Autumn in Korea is kimjang, kimchi making time. I’ve never had the opportunity to take part, and this year I finally got my chance. Kimchi, for the uninitiated, is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods and is the staple of Korean meals – morning – noon – night. I’ve had it plain, fried, stewed, boiled, raw, pickled, and even in a kimchi and jelly sandwich. And though it didn’t strike me initially as the best staple on earth (that would be nutella), it has grown on me to the point that no meal in Korea is complete without it. Some say it even plays a role in keeping SARS and avian flu episodes rare in Korea. Hmm… dunnoboutdat. I’ll just stick to the basics.
Kimchi comes in many different guises. There are said to be over 100 types, incorporating everything from parilla leaves to Asian pears to cucumbers, but the most common is cabbage kimchi – “baechu kimchi” (fermented cabbage…. could be known as the Korean sauerkraut, right? that explains Dominica’s penchant for Alsatian restaurants).
Kimjang begins with getting the elements in order. Off to market!
Tangerines were being sold in bulk – 40 for $2.00! Two days later, the price would skyrocket… only 20 for $2.00. Oh well. They’re still yummy and cheap and my best defense against winter colds.
No kimjang is complete without a granny to make sure everyone understands that they are doing something incorrectly.
Here all the greenery is getting set up… something like chard, some spinach, some green onions.
Here’s where everything goes awry for me. The white/yellow stuff is minced garlic, ginger and onion. Delectable. The grey stuff… not so much. That is the result of stuffing a coupla pounds of tiny grey sea shrimp into a mixer. Liquid shrimp. Hmmm…. At temples, they leave that out. I like temples.
The minced ingredients have been mixed in with julienned daikon radish, pepper powder, salt and green onions. Here is where foreign boy got down to business mixing everything with his hands. You can see my pink gloves resting on the top of the basin. The close up picture is rather interesting if you click on the original.
As we wait for everything to get nice and mushy, granny works on some other daikon, salting it and placing it in a barrel where it will sit for three days and then be soaked in a water/vinegar mix to make “mul kimchi” (water kimchi).
Now, to the baechu… they’re taking a nice saltwater bath! That’s 80 head o’ cabbage you see there. No corned beef though.
The soaked cabbage is then rinsed and washed
and then allowed to drain on any available space.
And meanwhile, hyoung hams for the camera.
At this point, numerous hours had already passed and it was time for me to “keep a promise” as appointment keeping is called in Korean. We were a bit more than half-finished, but the rest of the work would take lots of waiting time. How long? Hyoungsu (wife of hyoung), who had finished a long night of giving haircuts and Saturday night perms, simply said, “all night, all night,” sighing and gesturing to her lounging husband as she repeated, “Korean women’s lives are very hard, very hard.”
As I left early, I couldn’t help but agree and was both shamed and thankful I had an appointment to keep.