South Korea

I was born and raised in Poland, hence pickling is deeply rooted in my DNA. There is really no special occasion or even a regular evening dinner in Poland that goes without pickled or marinated cucumbers, mushroom or cabbage.

Few years ago, we went to South Korea as part of our continued explorations in Asia. The country certainly took me by surprise! I had never seen a country so organized, and structured, where all the cities are very well taken care of and amazingly clean. Being used to having elbow fights before entering a subway or a bus, I stared in amazement at this nations’ orderly queues, with Koreans queuing in organized lines on one side of the entrance to the bus or subway. I was in love with this country!

Fast food version of bibimbap with kimchi on the side

Local cuisine, however, was a bit of a challenge initially as not many menus were in English and my Korean is limited to a single word. But they are very hospitable nation and there was always someone helping us if in a slightly broken English to choose the right sort of dishes.

Furthermore, as I am pescatarian and do not eat any red meat, local red meat heavy cuisine seemed to rule out a whole lot of dishes for me. While the world certainly knows the Korean cuisine by their famous barbeques, historically Koreans have actually not been as meat oriented as what could be assumed from all the currently popular barbeque meat dishes. High red meat consumption is actually more of a recent phenomenon and Korean cuisine still features a very wide variety of vegetables so in this respect I discovered many a vegetarian or seafood dishes.

I discovered, for example, bibimbap (signature dish that means “mixed rice” with seasonal vegetable, egg, and sometimes meat) and all types of soju drinks (rice or plump wine, it is similar to Japanese sake). But the one side-dish that truly stole my heart completely was kimchi!

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of cabbage and tons of seasoning. It is very popular and virtually omnipresent on all Korean dining tables, regardless of what the main dish itself might be. According to statistics of Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul, there are over 180 varieties of kimchi. Moreover according to “In the Age of SARS, Korean Tout Kimchi Cure” by Mark Magnier (17.06.2003, Los Angeles Times), South Koreans consume almost 18kg of kimchi per person annually. Even for a Pole, it is a lot of fermented cabbage.

Korean dinner with soju

The Koreans take a lot of pride in preparing and serving this dish. Recipes are passed on from one generation to the next, keeping with the household traditions. The main ingredient of kimchi is napa cabbage (type of a Chinese cabbage). But seasoning is very important in kimchi and can include brine, scallions, spices, ginger, radish, garlic, fish sauce and chili pepper. The spicier the dish, the better it is.

I will not give you a detailed recipe, but next few notes will give you an idea as to how to make delicious kimchi: The cabbage is cleaned and cut into smaller pieces, and set aside in a bit of salt. While it is resting, the abovementioned seasoning is used to prepare a paste. When the paste is ready, it is mixed with the cabbage – it is gentle process, because each part of the cabbage has to be evenly covered by the paste.

After this, the mixture is packed into a jar, pressed down so the brines rise up above the vegetable. Sealed dish is now allowed to go through the fermenting process, which is similar to that of sauerkraut or pickled cucumber preparation. This mixture then has to stay in the locked jar for a week or two before one can then dig into this delicious Korean national dish!

Do you dare to make it by yourself at home? How does it taste?

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