The elusive kimchi fried rice at Super H Mart.

Four years ago, one of my favorite dishes in the city disappeared: fried rice tossed with bacon, Korean gochujang sauce, and kimchi, topped with a fried egg served from a small, non-descript stand inside the Super H Mart grocery store on Blalock. The food stand in Super H Mart's food court closed unceremoniously after less than a year in business, and sat dark for months afterward, taunting me.

With every visit to Super H Mart—some days for fish, some days for kimchi, other days for cartons of sugary Pocky treats or the bean paste-stuffed pastries at the Tous Les Jours bakery inside the front door—I would look for kimchi fried rice. It was never at the Toreore stand; they just sold Korean fried chicken. It was never at the bibimbap stand at the far end, where bulgogi and other more mainstream Korean snacks were spun out at lightning speed. And it was never in any of the other food stands that came and went, closing as quickly as they opened. Yet I never stopped searching for it.

Oxtail soup with banchan.

My mother never did, either. Every time we'd run errands together or go shopping on the west side of town where she lives, she'd ask about the kimchi fried rice. "Do you know if Super H Mart is serving it again?" she'd ask me, hopeful. I'd shake my head no. She'd only eaten it a handful of times, but was as forlorn by its absence as I was. We took individual trips to Super H Mart and would report back to each other like soldiers at a far-flung post waiting for a delivery of rations in the dead of winter. "No kimchi fried rice today."

Last week, however, we finally spotted our rations. There, at the oddly named Daddy & Daughter stand in the crowded Saturday afternoon food court, was our kimchi fried rice. The pleasant Korean woman behind the counter was trying to compliment my earrings, but I was too busy pointing at the picture of kimchi fried rice hanging on the wall beside her, screeching like a deranged toddler. "MOM. LOOK. MOM. LOOK. KIMCHI FRIED RICE."

We ordered a plate, along with a bowl of creamy oxtail soup that was enthusiastically recommended by the Daddy & Daughter staff (who were two middle-aged women; no daddies to be found). The silky soup was a revelation, as if someone had poured heavy cream and butter into a bowl of oxtail broth after it had cooked down for a good 12 hours. The fatty meat from the knobbly tail joints carried that same unctuous smack of flavor, but the bowl was served with a huge array of banchan—everything from kimchi to pickled bean sprouts—to cut through the richness of it all.

The kimchi fried rice wasn't exactly as we remembered—there were no bits of bacon, not very much gochujang, and the kimchi pieces throughout were smaller—but this did nothing to dim our affection for the dish. My mother pierced the fried egg on top and let the yolk inside serve as a mild version of the ruddy gochujang, coating the rice below. It wasn't as spicy as we recalled, either, but we ate it all with relish. After all, nostalgia never tastes as good as the reality of a much-beloved dish—which you thought lost—set in front of you once again.

 

 

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