Photo courtesy of asianfoodgrocer.com
I love kimchi (??). I love it plain, wrapped in lettuce, in my soup and hot from the grill (although apparently no self-respecting Korean would grill their kimchi). Kimchi is also written as gimchi, kimchee and kim chee, so if you see one of these written on a restaurant menu, it’s still the same thing: a pickled dish made of various vegetables. Most commonly, the veggie of choice is cabbage, which has been soaked in spices and fermented (known as baechu), although kimchi is known to pop up in radish, cucumber or scallion forms. I personally favor the baechu variety.
As one of the major stapes in a South Korean’s diet, kimchi is a huge part of Korean culture. It is usually served as a side dish (banchan), and is also used in many other Korean dishes, including kimchi jjiggae (spicy kimchi soup) and kimchi bokkeumbap (kimchi fried rice). Both are absolutely delicious. Korean children, who have a very different idea of what constitutes a good breakfast, usually have a bowl of rice and kimchi first thing in the morning. Kimchi is so ingrained in Korean culture that living without it is not an option. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) developed space kimchi to accompany the first Korean astronaut, Yi So-yeon, on her mission with the Russian ship Soyuz.
Korean people are quick to assure foreigners that kimchi is a vital food. Not only is it present in everyday life, but it’s also a cure for, well, everything. An elderly Korean woman once told me (in the back alley of an open air market) that kimchi is good for weight loss, a common cold, stomach problems, and headaches. It supposedly works on various mental disorders, as well. As I rarely took ill while on a steady kimchi diet, I’m convinced there’s something to it. Although to be fair, I’m personally inclined to believe anything an ajuma (elderly Korean woman) tells me. In my experience, ajumas seem to mysteriously know all kinds of things.
Most foreigners who’ve sampled kimchi grow to love it. Not only does it give you a spicy burst of flavor with a very satisfying crunch, it helps you learn to wield your chopsticks in a manner that will impress any South Korean you happen to meet (a necessary advantage while living in their country). The one drawback to kimchi – and ask any foreigner who’s lived in South Korea for awhile – is how, if eaten often enough, the odor will seep through your pores and, unlike pheromones, will not attract a member of the opposite sex.
Eat kimchi! Try Nak Won, one of the best Korean restaurants in Baltimore.