The Korean people have long had kimchi as an ordinary side dish as well as soup and soy sauce and bean paste. This can be known through their practice of preparing a table.

The traditional table includes samchop, ochop, chilchop and kuchop—chop means the unit of the number of side dishes served in lidded vessels at one time. Samchop means three side dishes; ochop five; chilchop seven; and kuchop nine. Rice, soup, kimchi, and seasonings such as soy sauce and peppered bean paste were not included in any categories because they were a must for the table.

As a main side dish kimchi was usually put on the table for ordinary people as well as royal families and aristocrats.

It was also put on the table for memorial service. Koryosa (History of Koryo) and other old books from the feudal Joson dynasty (1392–1910) tell that kimchi was designated as one of the dishes for the table for memorial service.

Meanwhile, the Korean people usually drank kimchi juice to rinse their mouth after eating meat or fatty food, and they usually ate rice cake or pancake with kimchi.

They also ate noodle in kimchi juice. As mentioned above the Korean people seldom thought it a sumptuous feast unless there was kimchi on the menu. Kimchi is still most popular side dish for any meal served in Korean cuisine.

Kimjang, Annual Important Family Affair

A Korean saying goes that “Kimchi accounts for half the winter food.” This shows how important kimchi is in winter, and the Korean people have far more kimchi than they do in any other seasons.

In Korea winter is a long, cold season, and it is unfavourable for cultivating and storing vegetables. So the Korean people developed a method of storing vegetables a lot in autumn to eat them both in winter and spring.

Kimjang means kimchi making. As ever before every family in the country makes kimchi in late autumn every year, which is regarded as an important family affair.

Tongguksesigi, an old book from the feudal Joson dynasty, tells that kimchi was made in the tenth lunar month and that it was an important annual family affair along with jangdamgugi (making soy sauce and bean paste).

In late autumn any family across the country is busy preparing for making kimchi: They select and trim choice bok choy and radish, and prepare seasoning.

It is a custom in Korea that relatives or neighbours come to help making kimchi. In late autumn women sit in a circle trimming bok choy, pickling the vegetable, cleaning the pickled and insert seasonings into between leaves of the vegetable—this is a distinctive scene that can be seen in Korea alone. The custom still remains good although an industrial method has been developed for kimchi making.

Different in Taste

Kimchi is somewhat fragrant, refreshing, sweet yet sourish, pungent yet pleasant and palatable. Kimchi varies in method of making, material and taste by family and locality.

The one from the northern region of Korea including North and South Phyongan and North and South Hamgyong provinces is quite refreshing.

In general kimchi juice was prepared a lot in the northern region to keep fully the fresh tastes of such main materials as bok choy and radish, but in the southern region pulverized red pepper, pickled fish and other seasonings were put in a lot to make the dish very palatable. Such being the reason, kimchi from the northern region, with much juice, is light yet extremely fresh in taste, and that from the southern region, with less juice, is red, pungent and strong in taste.

And different families make kimchi of different tastes because they are different in liking and palate.

The Korean people have long regarded the taste of kimchi as a criterion for assessing a family’s food. So Korean women, when making kimchi, asked for advice from their neighbors or the elderly, thus learning the skill of making the dish. And after finishing the making of kimchi, they sent some of their own seasonings and kimchi to their neighbors to exchange relevant opinions.

Mothers regarded it as important part of family education to teach their daughters how to make kimchi from their childhood. And there came into being the saying that a young woman should know how to make 12 kinds of kimchi before getting married.

Meanwhile, Korean women made efforts to make different kinds of kimchi to suit different likings and palates of their family members. They made watery plain kimchi for their old parents and put much less red pepper if it was for their little children. And they adjusted the amount of seasonings and fish for those who liked or disliked a fishy or pungent taste.

Now there still take place cuisine shows and festivals for the purpose of preserving the original taste of kimchi. This also serves as a good opportunity to learn one another’s experience.

Article: Choe Sol Mi