Mukeunji refers to kimchi that has been aged a minimum of six months which gives it a more intense, fermented flavor. The aged kimchi at Muk Eun Ji is imported from Jinan Maisan (진안 마이산), which is in North Jeolla (전라북도), South Korea, an area known for their kimchi.
At the restaurant, mukeunji can be ordered as a side ($3.99) for grilling. When grilling kimchi to eat with Korean BBQ, the older the kimchi the better, so mukeunji is perfect for grilling. The increased acidity helps cut the fat in fatty meats such as pork belly. Wrapped in a red lettuce leaf with samgyupsal dipped in sesame oil and salt, it’s insanely delicious, and even more so when the pork is of the black pig variety. Heukdwaeji Samgyeopsal (흑돼지 삼겹살; $11.99), thick slices of black pork belly which have been scored on the surface to help break up fibers and also to encourage crisping on the grill is wonderfully nutty to the taste. For those who don’t like black pork belly, regular pork along with pork marinated in wine or kimchi liquid is also available.
If a side of mukeunji is not enough, however, mukeunji is featured in a number of stews. Muk Eun Ji Budae Jjigae (묵은지 부대찌개; $11.99), or “army stew” — which I had at the Manhattan location — has a great intense broth from the addition of mukeunji, but if you want mukeunji “straight-up” without any fuss, order the Muk Eun Ji Deungppyeo Jjim (묵은지 등뼈찜; $22.99). Whole mukeunji is halved or quartered and braised with pork spine. Once brought to the table in a pot steaming and vigorously boiling away, the waitress cuts the kimchi into manageable pieces with a pair of scissors. The broth is again, intense from the mukeunji, and the kimchi and pork are rendered tender from the braising. It’s a celebration of mukeunji and pork, as is the restaurant itself. Your mouth will be glad to be taking part in the festivities.
If you want to continue the party at home, mukeunji is also sold at the restaurant to-go.
34 West 32nd Street (b/n Broadway & 5th Ave; map)
New York, NY 10001