Grilled Kimchi Grilled Cheese, an Unholy Union: Recipes of the Unfortunate

Love’s potency depends on taste.

Part of a series where individuals share their stories of misfortune and the recipes that got them through.

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Emma Rousseau-Koh, PhD Candidate of Anthropology, Seoul, South Korea


Father didn’t approve.

I was his only offspring and the last of our family’s pure-French bloodline. Supposedly, my mother was a descendent of Joan of Arc, my father a descendent of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As Rousseau would have argued, we can be liberated from the weight of such social constructs. When freed, however, human nature is not necessarily inherently good as he believed. Liberation comes with consequences for the status quo, the whole, and also the individual, however romantic, who breaks the existing social order.

Joan of Arc was, in fact, clinically insane by today’s standards. As for her death, she was burnt at the stake for heresy by the church. Only posthumously was she canonized as a saint. Make up your mind. Amazing how one’s sanity or sainthood is determined by these large institutional powers. Joan had overcome them courageously, I still believe. Or was she merely a victim, a martyr for her divine feminine destiny? All I know is that she had visions.

Byung-Woo, or “Brian” as he likes to call himself, was a teacher at my Korean language school. A self-professed Buddhist, he didn’t fit into the stereotypes I couldn’t help but construct of what I had came to know about Korean men in Seoul nor was he the average Buddhist. It had been my experience around drunk Korean men at bars that I was a mere object of novelty in their gaze –– exoticism reversed. Like the church, I went back and forth with my judgment on his intentions.

Judgment, he told me, was my issue. There are no once-and-for-all’s –– everything in the universe is in flux. There exists only states of change. It’s more musical than analytical, he explained. He must’ve known my study of interest in East Asian musical traditions because I found his argument persuasive.

“I think you’re just attracted to me because I look different –– like I’m a trophy or something. I won’t be that,” I told him that first evening.

“You’re not a trophy. Trophies are for players, and I’m playing no games right now.”

We made love soon after. It was a fluid cultural exchange.

When I told him of our engagement, my father was quiet. Perhaps, it was a phase, he wondered often. He passed away two months before the wedding. My mother walked me down the aisle. What caused his death we’ll never know.

Rumination, contrary to belief, has little value in solving issues –– it a modern manufacturing of Western psychoanalysis. Like the practice of exorcism, its benefits are only for those who have faith in it. Why bother looking behind?

I didn’t take well to kimchi at first. Only when it was grilled or stewed did the flavor become enjoyable and complex like a French cheese. Heat –– I discovered –– unlocks all the complexities of fermentation. It becomes less sour and more savory. Coupling the Korean cabbage with cheese –– American cheddar –– only serves to transform both beyond what the powers would like them to be. The providence of this marriage is a judgment that is not theirs but yours.

Avec Le Vide Les Pleins Pouvoirs,



Serves 1–2

*Double ingredients and process if making two sandwiches.


•2 slices of white bread
•2 slices of American cheddar (or grate your own)
•2–3 teaspoons butter
•1–3 tablespoons of chopped kimchi (at your potency preference)


*These images are, theoretically, using the maximum kimchi amount. Reduce for less potency.
  1. Chop kimchi into small pieces (best to use ripened or overly ripened kimchi).
  2. Add a small amount (1 tablespoon) of butter or oil to pan.
  3. When oil is hot, add kimchi to pan. Grill for about 5–7 minutes or until kimchi turns into a darker, more caramelized color.
  4. While kimchi is cooking, lay one slice of cheese on bread.
  5. After kimchi is done grilling, add kimchi on top of the slice of cheese, spreading evenly.
  6. Immediately, take the other slice of cheese and put it on top of kimchi so that the kimchi is covered on both sides in-between the two slices of cheese. The hot kimchi will help make the cheese especially gooey.
  7. Place the other slice of bread on top. Butter both sides.
  8. Place sandwich in hot pan.
  9. Use a pot lid or other flat surface to add weight to the top of the sandwich so that you get an even grill. Or simply apply moderate pressure on sandwich with spatula occasionally. Squish it some. Rotating the sandwich from time to time also helps get an even char.
  10. Remove from pan and let sandwich sit for 2 minutes because the cheese will be piping hot.
  11. Serve and enjoy.
A single’s serving.

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