain Market also sells sushi-grade fish, like tuna, mackerel, escolar and hamachi. I tell you, my biggest mistake all day was not bringing the whole store home with me. By 11:16 a.m., Bull Calf and Runs Alone have been running for five hours.
At lunchtime, we found ourselves at Melaque, a new Mexican place on Main St. Speciman, who had been talking about tacos all day, ordered three. They came in hard shells (probably from Safeway), with bright orange cheese and shredded iceberg lettuce—you catch my drift? White man tacos. I squeaked by with a chili relleno that couldn’t make up in melted cheese and congealed lard what it lacked in quality ingredients. In all fairness, the salsa and the rice were OK, but Mexican food is supposed to be good and cheap. This was neither. Mistake #2: Should’ve spent that seven dollars on Guerilla Sushi at the sushi store.
Guerilla Sushi is a technique I honed at the Asian supermarkets of Portland while in college. It goes like this: I spend my seven bucks on 1/3 pound of hamachi, and Speciman buys the seaweed, soy sauce and wasabi. We cut apart the hamachi in the parking lot, hit it with a finger-smear of wasabi, roll it into a piece of seaweed, and give it a squirt of soy sauce. That’s all you need to do for the bare-bones sushi experience.
Sure, you can also serve it with sweet vinegar rice, even roll it in bamboo mats, and throw in some pickled ginger to cleanse the palate. And that’s still just the beginning. As a veteran of an eight-week sushi class, I can go big in the fancy sushi department.
But all I need is that harmonious combination of fish, soy sauce, wasabi, and seaweed—way more than I needed that quasi-Mexican traffic jam in my gut as I drove to the finish line. Luckily, I remembered to get beer and chips for my returning heroes, stopping at the ultra-badass Bozeman Community Food Co-op. Did I mention this place was cool? Big, but without the foofy, supermarket big deal. The variety, prices, samples, service and overall vibe were top-notch. Ten thumbs up. All things considered, maybe it’s time for a food co-op like this in Missoula.
The Co-op stocks a Bozeman-made brand of kim chi, called I-Ho. (I could make a joke here, but I won’t). As I read the ingredients on the label, I noticed 7-Up. What the?…But then, in an inexplicable move that constituted my third mistake, I did not buy the I-Ho. I did get the beer, however, thereby preventing my execution when I met the runners, seven hours, 32 miles, 24,000 vertical feet and one first-place trophy (Runs Alone) after they’d started.
Back home, my Chinese cabbage was bolting. Like an idiot, I’d picked it in the heat of the day and watched it wilt. That evening, I salted my bolted and wilted cabbage, as per the instructions on my new packet of kim chi spices. The next morning, I rinsed the cabbage, reconstituted the kim chi powder and mixed it all together.
I added some chopped green onions and some radish slices—both of which are known to enhance kim chi. The onions, overwintered from last year, were bolting too, and the radishes were a bit soft after a week in the fridge. I wasn’t exactly putting on a kim chi clinic.
Or was I, grasshopper? In its humble origins, kim chi was a poor man’s food, a way of preserving and preparing whatever was available. 7-Up and whatnot came much later. The path remains the goal.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: firstname.lastname@example.org