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So you think you know Kimchi

Representing Korea

Korean food is happening. It’s popping up everywhere and I believe it’s been a while. There are Korean-American, Korean European chefs mixing up their dishes with some Korean spices and tastes, cooking websites and blogs are introducing Korean dishes here and there and a lot more people around the world can now recognize kimchi as a Korean traditional dish. Not Japanese, not Chinese, but Korean. Which is a great thing, of course, but then do you know how we make it?

This is how it’s done

My aunt makes kimchi every year in her backyard. It’s an annual event and happens before the cold of winter. And it’s a very serious battle field: cabbages, cleaned and salted, other important ingredients waiting for their turns, small and big bowls, rubber gloves, spoons and chopsticks always at hand. This type of seasonal event is called Gimjang, and it literally means a way of preserving vegetables for the winter months but it’s now roughly translated into the kimchi preservation process.

1. The cabbages, or technically Chinese cabbages, are cut in half, cleaned and preserved in salt for hours. Then they are rinsed in water and placed on a large tray to drain.

2. Meanwhile, the filling is prepared. Normally a mix of shredded white radish, two types of red pepper flakes, salted shrimp, anchovies, mustard leaves, chives, green onions, ginger, minced garlic and salt. More or less are decided depending on the family tradition or recipe, but these would be the basics.

3. Now the “kimchi warriors” smother the filling between the leaves of the cabbages. The more filling, the darker the color and of course, the spicier. After the filling is done, the cabbage is wrapped with its own leaves and then placed into a container where it will be preserved for a few weeks until its perfectly ripe.

Interpreting tradition

Living in Germany, I seldom make my own kimchi. I know how to and have tried, but in Germany where the ingredients are a bit trickier to find and also because the husband isn’t a huge fan, I tend to buy the pre-made and pre-packed ones. Some Koreans find this outrageous (“if you are a true Korean, you need to make your own kimchi” ) while I’m more of a “what works for me, works.” The same goes to “fusion” anything. Kimchi tacos? Kimchi sandwiches? Kimchi on bread? Some Koreans tend to believe that Korean traditional anything, let it be food, culture, music, should be introduced and accepted as the Koreans do it. But from my experience, when it comes to food, Korean food is one of the most complicating and difficult cuisines to understand, enjoy and recreate, unlike say Japanese. So I say as long as the cook or chef understands the basic traditions and recipes of Korean food, it should be experimented and introduced in various, more acceptable, ways to the world.


Profile photo of Rachel Sang Hee Han

I'm a travel journalist and blogger. My previous employers include CNN Travel and The Korea Times. I grew up in the U.S. and Seoul, moved to Germany with my Italian husband, so my life is basically a lot of pasta dishes, interesting cultural differences and planning next travel destinations. Let's start traveling!

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