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Deconstructing the art of making Kimchi

blog kim chi recipes winter

Kimchi has been seen as the central of Korean cuisine. It appears in everyday meals. It says that Korean people cannot live without eating Kimchi every day. However, Kimchi in cuisine history is only a “new innovation”, which begun 3-400 years ago.

The true traditional Korean food must be Doenjang, a soybean paste, which has been beginning eating since the Goryeo Dynasty, then followed by the Joseon Dynasty – the Korea as we know now. If any has watched the popular Korean drama called Dae Jang Geum (The jewel in the palace), should notice the power of Doejang over Korean cuisine and belief. However, because of some historical incidences, Kimchi was created and somehow made it way to be the most popular food in Korea.

The main ingredient of Kimchi is Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage in particular. This type of cabbage originates in North of China, so it is called Chinese cabbage. The Asian medicine point put that Napa cabbage is a ‘cool’ food, have the sweet taste, can help to prevent cold and to cure coughing during cold. Napa cabbage came to Korea in the 15th century. Later on, after the New World discovery of Columbus, hot chilli, which was native to America, traveled to Europe, then to the Far East and Korea in the 16th century. From this moment, things had been changed forever by the creation of Kimchi in Korea. That’s why I said Kimchi is quite ‘young’, compared to Doejang.

Napa cabbages are wintery harvested, people use chilli powder and other spices to preserve them for eating through the winter at the beginning (as I believe) before introducing Kimchi as a daily food. Korean people usually gather together in a village to make Kimchi together, as they do with Doejang. Nowadays, traditional Kimchi is still made by this method in the countryside areas. In other areas, women usually do this job as a duty to keep each meal serving with Kimchi.

Kimchi is traditionally preserved (or pickled) in big jars made by clay; each one should have more than 10 kilos of Kimchi. In warm weather, Kimchi is done in only 2 days; in cold weather, the process may take more than 10 days. To keep Kimchi last long, Korean people bury the jars, it is like the German bury their beer barrels to keep them cold during summer. Nowadays, we use the refrigerator to keep Kimchi. When buying Kimchi, you may notice the ‘used by date’, but it is actually for complying with regulations only. Traditionally, one big batch of Kimchi is made to be consumed during a year or even more.

In my Kimchi. I did not use ginger, but you can add some if you like. I did not use turnip (or daikon) as well, since I sometimes could taste it a little bit bitter, so I used brown onion instead. You can use daikon if you like. In seasoning, I crushed some dried shrimps and dried Asian white anchovy as I know that the Korean used to do this for cooking seasoning as well.To make Kimchi, a chilli sauce (or paste) must be used.

Kim chi

Commercially, they produce the ‘already made’ chilli sauce for Kimchi making. However, I made the sauce myself to comply with the ‘artisan’ spirit. There are hundreds of recipes out there; every family has its own one. So it would be a problem to decide which one is the true ‘traditional’ one. I have a friend who made a research on Kimchi making. She said that the recipe for making Kimchi is like a Korean family secret. It is passed down from mothers to daughters, from mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law, but not for anyone else.

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