House-Made Kimchi from Rhea's Deli Perfect for DIY Korean

Rhea_Kimchi.jpg
J. Kauffman
Made by the Korean grandmother you wish you had.
Kimchi burgers, kimchi quesadillas, and kimchi fried rice only sound surreal to people who haven't tried them. Speaking as a man with three different types of kimchi in his refrigerator, kimchi works better as a universal condiment than ketchup or salsa. If Frito-Lay actually announced it was releasing Xtreme Kimchi Doritos I would preorder a case.

So the moment I walked into Rhea's Deli (800 Valencia at 19th St.) to pick up a bulgogi sub (research for today's food review), I noticed the pint and quart Bell jars of kimchi lined up in the refrigerated case below the sandwich counter. "Those homemade?" I asked owner James Choi. Yes, he said; his mother makes them.

Pint jars of the red cabbage kimchi cost $6.99 ― a little steep compared to other Korean markets around town, but Choi gives you $2 back if you return the jar. It's a potently garlicky pickle, acutely tart, obviously fresh, perfect for eating on burgers, nachos, brats, potato chips, and possibly ― though this is pure speculation ― corn dogs.

Choi's mother also makes a chile-less white radish kimchi ($11.99/quart), which I haven't tried. And on my last trip to the market, I noticed a type of kimchi I hadn't seen outside Korea before: A sherbet-pink "water kimchi," radish slices floating in a light, delicately tart brine that's often served in bowls with a meal for sipping. A jar of that may soon end up in the refrigerator, too.

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