The Apple Kimchi Salad at Momofuku Ssäm Bar by Matt Bruck

The Apple Kimchi Salad at Momofuku Ssäm Bar by Matt Bruck


The Apple Kimchi salad at Momofuku Ssam Bar is complicated: apples, pureed kimchi, bacon, maple labne and arugula. That’s a lot of flavors for a salad – two very different fermented components, plus a smoked one – but I’ve eaten it over and over because the chaos works.

I was lucky with my route to adult eating: by age 6, I’d lived in NYC, San Antonio and suburban New Jersey. That meant a strange and wonderful mix of early foods: Russ & Daughters, tacos, kimchi, “Italian” subs (in Jersey that means peppers & onions on top of several porks)… So big flavors, surprising combos and all sorts of pickles have always been my comfort food.

The salad hits its eater from lots of fermented directions. My companions usually seem most surprised by the role of the labne. It begins as yogurt, before it’s drained of most of its liquid, giving it a feel more like cream cheese. In combination with the maple syrup, its fermented yogurt bite recedes a bit, to create a tangy-sweet sauce.

The apples are not pickled – but they absorb plenty of tangy juice while soaking briefly in the kimchi puree. In my experience here, as at home, pureeing reduces kimchi’s funkiness a bit. A longer soak would make the apples more tangy – but less crunchy. The double acid punch works – and the crunch is a critical part of the dish’s success.

So the apples are the variable. They’re always crunchy – but in February, they’re less sweet, so the pickling notes matter more. With arugula, vegetal notes are nicely prominent – making this a great winter salad.

David Chang reportedly sees the salad as a great meal opener because it fires up the taste buds. He’s right. I like it next to the meatier, simpler pork belly buns, with more acid from a crisp white. That fermentation circus is one I’ll ringmaster any time.

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