BY LISA ZWIRN / PHOTO MICHAEL PIAZZA
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Kimchi, the Korean dish of fermented vegetables, most often cabbage, has probiotic properties that are useful for good gut health. There are many different kinds, some mild, some fiery hot, but the basic formula is the same. Minnie Luong, founder of Chi Kitchen, explains that she salts chopped Napa cabbage to make a brine that prevents harmful bacteria from growing and allows lactobacillus, a beneficial bacteria, to grow and preserve the cabbage. She mixes in Korean radish, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, red pepper powder, and a little sugar, then lets the product ferment in buckets. “It’s a live food,” she says. It will continue to ferment in the jar in your fridge. (Luong also makes vegan kimchi, replacing fish sauce with miso.)
Luong was three years old when she and her father moved to the U.S. from Vietnam, eventually settling in Rhode Island. While kimchi isn’t a Vietnamese dish, her father made the spicy condiment throughout her childhood. Later, inspired by health foods when she worked as a chef for a tech company in California, Luong started making the fermented cabbage, adding it to breakfast burritos for the employees.
After moving back east, Luong set up shop at Hope & Main, the shared-use commercial kitchen in Warren, RI, and started bottling her kimchi in the fall of 2015. Now she works in her own space at Pawtucket’s Lorraine Mills, buying Napa cabbage mostly from area farms, including Nest and Song Farm in Westport, MA. What does her father think of her kimchi business? “He likes to take credit for it,” she says.
Luong recommends eating a few spoonfuls of kimchi with fried eggs for breakfast or with fried rice or steamed mussels. Some people like it on hot dogs as it’s a close cousin of sauerkraut, another tangy cabbage dish. “Hardcore kimchi lovers eat it straight out of the jar,” she says.