People eat to get energy, and each country has its own signature food. In Korea, its staple food is rice. For Koreans, not having rice for a meal is like not having eaten at all. The favorite supplement to rice is Kimchi. But why do they love it? Let’s talk about Koreans’ favorite fermented vegetables.
All About Kimchi: A Korean’s Favorite Accompaniment To Food
The countryside in the middle of the autumn season is the perfect time to harvest Napa cabbage. Just as vital to Korean cuisine as rice, it is Kimchi’s main ingredient. It is rich in Vitamin C and Calcium. The inner leaves are so tender that they can be eaten raw. If you ask Koreans how does it taste? They always end up telling, “Sweet”.
Kimchi, for Koreans, is best for them. They can’t live without eating it. They have to have Kimchi for everything–rice, porridge, or noodles. With that said, you will notice how each Napa cabbage is well-cared for. They treat every Napa cabbage as a special package, not just something they have planted on the ground.
The world is changing rapidly from day to day, but the custom of eating Kimchi, the embodiment of Korean culinary wisdom, has remained unchanged for generations. If you’re wondering how do Koreans enjoy this fermented Napa cabbage, you must experience to dine in a restaurant that specializes in Korean traditional meals. A scrumptious meal of multiple side dishes is a perfect opportunity to eat the most authentic and most traditional Kimchi since this table setting was a practice way back the Joseon dynasty.
There are so many side dishes it’s a wonder that the table doesn’t break. Among all of the dishes included is Kimchi that as an anchor that holds all of the food together in a yangban sang (the aristocrat’s table). The taste speaks for the quality of a restaurant. Without a doubt, Kimchi is the very foundation of Han-Shik (Korean cuisine).
Side dishes are an integral part of a Korean meal. Banchan (or side dish) accompanies every Korean dining. If you eat raw fish like tuna, Kimchi will add a unique flavor to the meat and will cut down the greasiness of the meat. It will also cleanse your palate getting ready for the next course.
Aside from raw tuna, the marinated beef ribs called galbi cooked over charcoal is a popular choice to be paired with Kimchi. The soy sauce-based marinade washes over the gaminess of the meat with the salty and sweet flavor. Being a side dish that complements the meat, it is spicy and refreshing. Galbi is enjoyed in a lettuce wrap together with marinated onion slices and Kimchi.
It will always accompany a Korean meal be it a bowl of rice, raw fish, or cooked meat.
The Secrets Of Kimchi: Flavors And Preparation
In November, the rural communities get busy preparing for the coming winter in Korea. Vegetables are dried, and enough firewood to last winter must be cut and stacked. There you can witness a traditional process of preparation and preservation of Kimchi called Kimjang. It is a process of making a large amount of Kimchi to last the entire winter season. It is one of the biggest events for Korean households before winter.
Because of the large quantity made (approximately 200 heads of Napa cabbage for nine families), relatives and neighbors are there to lend a hand. You can be a part of the community, and the feeling the togetherness that is so typical in Korea.
It has the flavors of fermentation, the carbonated tanginess, and the aged flavor. Those flavors sharpen your appetite and stimulate the senses. The taste hinges on a spicy mixture of cut green onions, and mustard leaves, julienned radishes, minced ginger, and garlic, sun-dried red chili pepper powder, salted baby shrimps, and fish sauce. These ingredients complete the basic filling of the spicy mixture that contains all the protein, vitamins, and minerals our body needs. When there was not much to eat, it was a good source of nutrients throughout the cold winter.
Made for long preservation, and highly nutritious, it is known to be good for one’s health. One gram contains some 800 million immunity-boosting lactic acid bacteria and has been proven to prevent the onset of diseases. It can suppress liver cancer and influenza. Some studies claim that Kimchi helps ease obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.
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The Kimchi Refrigerators
A Kimchi refrigerator is a refrigerator made to store the fermented vegetables and fitted with specific temperature controls and specifications. It is a vital home appliance in Korean households. Korean housewives consider their Kimchi refrigerator more useful than an ordinary refrigerator. Nowadays, every household in Korea has one. It is very convenient and they can have delicious Kimchi all year round.
Just a dish of tasty Kimchi is all a Korean family needs to enjoy a meal. A Korean housewife can make four or five kinds of her family’s favorite variety, then she does not have to worry about what to cook for dinner. Crunchy cucumber Kimchi is one of a Korean family’s favorite kind of variant. Since cucumber by itself tastes bland, turning it into Oi-sobagi (cucumber) Kimchi gives just the right amount of seasoning.
Another family’s favorite is Pa (Green onion) Kimchi. It tastes better when it is completely aged than when it’s freshly made. Gat (Mustard Green) Kimchi, on the other hand, has a fragrance that is different from other varieties. In modern-day Korea, there are about 200 different varieties of Kimchi, and they all have their unique tangy twist in regard to the flavor.In modern-day Korea, there are about 200 different varieties of Kimchi. Click To Tweet
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A so-called “Kimchi caves” is also an ideal location for fermenting long-matured Kimchi that would give a deep flavor. Seven (7) degrees celsius is said to be the optimal temperature for fermentation. Lactic acid bacteria and vitamins are not destroyed but survive during this type of fermentation process. They help the vegetable ferment while retaining the nutrients.
The caves are also popular because Koreans used to bury clay jars in the ground to maintain a constant temperature. Today, growing demands for old aged Kimchi have reduced the utilization of caves where matured Kimchi is mass-produced. A well-fermented Kimchi on caves will take up to three years. It has a biting tanginess and this kind of Kimchi is used most often for another Korean famous food, Kimchi jjigae (Kimchi stew).
To mark its popularity worldwide, a museum located in Gangnam, South Korea, exhibits Korea’s long history of Kimchi. Koreans have been eating a milder version of the fermented vegetables since the ancient times. In essence, it is Korean history itself. Perhaps, that’s why the “Make-Your-Own” Kimchi program for foreigners has become a popular tourist attraction. What was once considered an acquired taste has now captured the palates of people all around the globe. It is the most iconic food of Korea. When visitors in Korea make Kimchi, they are making something that will define the country’s image for them.
The white Kimchi from so long ago has been preserved in its original form. For this milder version, they put mustard greens, spring onions, carrots, and Korea pears. Minced ginger and garlic go into a cloth pouch and are made into stock. Surprisingly, it is simple to make white Kimchi fermented without the chili pepper powder. Unlike the spicy version, the white variant tastes refreshing and mild.
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After Kimjang is over, Koreans usually enjoy Bossam. It’s a rather simple dish made up of freshly-made Kimchi, raw oysters, and boiled pork. It is also a perfect pairing for the boiled pork and oyster dish. Friends and family sharing food after a day of hard work looked like a small celebration.
Kimchi is known as a healthy food. International chefs and cooks come up with recipes that are easy to make. Adding it to other well-know food is a great way to introduce to non-Koreans the experience and the love of the food. It has been with Koreans throughout their country’s long history. It’s a manifestation of Koreans’ affection and communal culture. In short, it’s the soul food of Koreans.Kimchi is a manifestation of Koreans' affection and communal culture. In short, it's the soul food of Koreans. Click To Tweet
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