“I wouldn’t do that.” This was the advice of Phil Lee, owner of the Kimchi Taco Truck I visited yesterday in Murray Hill. He had caught me reaching for the hot sauce – apparently an unnecessary addition to his homemade kimchi. “It’s stinky. It’s good stinky.”
Now I’m by no means a kimchi connoisseur. And, frankly, stinkiness doesn’t usually strike me as a strong selling point. But there was no arguing with Lee’s conviction. It had instantly erased the stigma. Stinky was good.
Of course, Lee was right. His kimchi was delicious – tangy, spicy, and yeah, definitely strong. It’s made with care by Kimchi Taco’s chef, Youngsun Lee, who, along with Phil, goes through great lengths to preserve kimchi’s unique flavors and rich cultural significance. Though it can take many forms, think of Kimchi as intense Korean sauerkraut: fermented cabbage seasoned with garlic, ginger, and red pepper. For the truck’s recipe, Chef Lee uses red pepper flakes straight from his grandmother’s farm in South Korea. How legit is that? The resulting superfood isn’t just electric with flavor, it basically glows with pride.
That gets to what’s especially refreshing about Kimchi Taco. Its founders seem intent not just on delighting their patrons, but on transforming them. According to the website, the truck is an extension of Phil’s dream to “change America’s perception of Korean food”. If I’m any example, America only stands to benefit from his mission.
Still, while I’m excited to sink my teeth deeper into Korean culture, my greatest debt to Lee is for his redefinition of that foul little word. What fun is a world where we fear what’s stinky? The pungent, the ripe, the sour – these are the badges of italicized experience. They’re the products of a life well lived.
Whether or not you live in Manhattan, try to get your hands on some good kimchi. And don’t mask the flavor. It’s good stinky.