“They say it’s your birthday, dadadadada, and you’re gonna have a good time da-da daaadada…”
Yup, it’s my birthday. Which means I get to eat and drink and do and say whatever I please, right? As long as it is lunch with a friend, lots of iced coffee, going to meetings, and hopefully nice things, I guess.
Birthdays somehow don’t have the same extreme importance or conjure the same desperate hope that they once did. I remember when I was young being quite unable to sleep the night before my birthday. My little body simply couldn’t contain the intensity of the excitement for the coming big day. Of course, my birthdays no longer include pouncing on my parents at 6am to get my presents, crazy themed parties (ranging from “makeovers” to “5,000 things to do with stamps” to “the Wild West”) with friends, or secret hopes of having a Barbie Cake even though I knew we would be be having Norwegian birthday cake, no other option (and I was secretly glad for that as well).
After childhood ebullience, I also went through a phase of bemoaning my birthday. Not in the “woe is me, I’m getting older” sense, but rather moaning produced by a teenage angst-filled haze of mopiness. ”I’m not special, nobody’s special. Everybody has a birthday, it happens every year. Thousands of other people have their birthday on this day too. This is stupid, leave me alone…But can I have some cake?” That sort of thing.
Now I’d say I neither eagerly anticipate nor dread my birthday. I enjoy it. It’s my birthday. But, I’m inclined toward keeping it simple. Low key cookouts with friends, baking my own cake, and no presents please. Well, unless you really want to. But, on the whole I selfishly prefer giving presents to receiving them. It’s selfish, because I am always so thrilled and grateful to receive a gift I never quite know how to respond, and then I get embarrassed, and I don’t like being embarrassed (who does, really?).
So, in the spirit of giving a gift for my birthday, I now present to you my new very favorite food of all time: kimchi tacos.
They are joining the esteemed ranks of many other favorite foods of all time such as burnt caramel ice cream, cardamom raisin buns, the mezze at Sofra, the ricotta and bread at Sportello, a really good burger, almost anything with avocado… It’s a long list.
One may think that you wouldn’t be able to have a list of very favorites, given that it would seem that favorite is a designation consisting of just a single slot to be filled. But, my favorites all seem to get along just fine with each other. Linguistically, “very favorite” may be a superlative, but in practice I find it’s a case of the more the merrier. I collect very favorites like I do dishes, in clearly excessive quantities, yet I somehow make good use of all of them.
So, these are a new favorite. At the moment an absolute favorite. They are unbelievable. Truly. I kind of don’t even want to describe them, I just want you to run and collect your grill tongs and make them so you can experience the sweet, spicy, sour, creamy, drippy bliss for yourself.
As I mentioned before, the barbecued pork and kimchi tacos were my favorite thing we tried on our most recent hike through NYC, and though my belly was too full to have another at the time, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait long until I had another. But, then we up and went to Norway where the crop of kimchi is about as sparse as varieties of fish cake are prevalent. So it had to wait. Still, it didn’t wait long. It only took a couple of days of being home before they made their way onto the dinner table. They disappeared all too fast. Already I’m craving more.
I did a little searching and found this recipe for korean pork belly tacos. I could tell instantly that it would be a winner. As luck would have it, I also happened to have some local pork belly in my freezer, bought two months ago on a whim. Fatty pork, that’s another very favorite right there. If you have never tried pork belly, I implore you to work it into your repertoire.
I tweaked a few things here and there, after which making the marinade was the mere work of a blender blade. Out of the blender then poured a brilliantly orange and thickly fragrant bath for the meat. A couple of hours later we threw them onto a searing grill for just a few minutes of cooking while I scrambled to collect the rest of the toppings I wanted.
Tucked into the warm golden tortillas, the bits of pork are smokey and crackling, redolent with garlic and ginger and a full throated hum of hot spice. The cool kimchi, all gingery itself with plenty of salt and acid to boot, lightens up the juicy pork, and the creamy tang of the creme fraiche gives it all a big bear hug. I added a nice wiggly line of extra sriracha to my tacos to really spice things up. In the summer, I tend to like my food really cool or really hot.
Each mouthful is a heavenly chorus of all the ingredients, followed by a burst of delicious juices dripping and dribbling all over the place. Messy. Awesome. Mmmm. Happy birthday.
Korean Pork Belly Kimchi Tacos (serves about 6) adapted from Jennifer Maeng
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 Tbs. grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 3 Tbs. sriracha
- 2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 lbs. pork belly (or boneless pork loin), sliced into 1/2 thick strips, sort of like very thick bacon strips
- corn tortillas
- kimchi, homemade or store bought
- diced cucumbers and/or radishes
- creme fraiche (stir in some miso to taste, if desired)
- extra sriracha
- Combine the onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, 3 Tbs. sriracha, sesame oil, and maple syrup in a blender. Whizz it all together in the blender until smooth.
- Fit the pork into a sealable container, and pour the marinade from the blender all over it. Turn the pork to coat. Then, seal the container and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
- Heat your grill to high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade, shaking off excess drips. Grill the pork over direct heat until lightly charred on the edges and cooked through, a couple minutes per side. Pork belly is fatty (seriously, it’s like thick bacon), so it will drip fat and probably cause the fire to flare up and smoke. Personally, I find this exciting, and I love the extra charred flavor, but if you’re less of a pyromaniac you can grill the pork over indirect heat for a longer period of time. Also, if you happen to be using pork loin, none of this will be as much of a problem. But, the end tacos won’t taste quite as insanely delicious.
- Chop the cooked meat into bite sized bits. Warm the tortillas and make sure all the other toppings are ready to go. Assemble the tacos by filling the tortillas with some grilled pork topped with plenty of kimchi, a sprinkling of cucumbers or radishes, a generous dollop of creme fraiche and then add a drizzle of spicy sriracha to taste. Dig in, and don’t forget the napkins!