July 11, 2012

Mama O Makes Pa Jun

Trees offset barbecue carbon emissions.
Over the weekend, I braved sweltering temperatures to check out meat, beer and all-things-local impressario Jimmy Carbone's second annual "Kimchipalooza and Cook Out NYC," kind of a backyard barbecue for thrill seekers. Jimmy is the gregarious owner of Jimmy's No. 43 in the East Village, a locavore haven he uses as the launching pad for any number of ideas, projects, and festivals.

At this particular Jimmy creation, there was barbecue galore from restaurants around the city, mucho Six Point,  plus numerous hawkers of fiery hot sauces and small-batch condiments. Visitors voted  for their favorite hot dog (winner, best topping: personal caterer and chef Josetth Gordon, for her piquant celery slaw with currants) and there were judged competitions, too.

Looming large at the event was that Korean addition to the haute fast food cannon, kimchi, the beloved national pickle made of fermented napa cabbage and lots of chili pepper. The lure of kimchi drew me to the both of Mama O's Premium Kimchi, right in the center of the action, where Mama herself was hard at work, frying up one of my favorite dishes, pa jun, savory pancakes that are often filled with seafood or meat. 

Who knew that like Americans, Koreans use pancake mix, too? Mama uses a cup of pa jun mix (available at Korean grocers), into which she stirs a cup to a cup-and-a-half of water, a cup of chopped kimchi (excess liquid squeezed out), 2 ounces of ground pork and chopped fresh scallions.  A little vegetable oil and a non-stick pan (the latter is a must, says Mama), and you've got pa jun. 

The adorable Mama and Papa Oh, Myong Ja and Max.
Not only is Mama Oh, or Myong Ja, the inspiration for a whole line of artisanal kimchi, now sold in Whole Foods and several other stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan, she's also a retired operations analyst at the World Bank. Her assistant that day was Papa Oh, a.k.a. Max, former president of the Korean Dry Cleaner's Association.

It was their son Kheedim (meaning "reverence," and "respect") in ancient Korean, who decided to start a line of kimchis based on Mama's recipes. He now makes six different varieties, including an unusual baby bok choy kimchi (great idea!), as well one made with hunks of daikon radish, and another line without fish or shellfish (the standard variety usually contains shrimp paste and fish sauce), which Kheedim calls "kosha kimchi, because I can't afford a rabbi." Kheedim has in fact stopped using shrimp paste in all his kimchi because shellfish allergies are so prevalent and potentially lethal.

His newest product, just unveiled at Kimchipalooza, is a kimchi paste, which allows even neophytes to make perfect kimchi by slicing up a whole cabbage, putting it through an overnight salt water brine, a drain and press, then adding scallions, cilantro, the kimchi paste and water--my next home experiment!

Mama's was also featured in the day's winner for "Food High": Bar Bruno's taco of grilled marinated hanger steak in a corn tortilla topped with Mama O's spicy kimchi, pico de gallo and grated radish. 

As the web address of Mama O's proclaims, "kimchi rules"!

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