An idiot’s guide to kimchi
What do kimchi and sauerkraut have in common?
They’re both of non-American heritage and are wonderful dishes of fermented cabbage! Fermented cabbage may sound gross to those who don’t think about how their sourdough bread, olives, soy sauce, yogurt and wine are all products of fermentation as well. But, as Koreans and Korean cuisine lovers will attest, kimchi is decidedly non-gross. It’s actually exceedingly delicious and healthy! Here is a picture of kimchi, pronounced as it is spelled (also spelled as kimchee).
Kimchi, basically put across, is vegetables fermented with condiments like fish sauce or anchovies, scallions, red chilli, ginger and garlic. Cabbage is ubiquitous, while certain vegetables like cucumbers or baby radishes are used as they come into season.
The simplicity of ingredients belies the exquisiteness of the taste, a zestful mix of salty, spicy and sour in a cool cabbage base. The best kimchi should taste sufficiently sour without invoking winces and cringes, and provide a spicy sensation that keeps you wanting more (note: not more water). It should also be sufficiently crunchy, which is a challenge with time because kimchi becomes softer and mushier as it ferments. What is widely considered to be Korea’s national dish is so popular that not only do most Koreans have it everyday, but any Korean that actively dislikes kimchi is received with dramatic disbelief or ಠ_ಠ (disapproval). As for its worldwide spread, kimchi most notably began to enjoy international popularity after the 1988 Seoul Olympics, for its taste and nutritional benefits.
Being a dish made entirely of vegetables with a dash of seafood protein, kimchi is a great high-fiber, low-fat addition to every diet. It is rich in Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, niacin, and loaded with minerals like iron. The capsicum in it adds to its healthy repertoire, bringing to the table anti-inflammatory properties and the effect of lowering one’s cholesterol and blood pressure. Also, the fermentation process itself adds to the health of one’s colon. Like yogurt, the lactobacilli kimchi contains is beneficial to the digestive system, so there’s no harm in eating lots of this probiotic food.
Thus, it is no wonder that kimchi is incorporated into many recipes. You can get your kimchi fix in numerous ways in a single day, in stews like budae jjigae (a thick spicy soup), soondubu jjigae (a soft tofu soup) and as a central ingredient with fried rice, noodles, and pancakes.
If you’re thinking of getting your own kimchi in Massachusetts, head to Burlington—H Mart has jars of kimchi lining several walls, threatening you with the paradox of choice. While you’re there, head to New Jang Su, a Korean restaurant with barbeque grilles set in tables for you to be your own chef. You may leave smelling like smoky meat, an integral part of the immersive fun for some, and a hassle to others. Nearby Reliable Market in Union Square sells small servings and huge packages of their own kimchi, while Buk Kyung, a half minute’s walk from Reliable Market, serves delicious Korean dishes in case you can’t wait to get home to open your jars of kimchi.
If, however, you’re seeking to create your own kimchi, I found this website particularly instructive, in part due to its useful visuals. While the recipe calls for soaking the briny vegetables completely in chili paste, other recipes are more laborious and have you coat each leaf of cabbage with the paste before setting it aside for slow fermentation.
즐겨! jeulgyeo! Enjoy!
-Min Yi Tan
Cover photo source.