Reach the World – Field Note – Food

Originally published for Reach the World, October 16, 2015
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Introduction:
“What is your name? Where are you from? Do you like kimchi?”These are the three questions I hear most often from Korean students, teachers, and new friends I meet. Kimchi, or 김치 in Korean, is one of Korea’s traditional foods, made from fermented vegetables and a variety of spices. Kimchi can be eaten as a side dish or as an ingredient in foods like pizza or soup. Many Koreans eat kimchi with every meal!

What food did I try?:
Kimchi has been part of Korea’s cuisine for hundreds of years. Over the last few months, I have eaten many different kinds of kimchi. Most kimchi is made with cabbage, but kimchi can also be made with radishes or onions. Kimchi also includes spices like red chili pepper, garlic and salt. Some kimchi is made with fish sauce. Most kimchi is red, orange or white.How did I feel when I tried it?:
I had never tried kimchi before coming to Korea. On my first day in Korea, I ate a traditional Korean lunch at a university cafeteria. I picked up a small piece of red kimchi with my chopsticks to taste it. It was only one bite, but my mouth felt like it was on fire! I had already finished drinking my cup of water, so I tried to douse the flames by eating more rice. With my first taste, I thought I didn’t like kimchi.

A few weeks later, my host sister pushed a bowl of red, spicy kimchi toward me. “Mashissoyo?” she asked. “Is it delicious? Do you like it?”

When I told her it was too spicy for me, she went to the refrigerator and then placed a bowl of white leaves in front of me. “White kimchi,” she said, waving her hand in front of her mouth. “Not spicy.”

I picked up a piece with my chopsticks. This one tasted strongly of vinegar. I pursed my lips together at the first bite, but with the second and third I realized it was tasty! I do like some types of kimchi after all!How is the food prepared?:
Kimchi takes a long time to make. First, you cut up your vegetables—the cabbage, onions, or radishes—and soak them in salt water brine for a few hours. After rinsing the vegetables, you add the spices, like red chili pepper, garlic, salt, and fish sauce. Then, you put the kimchi in a jar or a bottle and leave it out at room temperature for several days so it becomes sour. Koreans call the souring process “fermentation.”

Is this food connected to the local environment? How?:
Kimchi is eaten everywhere in Korea, all year round. However, the types of kimchi differ depending on the season and the region in Korea. Some types of kimchi are more popular in winter, and others are more popular in summer. In addition, in the city of Gimhae, kimchi is usually made with cabbage or radishes. It is very spicy and uses a lot of fish sauce. In other regions, kimchi is not made with as much fish sauce or spice.

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