As you can tell, we are huge fans of Korean cuisine, we like to think of ourselves as foodies. So much so that my grandfather joking said when we come home for the holidays they can prepare Sauerkraut or sour cabbage in our honor if we’d like. Isn’t he just a little comedian? HA-HA!
As we continue to travel around Asia we try various kimchi’s. Each with its own distinctive taste. Region to region will differ in taste with what ingredients they use, even family to family differs with their own little touches or traditions. I’ve often thought how fun it would be to make our own kimchi while we lived here with all the ingredients so easily at our fingertips. In the end I’d convince myself that there was no way, the kimchi business has got to be a complicated one! Plus the thought of the word fermentation scared me!
Earlier this month I saw an advertisement for expats to learn how to prepare winter kimchi, or Gimjang. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I immediately signed myself up and told a few friends too.
At work the ladies were discussing weekend plans. I quietly added in that I’d be making kimchi. They all stopped and said, KIMCHI? Us too! Mind you these were my Korean co-workers. Yes, they too would be making kimchi with their families to have enough to make it through the winter months. Of course they insisted that I bring in my kimchi for them to all taste. Okay, I agreed. EEK! Pressure! Nothing like feeding the staple food of the Korean culture to older Korean woman who have been preparing the stuff all of their lives.
I asked why the kimchi was such a big deal in the fall/winter months? I mean, why couldn’t you just make it in the summer and spring too? I found out that years ago the vegetables that are needed to make winter kimchi were only available in the fall/winter months. Basically if you didn’t get yourself together and prepare your kimchi during the gimjang months you and your family were not going to have any kimchi until the following spring.
Today the vegetables are readily available throughout the year, however Korean’s are big on tradition and their heritage. It’s one thing that I really admire about their culture, quite refreshing to know somethings are not lost as their family continues to grow into the future.
In class we had the basic ingredients needed to make our winter kimchi. Baechu (napa cabbages), moo (radish), pa (green onion), garlic, sesame seeds, Korean red pepper, sea salt, and brined shrimp.
While we didn’t get to prepare the beginning steps of the kimchi process due to time constraints, we did get to pick up at the fun part! Stuffing the kimchi!
Yes, we filled, smeared and stuffing our cabbage leaves. We were instructed to stuff as much as one leaf can hold between each leaf. Once we stuffed our entire cabbage we had to tuck it under and wrap it up with one long outer leaves. The wrap completed our process of making one whole head of napa kimchi.
We learned that the most important part of winter kimchi was the storing of the final product. To allow for proper fermentation, gimjang kimchi is best kept near 0℃ with little temperature fluctuation. Years ago, Korean men would dig large holes in the ground so that the kimchi jars could be covered and buried. Today, almost all Korean households have two refrigerators. One refrigerator is just your average everyday one and the other is used exclusively for kimchi storage, or in our case used to store wine and other adult beverages.
I love that I’ll get to look back at these pictures and remember all of the fun I had learning how to make kimchi in South Korea. I giggle looking at the photos of my two girlfriends too. No matter what the environment is we always have a great time, love surrounding myself with people like that!
Now, If you’ll all excuse me, I’ve got to go invest in lock & lock container, seal all the kimchi smell into the container and not our refrigerator.