As I slice up my last bunch of kimchi and cleaned out my huge kimchi container, I felt conflicted.
(I just realised I have associated a feeling with slicing up kimchi. The immediate double-take and spontaneous ‘WHAT THE -bleep-?!?!’ follows.) [PG13]
The aforementioned conflict of emotions simply only referred to my excitement at finishing up my huge container of kimchi from this past pre-winter’s kimjang 김장 (When Korean households or entire families get together to make copious amounts of kimchi just before the cold of the winter to last them through the winter or even a whole year.) so that I can move on to making other types of kimchi which are characteristic to other seasons, but yet that means I won’t be having the standard kimchi for a little while. The standard kimchi which we all know by now is the one served at every Korean restaurant, the Chinese cabbage kimchi, also known as baechu kimchi 배추 김치, or even kimjang kimchi. Not so much that it is a favourite with people, it’s just the most, well, standard. You think kimchi, and squarish flat pieces of Chinese cabbage covered in wet red paste comes to mind, no?
Kimchi, really, has an interesting history. So interesting that I actually spent a free afternoon at the Korean Cultural Office‘s library reading about it. But here’s my attempt to summarise it: Pickling vegetables was the Koreans’ way to have their vegetable intake through the winter, when no fresh vegetables would grow. There were several types as there are today back in the early periods, made using different methods, but the red chilli powder was only introduced into Korean during the Joseon period, and since then has been used like crazy ever since. How it came to be Chinese cabbage kimchi as the standard kimchi we all know of, I still don’t know. Hm. Not a very useful book after all… But at least from the early days, the kimjang tradition prevailed.
I remember the first time I tried to make my kimjang kimchi. So fed up was I, paying $6 for 500g of kimchi that I would go through in a week (don’t judge me), that I decided to make it on my own. Not the mat kimchi 맛김치 (already chopped kimchi) way, but the traditional way of coating every leaf of your salted cabbages with your kimchi paste, then wrapping and packing. I started with one cabbage, and really had no clue which recipe to follow, so went with a combination of all that I have read (old habit). Thankfully it worked out well, tasted good according to my Korean friends, and we tucked into bossam 보쌈 (boiled belly pork) like the carnivores we are. And 2 years later, I am still doing the same, just about 6 times the original amount. I’ve done the whole kimjang thing even back in Singapore, where the weather was very inappropriate to the basis of kimjang, but it’s just becoming something I look forward to every time winter starts to come around in Sydney. It’s a full day of work, which leaves you utterly exhausted, but it’s.. fun. And because now I make enough to share with friends, and invite friends over to have kilos of bossam together, it becomes something fun to gather for, especially for my Korean friends who are away from home.
Of course, it earns you names like, ohm-ma 엄마 (mommy), or, -sigh-, ahjumma 아줌마, which means auntie. SO, if you’re female and want to make kimchi the traditional kimjang way, and especially when you’re not Korean, you might end up being called a Korean auntie. And this is where I sigh in defeatedness.
So now that my large kimchi container has been cleaned out and drying, it’s time to fill up that new-found fridge space with other types of kimchi!!! Oh, the Sister will not be happy to hear this…
P.S. See, if I had a dedicated kimchi refrigerator, I would never have to worry about not having my standard kimjang kimchi all year round because I can control the fermentation, I can have a greater variety at the dining table, AND it would not stink up the fridge…! Hm why do I feel like I’m hinting into a black hole…