Korean food is happening. It’s been a while, but it’s still happening. It’s a treat to see how news outlets and food blogs recreate their own versions (some examples from here, here and here). Living abroad means I need to find my own way to satisfy my needs for Korean food, especially when the places that I’m staying at are not specifically Korean-friendly.
The biggest pickle would be Kimchi. I could make it myself but I find it a bit inefficient because I’m the only one who eats it (G is not the biggest fan), and then it’s not worth to make small batches of it every time. And then I found these photos on my hard drive and was very much tempted to just do it.
My aunt makes kimchi in her backyard every year. It would be an annual event, where my mother, my aunts and friends would gather around her backyard and prepare the biggest kimchi event of the year. It’s a very organized battle field: cabbages cleaned and neatly places on one side, all the other ingredients waiting next to them while the Kimchi warriors prepare all the big, small bowls, rubber gloves and spoons.
These seasonal rituals are called “Gimjang,” and although it literally means a way of preserving vegetables during the coldest months of winter, but it now evolved to mean making Kimchi before it gets cold.
The cabbages are cut in half and preserved in salt water for a day. On the day I took these photos, which was a few years back, we were working with some 170 cabbages, which would be distributed to about five families. The preserved cabbages are then rinsed in water about three times and placed to a large tray to drain.
Then comes the filling, which is a mixture of shredded white radish, two types of red pepper flakes, salted shrimp, anchovies, small bits of frech shrimp, mustard leaves, chives, green onions, ginger, minced garlic and salt.
The highlight of the day: smothering the filling between the leaves of the cabbages. The more filling, the spicier. I remember watching my mother and aunts adding a handful of filling inside each leaf when I was younger. It was more of a family gathering than a day of labour: there would be talking, eating snacks, gossiping, listening to music and just overall catching up and having a good time. It still is.
The final “wrap.” The last one is used to wrap the entire cabbage, securing the filling inside and making sure air doesn’t peep into the spaces. The air can easily change the process of preserving, thus the overall taste.
Finally, we need to top the container with too thick cabbage leaves to prevent air and we’re done! The maturing process now begins.
There’s always some extra filling left over, so then we tend to make kkakdugi, or cubed radish Kimchi, and Geotjeoli, or fresh cabbage Kimchi that can be eaten right away without being matured. Long day, aching backs, legs and arms, but a fun spicy day for everyone.
All photos by rachelsanghee. November, 2010.