There is hardly a more delicious and representative combination in Korean cuisine than pork and kimchi. Kimchi jjim is one dish demonstrating that.
You’ll run across pork and kimchi most commonly in kimchi jjigae (김치찌개, kimchi stew) but you’ll also find it in other dishes. For example: • Bossam (보쌈), which has its very own type of kimchi served with it • Dubu kimchi (두부김치), which is stir-fried pork, veggies and kimchi served with tofu • Samgyeopsal (삼겹살), which is often grilled up along with kimchi • Kimchi tacos, the fusion of East and West that is now incredibly popular back in the US
Kimchi jjim, however, is the best of them all.
About Kimchi Jjim
The ideal kimchi to use for this dish is well-fermented kimchi, otherwise known as “sour” kimchi (신김치). To do it right, the kimchi should have been fermented for quite a long time—up to a year or two. This pungent flavor adds a nice tang to the dish and brings out the flavor of the pork. When the pork and kimchi are slow-cooked together, the pork infuses its flavor into the kimchi, giving the dish a sweet crunchiness.
Finding a restaurant that does kimchi jjim well is rather rare. It’s a time-consuming dish to prepare, as you have to cook it for an hour or longer, which is not conducive to the quick preparation necessary in restaurants. Hence, places that serve this dish right are often specialty restaurants that focus on a few dishes, one of these being kimchi jjim.
My favorite place is actually a chicken hof (호프, pub) near Hakdong Station in Seoul that serves kimchi jjim only during the lunch hour. They don’t serve anything else. You walk in and yell out “Saminbun!” (삼인분, three servings), and within 3 to 5 minutes a heaping serving of spicy pork and kimchi is headed your way—and for only W5,000 a person. Ridiculously good food for the price. (Come out Hakdong Station exit 6, go 3 blocks, and turn right at Waazwiz, just past the Alpha office supply store.)
Kimchi Jjim at Home
One great thing about this dish, however, is it’s relatively easy to cook on your own. The main feature is that you have to slow-cook the pork and kimchi together for an hour or more. You can use pork rib meat or pork belly, or even just samgyeopsal, which is after all just sliced pork belly. For a leaner cut, request moksal (목살, literally “neck meat”). There are a ton of preparation methods out there, so experiment to determine your own. Check out Arirang TV’s video of kimchi jjim prepared by the former executive chef of the InterContinental Hotel (and previous writer of this column) Paul Schenk.
Now the actual word jjim (찜) just means boiled or braised, so you may run into other varieties like kkongchi kimchi jjim (꽁치김치찜) or galbi kimchi jjim (갈비김치찜), but the most frequent and most delicious variety is just this good ol’ pork kimchi jjim.
Tourists to Seoul often head to Jongno to see the Cheonggyecheon and Insadong. Take advantage of your time there to try the delicious eats at Hanokzip. This restaurant, housed in a 200-year-old hanok (traditional Korean house), is famous for its kimchi jjim. A bowl costs W7,000, with unlimited rice refills.
Steamed kimchi (the literal meaning of “kimchi jjim”) usually means kimchi and pork, but Dama Kimchi gives you plenty of other choices. The extensive menu lets you replace the pork with pollack, mackerel, and pork ribs. These all go for W6,000, with as much rice as you want.
The best time to enjoy Onggi Kimchi’s set menu, which features various kinds of kimchi jjim and free refills on rice, is lunch, when the prices drop by as much as W8,000. One pleasant surprise is that the rice is served bento-style in an aluminum box with sliced spam (don’t knock it till you try).