I think any blog that talks about Korean food cannot escape, and would in fact be remiss if it did not discuss kimchi. One author describes kimchi as Korea’s national vegetable dish. Kimchi was found at every meal, including breakfast. Kimchi remains a staple of the Korean diet, and is now integrated in the Korean diet in “modern” ways such as a pizza topping. Kimchi is gaining a lot of popularity outside of the Korean peninsula as well. It’s found its way into foods like tacos and omelets. For those who cannot get enough of it, there’s even kimchi ice cream!
So in honour of kimchi, this month’s blog post is about kimchi. The kimchi making period usually takes place in late November or early December, and is called “kimjang”. However, the Embassy is organising a kimchi making demonstration this Saturday, so if you’re feeling adventurous, and ready to roll your sleeves, time to make some kimchi! Hey, even Michelle Obama makes her own kimchi! Her kimchi recipe is provided below.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi refers to a mixture of picked vegetables. The word “kimchi” is believed to come from the Korean native word “chi” which translated as “chim chae” in Chinese characters. “Chim chae” means “to soak vegetables in salt water”. Over time, the word evolved from “chim chae” to “kimchi”.
The most commonly known type of kimchi is the one fierce red cabbage one. But kimchi can also be made from radishes, green onions and cucumbers. Kimchi can also be prepared without the red chilli peppers that gives it that distinctive colour. The one common element in all kimchi is the salt, and the garlic. Kimchi is the Korean equivalent of sauerkraut. Likewise, the most common variety of kimchi is made with cabbage.
The form of kimchi that is eaten nowadays has existed since at least the 17th century. The basic recipe involves soaking the cabbage in salted water overnight. The next day, the cabbages are seasoned with garlic, scallions, ginger, hot pepper and any other secret ingredient that may enhance the flavour of the kimchi. The flavouring of kimchi is distinctive to each family. It’s like Bolognese sauces, and each Italian family will claim that their mama makes the best and most authentic Bolognese sauce. After the kimchi is prepared, it is stored in those large earthenware jars to ferment for at least a month.
These days, the labour intensive process of making kimchi at home has been replaced by the modern convenience of purchasing it home. Nowadays, many households store their kimchi in a special refrigerator made for that specific purpose. Previously, kimchi was prepared then was placed in large earthenware vessels. In the past, kimchi was made to last a family for the whole winter.
Kimchi is considered to be low in calories (vegetable based and no addition of oil or fats), low in cholesterol and high in fibre, and full of vitamins.
Uses of Kim Chi
Kimchi is typically eaten as a side dish or banchan. However, it is also a common ingredient in many Korean dishes such as kimchi stew and kimchi pancakes. Nowdays, chefs have re-interpreted the use of kimchi and use it in dishes that you would not otherwise expect to find it – like tacos and even omelet. I’ve provided a link found below to Chef David Lebovitz’ kimchi omelet recipe!
Kimchi even crops up on the menus of non-Korean restaurants. If you’re in Ottawa, Play currently has their interpretation of the famous pork belly dish which includes their version of kimchi. (Their menu is seasonal and continuously changes so if you want to try it make sure you check their website).
Facts About Korea, published by Korean Overseas Information Service, 2006.
Introducing Korea, Peter Hyun (ed.), 1987.
Korean forever, 1999 at p. 23.