Korean Food Journey: Kimchi
Time to talk about some delicious things. Learning vocabulary and grammar is one thing, but learning a language shouldn’t be only about those things. Learning a new language should be about opening a whole new world to you. What better world to open than the world of food? Time to start a Korean Food Journey. And what Korean food journey doesn’t start Kimchi, that quintessential Korean dish that makes Korea, Korea.
Kimchi Is More Than Kimchi
Kimchi is the single dish most people associate with Korea. Koreans love this fermented dish so much that many would consider a meal without it simply not a proper meal. For Koreans it simply is a must. However, most outside Korea often don’t realize that kimchi is more than just than one dish. It is, in fact, not one , but a whole group of many dishes made in a distinct fashion. It refers to a group of dishes that are fermented vegetables in Korea.
Kimchi is not only made using nappa cabbages. Koreans turn more than you can imagine into fermented delights. Some popular variants use cucumbers, radishes and spring onions as their main ingredient. Depending the dish, the region and the time of year Koreans eat different types. The taste therefore can be a very seasonal and regional thing.
Koreans, others and I really love this fermented goodness. So even though it is readily available in stores, many Koreans still spend time making their own. The making is known as 김장 (kimjang). Many families have their own recipes making so that no household truly serves the same. There is always a difference. It always a discovery of new tastes when you can sample someone else’s.
Let’s explore a few types.
#1 배추김치 (Baechu Kimchi)
The first is the iconic one that most people around the world know: 배추김치, Baechu Kimchi. This type is so quintessential even Koreans refer to this type simply as kimchi. For Koreans it is not odd to eat this one during every meal. Some Koreans consider a meal not a meal if they did not eat this salty and sour, fermented goodie.
Young baechu kimchi, one that hasn’t fermented for a long time, is used as an easy, yet essential side dish. Older batches though are no longer served as a side dish due to its increasing sour taste. Those will become the core ingredient in Korean kitchen most notably for kimchi jjigae (김치찌개).
#2 백김치 (Baek Kimchi)
Next up is a type of kimchi that is somewhat like 배추김치 (Baechu Kimchi), but is completely different. In fact, this type of kimchi is quite special since it does not have the distinct red color of chili many associate with kimchi. The name 백김치 (Baek Kimchi) means white kimchi in English and the name is apt name for it.
백김치 (Baek Kimchi) is a nappa cabbage with various nuts and fruits fermented in a salty brine of grated fruits. It is often enjoyed by the elderly and young who do not enjoy the spiciness of the iconic 배추김치 (Baechu Kimchi). They enjoy its milder taste more than its spicier, red counterpart.
#3 깍두기 (Kkakdugi)
Next one up is a dish that doesn’t have kimchi in its name: 깍두기 (Kkakdugi). This refreshing kimchi is in my opinion one of the easier types to make. It requires radish, kimchi paste and perhaps a green onion if you’re feeling adventurous. 깍두기 (Kkakdugi) is a no-nonsense dish.
Koreans really enjoy the crunchy texture of 깍두기 (Kkakdugi). However, they really enjoy eating it with its so-called good friends. These good friends are 설렁탕 (seolleongtang), 갈비탕 (galbitang) or 삼계탕 (samgyetang). Koreans have two good reasons for enjoying it with these dishes. First the smell of the 깍두기 (Kkakdugi) overpowers the “bad” smells of the meat in the stew or soup. Secondly, Koreans are convinced that the radish aids in the digestion of the meat.
#4 파김치 (Pa Kimchi)
Next up is a type I recently tried making myself; 파김치 (Pa Kimchi). It is made using simply green onions and the iconic paste. It is widely considered the easiest type to make. However, I want to nuance this claim slightly. While it is true that in general it is easier, the salting of the green onions is beyond a hassle due to the shape of the vegetable. This particular type is generally allowed to ferment longer as it is tastier when ripened.
파김치 (Pa Kimchi) in general is a very popular side dish. However, it is most in particular popular in Jeolla-do. If you want to be particular creative, use it to make 파김치전 (pakimchijeon). It is a 파전 (pajeon) on a whole new level.
#5 보쌈김치 (Bossam Kimchi)
The last type on this list is a very special kind. 보쌈김치 (Bossam Kimchi) is a speciality that is considered a luxury to be enjoyed on special occasions such as feasts and banquets. It’s notable feature, being wrapped in salted cabbage leaves, makes it easily the centerpiece of any table it is served on. Serving this will amaze any guest you have over for dinner.
Koreans do not only consider 보쌈김치 (Bossam Kimchi) a luxury item due to its presentation. It is also considered a luxury due to the lavish variety of ingredients. The ingredients can be among other things: seafood, pine nuts, jujubes and pears. Truly it is a dish that is fit to be served to a king.