How has this come to pass? Fifteen months in Korea and no kimchi post??? Happily, this is the perfect time for one, since November is kim jang, the kimchi-making season.
Kimchi (김치)* comes in many forms. The most common is baechu kimchi, which is made of leafy napa cabbage. But there are also various kinds of mu (raddish) kimchi, including a quick, easy version known as bachelor’s kimchi. Along the coasts, people throw in oysters or shrimp. Most of the kimchis we’ve eaten are red from gochu (spicy red pepper), but we’ve also tried white ‘water kimchi,’ which comes in bowl like vegetable soup.
Kimchi is kind of like maple syrup in that if you don’t want to spend a fortune you’d better make it yourself. It’s especially the case because, as we’ve mentioned before, Koreans eat kimchi three meals a day. So after the fall harvest Korean families prepare enough kimchi to see them through the year.
According to reliable sources, making kimchi ain’t a whole lot of fun. First of all, you have to soak the main ingredient (either cabbage or radish) in salted water. This is apparently boring yet high maintenance. Then you have to prepare the sauce/stuffing ingredients and assembly line it into kimchi. Most of my coworkers are devoting one entire weekend to making their family’s kimchi. Then they spend another weekend helping the in-laws get theirs squared away, and maybe one more for their parents. These women are kimchied-out, and it's at least partially for our benefit. We’ve literally been gifted more than we could possibly eat. Fortunately, kimchi’s pretty flexible.
While every traditional meal includes a side dish of kimchi, you don’t have to eat it straight. It’s often used in stews, soups, and mandu (dumpling) filling, Some kimchis are only eaten with specific foods, like the sweet version that goes with boiled pork.
The most surprising thing about kimchi (to me) is that it's straight up delicious. My word is particularly reliable on this, as I like neither pickles nor cabbage, but I love me some kimchi.
Kimchi is also terrifically good for you, with lots of vitamins and general veggie goodness. Supposedly, it holds off cancer and is good for the flu. True? Who cares? I'm eating it anyway.
The one drawback to this is that kimchi is a smelly, smelly thing. We can personally verify that a triple-wrapped bag in the crisper drawer can permeate an entire fridge overnight. Unless you want kimchi milk in your coffee (to accompany the kimchi butter on your toast), it’s best to keep it in a separate fridge. Nowadays, most families have a kimchi fridge along with a regular fridge, which is just as well, since it holds an entire year’s-worth at a time. In the past, it was buried outside in ceramic jars. An effective plan, but less doable when everyone lives in highrises.
We haven’t tried making kimchi yet—there’s zero need. And also zero room in our fridge. But in case you want to try it, here are some recipes:
Here’s a youtube version if you want the visual. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6k6zb7hYKw
Here’s one from a Korean cooking blog. http://www.beyondkimchee.com/easy-cabbage-kimchi/
Let us know how it turns out!
* 김치 can be Romanized several ways, like kimchee or gimchi. I use kimchi because it’s how originally learned it, so it just looks right to me