Vegan kimchi at Crafty Ramen

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No doubt, restaurants and food businesses are searching for ways to stay afloat in straitened times, but they are also putting their entrepreneurial skills to work seeking creative ways to add products and services to what they offer customers.

Take, for example, the vegan kimchi that Crafty Ramen is starting to make for retail sale. The condiment — and what is known as a Korean banchan — is currently available in bulk from Zero Waste in Uptown Waterloo.

Straight-up old school!

Classic ingredients of the dish are gochugaru chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger and jeotgal salted seafood. And, with an important exception, that sums up Crafty Ramen’s kimchi.

“It’s a traditional red kimchi, straight-up old school,” says Crafty Ramen co-owner Jared Ferrall.

The difference, of course, is it fits into a couple of diets, he’s quick to point out. “We took the fermented shrimp out of it so it could be vegan.

But the dish is also a piece of Ferrall’s culinary history that dates to 15 years ago. “It’s from my apprenticeship days in Vancouver’s Yaletown. I worked at the Opus Hotel and we had a Korean sous chef. It was long before the fermenting trend kicked in. He taught me how to do this one.”

Kimchi is a bit amorphous, perhaps. Like many dishes that get casually straight-jacketed into a perception that they are a single, definitive and immutable food, kimchi is multi-variant. It can have a variety of ingredients.

In its origin, kimchi was set to ferment in clay pots buried in the ground in the fall. It often has a effervescent quality and a lot more spicy zip than its German fermented-cabbage cousin sauerkraut.

“Submerged vegetable”

The word itself, like the process to make it, is more complex than you might imagine.

Likely of Sino-Korean origin (a Chinese phrase for the dish is chen cay), kimchi translates loosely to “steeped” or “submerged vegetable.” That sums it up pretty well.

The Crafty Ramen version is old school too: Napa cabbage, daikon, Korean chili flakes, crushed chilies, ginger and garlic. “Salt too and that’s it,” Ferrall says.

Old-school ingredients but vegan-friendly (Photo/andrewcoppolino.com).

The vegan choice for the kimchi came about via Crafty’s vegan crispy chickpea snack. The kitchen was making vegan kimchi and dehydrating it for a powder that coats the chickpeas. “It was a tasty kimchi, so we’ve added it to what we do.”

Product branding for the times

It’s headed for small jars that will get the branding and labelling that Crafty Ramen is working on currently — and end up for sale at stores in the next month or so, in addition to the bulk version you can find now at Zero Waste.

As it re-vectors during the pandemic, Crafty Ramen will also be making for retail sale items such as spicy chili oil and pickled shiitake mushrooms. “They’re just condiments that are aimed at the customers who eat our ramen and enjoying making our meal kits.”

No doubt people looking to add vegan products to their larder will find it welcome.

From a business perspective, a couple of factors come into play: people love Crafty products, according to Ferrall, so, he asks rhetorically, “Why wouldn’t they be made available, for sale, to customers?”

And as well, it’s a timing thing: if the restaurant was busy and humming along like it was pre-CoVid-19, there would be neither the time nor the inclination to make the product, Ferrall adds.

“We have the time to work on these projects, but more importantly, we need to get out there and bring products to our customers when fewer of them will come to us at our restaurants.”

Necessity is the mother of kimchi invention, or so it seems.

Check the Crafty Ramen website in the near future to find out how to get their old school vegan kimchi.

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