Seoul Food

Hip chefs are looking to Korea’s favorite condiment for inspiration

Have you heard? Kimchi is the new ketchup. The spicy Korean condiment, made of chili-infused fermented cabbage (think sinus-clearing sauerkraut), is showing up on menus all over town. However, its piquant flavor is an acquired taste that requires serious intestinal fortitude. The uninitiated palate would be wise to first pair it with more familiar dishes—it just so happens that kimchi is a natural match for some of our favorite fast foods. Try any of the following and you may find that your bottle of Heinz is forever banished to the back of the fridge.

On a burger or quesadilla.

The Korean “Bull Gogi” at Holsteins is a creative spin on classic Korean barbecue. A beef patty is infused with sweet soy, covered in a garlicky glaze and topped with an over-easy egg. But what gives this burger some bite is a heap of fresh kimchi slaw, which cuts through all of the richer elements. It’s the perfect meeting of East and West, sandwiched in a bun. Still fixing for spice? Order a short-rib quesadilla and see what kind of magic happens when kimchi meets melted cheese. $15.50, in the Cosmopolitan, 698-7940,

In a taco.

Yelp users helped launch KoMex Express from hole-in-the-wall to cult foodie destination, and its rave reviews are justified. Fusion tacos, which are only about a buck per order, are filled with your choice of Korean barbecued beef, chicken or pork. Hot sauce? Feh. A top layer of kimchi provides more than enough heat. Purists will be surprised to find that the rest of the formula stays true to Mexican tradition: shredded cabbage, cilantro and a wedge of lime are compulsory with every order. Taste one and you’d swear there was a country somewhere out there called Mexorea. $1.29 per taco, 633 N. Decatur Blvd., Suite H, 646-1612,

On a hot dog or french fries.

Visit a hot dog stand in Seoul and you’d be surprised at how Koreans have elevated street meat to a national culinary icon. Buldogi’s brings the country’s obsession to our own soil with fusion dogs that outshine the boiled franks on wan buns you may remember from childhood. Try an Angry Dog topped with spicy pork, fiery kimchi, chili-spiked mayo and freshly diced jalapeños—it’s a gastronomic study in pleasure and pain. Keep the fire in your stomach burning with sweet-potato Angry Fries, which I liken to a Korean poutine. Blanketed with more pork, more spicy kimchi and five kinds of cheese, it’s one of the most best junk food bites in town. $5 Angry Dog, $5 Angry Fries, 2291 S. Fort Apache Road, 570-7560,