What better way to spend your Sunday than spicin’ it up at Kimchipalooza 6? While this might sound like the latest edition of a concept-heavy music festival or B-movie, the truth is much tastier. It’s a kimchi festival happening for the 6th year in a row, celebrating jars full of the uber-healthy, probiotic, sometimes buried-underground, stinking-rotten cabbage native to Korean cuisine but that in the last several years has grown in popularity, transcending borders and spreading joy and a spicier, more complex approach to the blander sauerkraut more familiar to American tongues. They’re offering BBQ kimchi creations, live music, DJs, dranks, even a make-your-own kimchi station, and— brace yourself —a “super spicy” kimchi eating contest.
The event sprung from the brain of Kheedim Oh, former DJ and producer and founder of the Brooklyn-born Mama O’s Premium Kimchi, a company selling various types of kimchi, kimchi paste, and even homemade kimchi kits. He’s the real deal, and totally not, like, some white person who ate kimchi fried rice once and wanted to make a business out of it then throw a party to celebrate (although those people are welcome to attend too).
“I wanted to throw an event celebrating kimchi because it’s so delicious and good for you and yet terribly maligned,” Oh explained. “A lot of people have heard of it but haven’t tried an authentic delicious kimchi.”
Oh tells me there’s actually 200 varieties of kimchi, a term that technically applies to any spiced and fermented vegetable side dish that has origins in Korea. The type they’re focusing on is the one that’s most common one in America, called “baechu” kimchi, meaning cabbage, the vegetable base for the dish.
The first Kimchipalooza was held at Governors Island, and then moved to Williamsburg’s Crown Victoria, a BBQ bar spot which closed earlier this year. This year, the shindig’s going down at East Williamsburg’s Arrogant Swine, known for their whole hog BBQs and ample party space.
Oh jokes that people who are turned off by kimchi’s pungent odor are “racist,” but goes on to say that uncertain kimchi virgins should think of it as similar to “a funky limburger or gorgonzola,” or consider pairing the food with something else. “Kimchi is meant to be eaten with something. It’s the perfect compliment to rich meats and sauces yet is also the perfect counterbalance to the blandness of white rice,” he tells me, adding his personal favorite way to eat it is on a hot dog (preserved meats are a big deal in Korea, see: the classic, beloved Spam fried rice).
Despite the questionable nature of most hot dogs, Oh says kimchi is “an ancient superfood” and one of the “five healthiest foods in the world.” Aside from being a vegetable, it “becomes healthier through the process of lacto-fermentation,” which he says adds “B vitamins, potassium, and even calcium not naturally present in the vegetables.”
And if you’re down with some convoluted logic, Oh says that kimchi, the unofficial national dish of Korea, actually has more diverse origins. Actually, it’s kimchi’s trademark bright red color, owed to chili-flake seasoning, that hints toward the dish’s origins. “Chile flakes are a New World food that made it’s way to Asia via the Silk Road. So in a way, kimchi is an American food!”
WTF! Take that, food racists.
If you want the kimchi experience to continue beyond the ‘palooza, why not make your own? It’s made relatively simple; Oh explains that Kimchipalooza’s make-your-own kimchi station will have “pre-brined cabbage and the complete line of Mama O’s Premium Kimchi Paste to make your kimchi as spicy or intensely flavorful as you want.” Mix it up and take it home to ferment it yourself—the default recommendation is to let it sit at room temperature for a whole day, but people with proclivity for stronger, sour flavors can leave it out for another day or longer, then refrigerate when it’s at prime flavor.
And if you really can’t get enough kimchi, recall the eating contest. You’re not gonna be chowing down on no ordinary kimchi, but the most powerful stuff these guys can muster: kimchi packed with ghost peppers, which have been certified as 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. The bravest and fieriest among y’all who can eat the most in three minutes will be declared the winner– the prize is a six-foot (!) trophy for tenacity and stomach strength. I know it burns, but just dance it off. There’ll be plenty of music.
Kimchipalooza 6 is going down Sunday, August 21 from 2 pm to 8 pm at Arrogant Swine. Sign up for the kimchi eating contest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org