Before coming to Korea I did a lot of research, a whole lot. Armchair travelling is one of my favourite lazy day activities. Once I get into it I can find myself googling destinations, routes and cultural information for hours. When looking into Korea in the build-up to my arrival there was one thing that kept popping up.
When I found out that this is cabbage left to ferment for weeks in a spicy fish sauce I admit it wasn’t all that keen to go near the stuff, let alone put it in my mouth. On my first night in Korea, and every night since then, a small side plate appeared with my meal. I gave it a try and it was ok, surprisingly ok. Six months later it was quite nice, and now, after almost one year living in Korea, I LOVE IT!
The start of winter, around this time, is kimchi making season. When I ask most of the students that I teach what they’re doing on the weekend the answer is often, ‘Grandma’s house, making kimchi’. They don’t usually seem too happy about this.
Susie and I decided to make some of our own. She had never done it before so it was the first time for the both of us. I got some large lockable boxes from Diaso (Korea’s Poundland) and we went to get all the ingredients from Homeplus (Korea’s TESCO (In fact it is actually TESCO (teamed with Samsung)))
The ingredients for making (2 x 6 litre boxes of) kimchi are:
– 2 Napa Cabbages
– 3 cups Sea Salt
– 5-6 Garlic Cloves
– ½ cup Sugar
– 2-3 tablespoons Water/Fish Sauce. (Reeks!)
– 2 cups Korean Red Pepper Flakes – 1 Korean Pear – 4 Fresh Red Peppers (Hot ones!)
(Measures are in American style cups because I don’t have scales, just cups)
Many of my student have told me that making kimchi is hard. It’s not, but I can see why making enough for an entire, extended family might be a long and boring process. We made ours with just two cabbages, it was fun to make and took about 30-45 minutes in the kitchen. A Korean family on the other hand, might kimchify 100 to 200 cabbages over a weekend. That’s a lot of kimchification (I’m making these words up)
Here’s how you make it in a few simple steps:
Cut your cabbages into quarters lengthways and leave them to soak under saltwater for 4 or 5 hours. This kills all the bad stuff on them. Once their soaked drain the water and wash the cabbages under fresh water.
Chop all the veggies as small as you can, then chop them some more. Stick them in a bowl and add the powders and flakes. Beware, this stuff is spicy. Wear gloves and don’t touch your eyes or other sensitive areas (you know the ones). Chop the pear into small chunks, about the size of your average Paracetamol/Tylenol (a little random I know but there’s a pack right next to me and it looks about right).
Add the fish sauce – OMG that stuff stinks!
Step 4 – The Rubdown
You should now have a bowl of slightly fishy, very spicy sauce, a little more on the solid side than the liquid. Take this (still wearing gloves) and gently massage it onto every surface of the cabbage, between the leaves and from the tips of the leaves to the base. Use it all and make sure it’s all covered.
It’s now ready to eat! Different people likes their kimchi at different levels of fermentation. Some like it fresh but in a normal fridge you can keep it for about a month and its flavours will change as it goes (off). If you find a little white mold on it after a few weeks then don’t worry, you can cut that out and eat what’s under it. Reducing its exposure to air will make it last much longer.
Enjoy your kimchi. I’m enjoying mine most nights with 김밥 (Kimbap), like Sushi rolls but different, and 만두 (mandu), steamed dumplings with meaty filling. Yum!
James Vs World