Between Shifts at Ezra, Eun Hee An Bottles Korean Magic For Sydneysiders
It’s summer and Eun Hee An is thinking about white peach and shiso pickles.
It’s something the chef might bottle for Moon Mart, the online Asian condiment shop she runs in between shifts at Ezra in Sydney’s Potts Point. “I would like to sell that this year if I have time,” she says.
Browse Moon Mart’s virtual shelves and you’ll find her vegan white kimchi – naturally sweetened with fermented plum, pear and apple, and flavoured with kombu dashi for extra depth. It’s her twist on something her Korean grandmother would prepare. “She taught me that adding a little bit of apple while it’s fermenting produces a better flavour,” she says. And if you tip the tangy kimchi liquid into thin white noodles – like somyeon – it makes for a refreshing cold dish, according to An.
She also offers jangajji (Korean soy sauce pickles) with bright, zesty yuzu and bracing jalapeño slices. There’s cheongyang dadaegi, a throwback to her upbringing in Gyeongsang, over 200 km southeast of Seoul. This condiment is also known as bap doduk (which translates as ‘rice thief’), which says everything you need to know about this moreish green chill and fried anchovy condiment, and how quickly it helps someone devour their bowl of rice. Sometimes she’ll add seasonal specials, like cheongs (Korean fermented fruit syrups), perhaps produced with the citrus zest of yuzu, sudachi or three types of mandarins.
“It’s nice showing people that there is more to Korean food than fried chicken or barbecue,” she says. It’s something she’s been doing since opening Moon Park in 2013, the Korean restaurant she ran with partner Ben Sears. By showcasing the cuisine’s diversity – and her inspired takes on its staples – she’s also leveling up her culinary education. “I am learning new things about Korean food, studying and learning. That’s always fun,” she says.
Her first kimchi lessons began with her family, during their annual kimchi-making day every South Korean winter. “My favourite memory of making kimchi every year is eating the kimchi!” she recalls.
Each kimjang (“this is what we call the annual kimchi-making day”), they’d take ultra-fresh kimchi (geotjeori) and enjoy it with the pork belly, fresh oysters, and rice in their bo ssam. “So delicious,” she says.
“We would ferment whole cabbages and then the way you eat it through the year might change as the kimchi ferments and develops.” Her family’s traditional approach contrasts with her current kimchi-producing rituals.
“For Moon Mart, I chop the cabbage up and use a more controlled fermentation, so there is more consistency. Also, I don’t get to eat bo ssam when I make it – very sad,” she laughs. “Kimchi is the most labour-intensive product I make – chopping and salting and soaking the cabbage is a lot of work, but I also age the paste I use to flavour the kimchi for a month before I use it, and then I have to monitor the fermentation. It’s a process!”
Perfecting the right fermentation period is one thing; tailoring the kimchi – a product with live cultures – so it can successfully travel for days in the post, unrefrigerated and en route to customers, is another thing. “The weather thing is tricky for postage but I have had some practice now in making sure things arrive in good condition!” she says.
The first time she professionally presented her grandmother’s kimchi recipe was during the Moon Park days. What inspired her to start selling it outside of a restaurant setting, with the launch of Moon Mart last November?
“Moon Mart began as a fun little lockdown project. I thought the idea of a small Asian grocery was a good one, and it made sense to offer things I felt comfortable making,” she says.
Since late spring 2020, she’s been busy with her small-batch production of pickles, kimchi, burnt honey teriyaki sauces and other Asian condiments – all managed while off-duty from Ezra. Has it been challenging doing Moon Mart in between restaurant shifts, which might be a blur of orders for hummus and smoked egg, macadamia muhammara with pomegranate and other dishes from Ezra’s Middle East-inspired menu?
“It can tricky,” she says. But Ezra is close to her production kitchen, which helps. “The bakery where I make the kimchi after hours is on my walk home from work, so I often go after work to see how things are going.”
Is there any creative overlap between Moon Mart and the menu at Ezra, which is by head chef Ben Sears, also her partner in life?
“There is beginning to be a little bit of crossover! I recently sold some yuzu that I made like North African preserved lemon that was really fragrant and interesting,” she says. “And Ben asked me to make a batch of gochujang using date syrup and Aleppo pepper instead of jocheong (sweetener) and gochugaru (Korean chilli powder), which is quite interesting!”
She happily advocates third-culture approaches to her Asian condiments – twirling her vegan XO sauce into pasta sauce is something she strongly recommends. Her customers use her flavourings in creative, unexpected ways, too.
“The thing that has surprised me the most is the way people use cheongyang dadaegi, the green chilli and anchovy condiment. That is a something that is a traditional rice seasoning in Gyeongsang where I grew up and to see it on a margarita pizza is very funny,” she says. Chef Mitch Orr also deployed it in his fried Italian cheese toast recipe (mozzarella in carrozza), “which was very different but really tasty”, she says.
So, what’s ahead for An and Moon Mart in the new year?
“Ben keeps hassling me to make stuff he wants to try. Some collaboration might happen in the future, you never know – at the moment I am busy enough,” she laughs.
And if she does miraculously find the spare time – and if we’re lucky – her white peach and shiso pickles might become part of our summer, too.
Ezra is open for dine in. Book here.
Visit Moon Mart here.
Lee Tran Lam is a writer, podcaster, and editor of New Voices on Food, a Diversity In Food Media anthology showcasing under-represented Australian talent. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Gourmet Traveller, and SBS Food. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.