The battle of the spicy vegetable condiments – Kimchi vs. Pikliz

Yesterday I realized that I had accidentally made the most blatantly pretentious fusion snack possible. As I got home with steaming bag of Korean takeaway food, my first instinct was to use the Korean fried chicken for some sort of sandwich. I quickly took stock of what was in the fridge and made a wrap comprised of the aforementioned fried chicken and msemmen (a Moroccan flatbread which is one of my all-time favorite breads), topped with pikliz (see here for my recipe) and a mayo/hot sauce (El Yucateco Maya Kut) mixture. See, I told you, it’s not for the faint of heart – a Korean/Haitian/Moroccan/Mexican fusion. I immediately sprouted a weird ponytail/samurai topknot thing and a fedora and felt a weird urge to commemorate this sandwich on Instagram. Fear not, gentle reader, as I’m an older gent, I resisted the urge and quietly ate my sandwich which was indeed all that, and a bag of chips.(Some of you living in, say, NYC are saying no big deal – I do this on the daily. Man, I live in northern Europe. Not so easy to source those things here. However, I likes what I likes so one finds a way.)

When I was done with my tasty repast, it made me reflect on something: why did I not use kimchi (I had also procured a “home made” container full at the Korean “diner”) instead of the pikliz? Surely it was the obvious choice to accompany the Korean fried chicken? Maybe, but in this case, the pikliz won out. Why? Both are spicy vegetable condiments. However, I put forth to you that their flavors and textures make them best used for different situations. I should also say that I have been eating pikliz since I was a child so I’ve eaten far more of it than I will probably ever eat of kimchi. One might therefore say I’m a bit biased, Team Pikliz as it were. I really love kimchi as well, but I lack the depth of experience. Also, I have not yet been able to visit Korea and sample the gamut of kimchi varieties.

Which one is objectively better? Are they similar? If I had to choose only one, which one would it be? (What I am talking about here are good honest, every day versions of pikliz of and kimchi.)

So, with out further ado, let’s review our contenders:

  • Pikliz: What can I say that I haven’t already said? Pikliz is a brilliant condiment. It adds bite, texture and bright acidity to dishes such as Haitian fritaille (fried street food), rice, hamburgers and other dishes. Hands down it’s the best condiment for fried food that I have ever tasted. It allows one to add some spicy heat and/or crunchy texture to the users’ dishes as they see fit. It may be a bit one dimensional by itself, but it allows the diner to build complexity into their dish. Pikliz on rice and beans is a pretty complete meal. I’ve yet to encounter somebody who doesn’t like Pikliz once they’ve tried it. Pikliz is ‘pickled’, it’s not fermented. It’s without a doubt one of the healthiest condiments you use.
  • Kimchi: It brings the acidity, but not so much the “brightness”. There is typically a deeper complexity of flavor due to fermentation and spices used in the process. The flavor notes includes include salty, sour, spicy and umami – like a spicier, more complex sauerkraut. Kimchi is not just a condiment -I have used kimchi to great effect as an ingredient in cooked dishes. The health benefits (including promoting a healthy gut biome) of kimchi are pretty well documented. The fermentation process imparts on kimchi a strong smell that might be initially off-putting to those unfamiliar with fermented vegetables. However, I wouldn’t call it an acquired taste, like anchovies. All it takes an ever so slightly adventurous palate to try it a few times – and you’ll be hooked.

As you can see from the descriptions above, we are comparing apples to oranges. They are not the same thing. Pikliz is cold or hot pickled. Kimchi is what could be described and pickled and fermented. Pikliz is a condiment whilst kimchi can be used as a condiment and a cooking ingredient. Pikliz has a different, crunchier texture than kimchi. Pikliz is relatively odorless while the odor of Kimchi is best described as pungent. Pikliz is easier and quicker to make than kimchi.

Since they are objectively different, it’s difficult to say if one is “better” than the other. In my opinion, Pikliz beats Kimchi as an “all-around use it on almost everything” condiment. It’s versatile, easy to prepare and therefore can be eaten daily. It adds complexity and texture to a dish without overpowering it, which Kimchi could do.

Kimchi shines as both a condiment and an ingredient. It has a more complex flavor profile. In my opinion, it’s best for specific recipes and/or dishes rather than an a “one size fits all” condiment though I’m sure many a Korean household would beg to differ. Also, I’m more likely to be conservative with my kimchi use as it is, for me, harder to come by. I use it for special occasions.

If I had to choose only one, I’d choose pikliz. Not because I think it’s better, but simply because it’s easier to make and is more suitable for use with a wider range of dishes. Still, it’s a not a choice I’d be happy to make.

So, why did I use pikliz for the sandwich I described above even though I had a freshly purchased container of “home made” kimchi? I guess because, on this occasion, I wanted to add texture, sourness and spice while allowing the taste of the ingredients (fried chicken, etc.) to speak speak for themselves. The Kimchi I had would have been a great idea as well, but adding it would have changed the overall flavor of the sandwich considerably. Since this was the first time I’d had this Korean restaurant’s fried chicken, I wanted to taste the chicken, above all. It was great idea for that specific purpose. Next time I order their chicken, though, I will use kimchi so I can compare.

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