Kimchi Recipe from Food Truck Revolutionary Roy Choi

Kimchi is mostly spicy and sour, and can be an acquired taste for adults, let alone children. Roy Choi, who revolutionized food trucks in Los Angeles, got his start eating this and other typical Korean foods early ... real early. “In Korea there is no such thing as ‘baby food.’ So as soon as I got off my mom’s milk, they had a whole kitchen going for their little boy. I was hand-fed bits of savory pancakes filled with pureed mung beans and scallions. I slurped raw kimchi from stained Rubbermaid gloves.”

What is kimchi?

Kimchi is the most famous of Korean dish (which is also spelled gimchi or kimchee) and is made by fermenting vegetables and spices. There are hundreds of variations but the recipe below from Roy Choi is worth trying. As well as the traditional Napa cabbage and other vegetables, Roy's recipe includes oysters and shrimp. According to a recent article in the Korea Times, this is the time of year when Koreans practice the one thousand year old process for preserving summer vegetables by salting and pickling. Making kimchi in large batches is known as "kimjang." The tradition goes back at least a thousand years but the use of chili powder and Napa cabbage became common in the late 1800's.

Who is Roy Choi?

Chef Roy Choi has an inherent momentum; an innate impetus that drove the L.A. taco truck revolution and that pushed Choi himself from amateur to acclaimed chef. While L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food reads as a no holds barred account of the chef’s life, the recipes too are crafted as a nod to Choi’s distinct trajectory—born in Korea, raised in Los Angeles. The repertoire of recipes smacks firmly of both locales, jamming together the slow, fermenting flavors of nostalgic, home-cooked meals and the raw energy of street food culture. L.A. Son is the justification behind Choi’s boasting of bold flavors, and tales.

A car needs gas; as a kid, I needed kimchi, Choi leads into his first recipe, then comparing the bubbling tar pits of L.A. to the fermenting jars of cabbage that filled the refrigerator of his childhood home. The metaphor of kimchi as fuel is made all the more potent by Choi’s frame for his memoir that invites the reader to ride shotgun through a back roads tour of the city, and the chef’s life. Yet, with so many sweet, salty, spicy and pungent meals packed into the memoir-cum-cookbook, it still seems most fulfilling to begin cooking where Choi does—with the kimchi recipe that’s still slathered into Kogi quesadillas served curbside; the recipe around which this chef has built his story. (see recipe below)

Choi’s background as a chef includes formal training at the Culinary Institute of America as well as a litany of industry work experience. His story offers devotion to experiential learning—to mastering technique while gleaning inspiration directly from his surroundings.

Boston University is pleased to host Chef Roy Choi on Friday, November 8th for a demonstration, tasting, and book signing. For tickets please call 617-353-9852 or visit Boston University’s Food and Wine Experiential Programs are dedicated to culinary education, offering certification programs in cheese, wine and the culinary arts as well as seminars in food, wine and gastronomy.

1 cup kochukaru (Korean chili powder)
1 cup peeled onion
½ cup water
15 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons natural rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon soy sauce

4 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large napa cabbage
½ bunch fresh chives, cut into 1-inch batons
½ cup jarred oysters
1 tablespoon salted baby shrimp


1. Put all the ingredients for the paste in a blender, puree, and set aside.

2. In a bowl large enough to hold the cabbage, mix the water with the salt. Split the cabbage in half and soak it in the salted water for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature.

3. Drain the cabbage. Mix ½ cup of the paste, the chives, oysters, and salted shrimp and layer between the leaves of the cabbage. Coat the exterior of the cabbage with the remaining paste.

This is when you cut off a leaf and slurp.

4. Stuff the cabbage into a gallon-size glass pickle jar and seal tightly. If it doesn’t fit, you can cut the cabbage in half again.

Keep the jar at room temperature for 2 days, then put it in the refrigerator. It will be ready to eat in about 2 weeks and can be kept refrigerated indefinitely.

-Recipe from L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food ©

Jessica Spier
Freelance Writer
Graduate of Boston University’s Program in the Culinary Arts

Photo: Travis Jensen


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