3 ways to use momofuku chili crunch.

i did not get paid to do this. i'm just procrastinating.

i did not get paid to do this. i purchased momofuku’s chili crunch myself last week, just like i purchased momofuku’s seasoning salts last december. when i purchased chili crunch, i swore to myself that i would figure out ways to use it that wasn’t just spooning it over eggs and rice because, erm, i’ve used the seasoning salts … twice?

UPDATE: i published another post about 10 dishes i made with momofuku chili crunch if you’re curious!

i’m not going to go hard on questioning why momofuku chose to merchandise chili crunch, which is a riff of chili crisp, which is a staple in chinese and taiwanese cuisines. this is where i should be able to tell you if and how chili crunch differs from chili crisp, but, to be honest, i’ve never eaten much chili crisp. i can tell you, though, that momofuku’s chili crunch is well-rounded in flavor and has a lot of depth from the shallots and garlic but isn’t anywhere near what i’d consider spicy. at $10 a jar, momofuku’s rendition isn’t super pricey.

in a tweet earlier this week, esther tseng called out something bill addison mentioned in his interview with dave chang for eat a peach. he writes:

In nearly 20 years of reviewing restaurants, my most thrilling meals have come from chefs serving dishes that reflect who they really are, whether it’s the food of their heritage or an unusually astute and respectful melding of cuisines. (On the other hand, restaurants attempting to replicate others’ singular triumphs, including the endless Changian pork belly bao rip-offs, rarely electrified.) Chang’s success helped push our dining culture — from the vantages of both liberated cooks and fervent diners — to redefine notions of excellence.

tseng points out that crediting the pork belly bao to chang is strange, given that the taiwanese (and chinese) have been eating bao long before chang came around. i agree with her, but i also don’t think addison is super incorrect in crediting the mass popularization of the pork belly bao in the west to chang. sure, those of us who grew up in asian immigrant communities eating asian food know that chang did not innovate or invent the pork belly bao — but, then, that led me down the black hole in my brain of, who is momofuku for? who is the primary (and secondary) diner momofuku is trying to attract?

because i don’t think that diner was ever asian american. i still don’t know if it would be today.

i’m in the midst of writing a book proposal, so i’ve been thinking a lot about my primary and secondary readers. who is it i picture when i think about the person picking up my book? in connection, who am i writing for? who is the audience i am speaking to?

last week, a friend asked me about my experience at atomix versus my experience at momofuku ko (which i wrote about in a previous substack), and i said that i think restaurants attract the kind of diner they want. in the case of atomix, that desired clientele is white and wealthy, the kind of people who can drop money without thinking twice and want you to know it. 

ko bears the same faux-egalitarianism that is foundational to the momofuku brand. momofuku isn’t actually accessible, but it wants you to believe that it is. momofuku itself wants to believe that it is, that it is welcoming of the everyday layman. i’m not being cynical or critical here because i think, to an extent, momofuku does very much succeed in this, and i think that matters. ko is the same price as atomix, has the same obsessive attention to craft and detail and innovation, but ko is more casual and dressed-down. it doesn’t bear the marks of elitism and classism, not openly, not in a way that would turn diners away or make them uncomfortable just because they don’t wear brand names or jetset around the world. momofuku’s hospitality, in general, doesn’t condescend, even if their restaurants occupy expensive real estate that caters to the uber-wealthy and privileged.

but who is the ideal momofuku diner? and why does it matter?

who you’re talking to influences the thing you’re creating in subtle but significant ways. i think always of viet thanh nguyen’s the sympathizer. nguyen has spoken about how he deliberately crafted that narrative voice, being intentional in the ways that the narrator is speaking to a vietnamese person, not to a white reader. hearing that was the first time i actually sat down and thought about who i was not only writing for but to whom. growing up in the west, we’re conditioned to think of the white person as our audience, even if we’re people of color, and i was no different. making that shift in my brain to addressing fellow diasporic asians has informed how i write and changed the tone and shape of my writing. that, in turn, will affect how readers engage with my writing; it will impact if and how people find connection and relate to what i have to share.

momofuku has indelibly influenced and shaped american dining in the last fifteen years, and i also give it credit for indirectly influencing perceptions of asian americans in the u.s. it means something huge to see an asian american man occupying respected spaces in food. momofuku has, i argue, helped expand asian american identity by expanding the notions of what asian american food is and can be in mainstream american consciousness. this, however, feels sometimes like happy coincidence, a byproduct of momofuku becoming such a part of the american zeitgeist that this effect has been natural, not intentional. this is not a criticism.

momofuku has long walked the path of seeming to approach asian food as a monolith, of taking from asian cuisines without engaging in that dialogue. i have fewer issues with momofuku having started as a noodle bar serving ramen (japanese) and pork buns (taiwanese) though chang himself is korean than others have expressed in the past. chang’s reluctance to claim koreanness is well-noted and seems to continue to this day, which does admittedly irritate me, especially when he tries to speak to korean or korean american cooking — ironically, that’s not his lane.

that said, at a certain point in discussing momofuku, we really need to stop attributing the food [solely] to chang. momofuku’s greatest strength is its roster of chefs, past and present, who, yes, have been pretty much all male but who have come from different backgrounds and brought those experiences, palates, and foods to momofuku. if momofuku seems to pull from so many cuisines, it’s because momo chefs have come from all over, because what momofuku does so well is take that range, bring it under the momofuku umbrella, and shape it within a cohesive, brand palate and story without stripping away what is interesting and unique.

that said, i do think it’s important to note that momofuku is generally situated within the context of eurocentric dining, not asian. when people talk about how momofuku has shaped how people eat, they really mean the ways white people eat. none of this is surprising given how white-facing momofuku has always been — at least, until recent years, starting with majordomo.

i think momofuku really shines and plays to its strengths when it gets specific. that doesn’t necessarily mean cuisine — majordomo shines because it is an LA restaurant. the menu there reflects the breadth and beauty of los angeles’ diversity and range, which automatically kind of means that whiteness is decentered. the food at majordomo takes inspiration from so many cultures and cuisines, but it makes sense in this context because majordomo exists in conversation with los angeles. 

kawi is the sharpest example when it comes to cuisine; it is a korean american restaurant; and i think one of chef eunjo park’s strengths is that i think she’s aware of the greater context of new korean american cooking and where her food might fit within that. that thoughtfulness comes through in her food, which is ambitious and creative, and it works so well because she has a strong foundation to build off.

i’d honestly even add nishi to this. nishi was doing solid, quietly subversive things with its “italian” food, and i miss it. i miss nishi a lot.

so. scallion pancakes.

i’ve been riffing off the serious eats’ recipe for scallion pancakes, so i say to start with a 2:1 ratio of APF to boiling water, adding a heaping pinch or two of salt to the flour. stir your flour/salt mixture with a chopstick as you pour the water in slowly until you have the makings of a dough. knead until smooth. cover your dough in a bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30-ish minutes.

while you wait, chop scallions. mix the oil from chili crunch at a 1:1 ratio with sesame oil.

divide your dough into smaller pieces, depending on how big you want your pancakes. lightly flour a surface and roll a piece into a circle — or as close to a circle as you can get. perfection is overrated. brush on a thin layer of oil. roll the dough up into a jelly roll, then roll that into a spiral, then roll that out into a circle again. brush on another thin layer of your oil mixture. sprinkle liberally with momofuku spicy seasoning salt and chopped scallions. do the whole rolling thing again and repeat with all your dough pieces.

heat a pan on the stove, and coat with oil. fry each scallion pancake until crispy on each side. eat while hot.

i meant to talk about taylor swift in this substack because i like taylor swift, even though that feels odd for me to say. taylor swift isn’t only white and straight; she’s, like, white and straight. i like her, though, and i really do mean to write about her in a substack, but this didn’t feel like the right one for that.

i had also meant to make this butter soy sauce fried rice with pasta, but i didn’t feel like cooking dry bucatini and had cold rice, so fried rice it was! 

cut bacon into pieces. i like using thick-cut bacon. husk a cob of corn and very carefully remove the kernels with a knife — or pick them off individually if you have the patience. (i tried. i gave up a quarter of the way in.) 

put bacon pieces on a skillet and bring everything up to temperature over medium/medium-low heat so the fat renders out. add the corn. add a heaping spoonful of chili crunch. continue to cook for a few more minutes until corn is no longer raw but still crisp. these directions are terrible; why am i trying to write recipes?

add your rice. add a generous handful of chopped chives or scallions. carefully pour in soy sauce, and taste as you go, so you don’t end up with a total sodium bomb. add another heaping spoonful of chili crunch. make a little crater in the center of your pan and add some oil. pour in whisked eggs, move them around to help them cook, then start incorporating the rice. add a tablespoon or two of butter at the very end and mix everything together.

if you want to try a pasta version, add the cooked pasta when you’d add the rice. add the chopped chives or scallions, the soy sauce, the heaping spoonful of chili crisp. add some reserved pasta water if things are dry. add the pat of butter at the end. top the pasta with a crispy fried egg.

i tried to write out directions for this egg kimbap, then i reread them and laughed. i’m not going to give you my attempt to describe how to roll kimbap. all i’ll say is that i made thin omelettes that i cut into ribbons for the egg filling and added a cubed strip of spam and a cubed strip of pickled daikon.

i made the omelettes by whisking eggs with a splash of cream and a little chili crisp, letting as much of the oil dribble off my spoon and back into the jar as possible. i made omelettes by pouring a thin layer of the egg mixture onto a hot, well-oiled pan, flipping when the eggs were almost set. when the omelettes were slightly cooled, i folded them in thirds and cut into thin ribbons.

i seasoned my rice using the savory seasoning salt, the 1:1 oil mixture from my scallion pancakes, and toasted sesame seeds. how to assemble and roll kimbap, i’m sure you can youtube.

as i’ve said this before, this is a free substack, and it will remain so for the near future. these substacks do, however, take a tremendous amount of time to plan, write, and edit (and re-write), so, if you like what you’ve read and would maybe like to contribute a cup of coffee, here are my ko-fi and venmo!