Kimchi has always been around growing up. Although I don’t remember being fed Kimchi as a baby, I do have memories of sitting at the kids table, dunking kimchi into our glass of water in order to get the chilli off and make it more edible for us kids. The years of being a child went on, with kimchi never really being in the foreground though- we usually grudged at the idea of eating the weird Korean food, and preferred pizza, spaghetti, and especially the sweet German ”dinners” like Dampfnudeln (a massive yeast dumpling) with vanilla sauce and creamed rice (Milchreis). Korean food was just too healthy and weird-smelling. Sushi wasn’t a thing in the 90’s, so kids from school would tease me about the weird dried seaweed laver with rice which mum made us.
Anyway, going back to Kimchi. It’s basically a cure for any ailment. Or such the belief in Korea, it seems. While I lived in Seoul, my Korean grandma came over once to inspect my place. I was in the process of learning Korean at the time, but it wasn’t hard to understand her clear advice: eat lots of Kimchi to keep good health! One of the reasons Kimchi is so healthy is due to its fermenting process. The fermentation creates lactic acid which helps digestion and absorption of nutrients. Furthermore, they play a role in the function of our immune system.
A little bit about the background of kimchi: it is made at the beginning of the long winter. Technically, ”Kimchi day” falls on the first day of winter in the lunar calendar, when kimchi-making is celebrated around the country. Some families can go through a hundred heads of cabbage, and it’s not unusual for all the bathtubs and sinks in a house to be filled with bobbing cabbages as they are washed, salted and brined. Kimchi can be made from a variety of ingredients, by the way. The post popular type if made of Chinese cabbage (or should I say, Korean cabbage- ahem ahem!), but popular are also for example radish and cucumber kimchi.
The reason for pickling the vegetables is to preserve it for many months, so it can be eaten over many months. Kimchi is often stored on balconies during winter or in separate kimchi fridges (or if you are me and have very limited fridge space, the fridge becomes a new kind of Tetris-game, and every cubic centre meter which is not used, is lost kimchi space). The other thing about kimchi is that due to its high garlic content, it….. hmm… how can I express this pleasantly…. THE SMELL REALLY HITS YOU IN THE FACE. It’s an aroma that anyone living in Korea or with Koreans has to get used to. It comes in waves though: when opening and closing the lid, tiny kimchi particles flow out in waves and into our happy nostrils.
The earliest references to kimchi go back to about 2600-3000 years ago. I want to tell you a fun fact. It’s something I only learnt a few months ago from a colleague, and I am still speechless. Chili peppers were not introduced to Asia until the 17th century (!), when they were brought by Portuguese traders from the Americas. Spiciness is such a defining part of Asian cuisine, I cannot image Korean food without chilli (so I won’t).
Kimchi is basically an everyday integral part of society in Korea, and every meal is accompanied by it (usually unlimited amounts are given to the customer as a side dish). To prove how integral this dish is to general life and well-being there: In 2010, due to bad weather and too few acres having been planted that year, the Chinese cabbage prices skyrocketed. The politics editor of a major South Korean newspaper called the kimchi situation “a national tragedy”, and an editorial in South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper termed it “a once in a century crisis”.
The other day the company I work for published our family’s vegan Kimchi recipe on the HelloFresh blog. You can find it here (in German though) —-> HelloFresh Blog
So as the winter begins and kimchi-day approaches, next time, make your smile a ”Kim-cheeeee”-smile and come on, just try it out!
p.s. be aware – as it ferments, gases are released. Therefore, do not store it completely air tight (once I gave my colleague kimchi in a jar and he left it on his desk unrefrigerated the whole weekend…… needless to say, it exploded in the office).