Edible Curios: Confessions of a Kimchi Craver

There was a brief stretch in my first month in Korea when I stopped eating kimchi (김치). I blame culture shock.

I had not yet grown my Asian palate and had made the expat’s error of expecting certain colours and shapes to correspond to familiar tastes. I spent far too much time pondering the explosive flavours in my mouth. This was not a side dish to be gastronomically deconstructed – not for beginners anyway. Some of the best advice that fellow expats gave me was: “Just eat it, regularly, and you will start to crave it”. I followed this seemingly-absurd advice and began to see why fermented foods were known to be addictive. It was only later, after the cravings took hold, that I allowed myself to appreciate the variety of flavours in the many kinds of kimchi on the Korean table.

I was never more ready, then, for the annual Kimchi Festival in Gwangju. Never before had I been able to so appreciate this superfood, to seek out my favourite colours and textures, and to order three different kimchi-filled lunches.

All the lip-smacking, onomatopoeic muttering and nodding reminded me of a wine tasting. There was also a sophisticated craftsmanship being appreciated and celebrated.

Kimchi Craft

When I walked through the stalls selling kimchi ingredients, however, I spotted the difference. This was a craft intended to be accessible to all kitchen-commanders, while still preserving the quality of the final product. The process is celebrated as much as the result, as many an 아줌마[1] produced batch after batch on site. Rubber gloves wrist-deep in pools of bright red chili paste (고추장) made for a gory image reminiscent of a butcher’s block. Kimchi never was for the faint of heart.

An adapted version of this post was published in ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal.

[1] You’ll need to google this one, I can’t do it justice in parenthesis.

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10 responses to “Edible Curios: Confessions of a Kimchi Craver

  1. I couldn’t handle kimchi until I moved to northern China and the Korean expats totally got me hooked; now I crave it and I actually started salivating at that kimchi photo…

  2. Pingback: Confessions of a Kimchi Craver | ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal·

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