Kimchi is one of the national dishes of Korea, which is tasty, nutritious and appetizing. Every Korean enjoys it. From olden times, Koreans never missed kimchi in the menu, even when rare dishes were prepared. Thus, they rinsed their mouth with kimchi juice after eating good meat and they enjoyed drinking kimchi juice while eating rice cake and pancake. Some say that they could not manage to survive even a day if they failed to have kimchi. The fact that Koreans like kimchi the most is to be verified in the song Song of Sliced Radish Kimchi. Part of its words goes that you’ll have no appetite without sliced radish kimchi on the table of all delicacies.
Since people considered kimchi important in all seasons, kimchi making developed in various ways. It is uncertain when kimchi began to be eaten in Korea, but it is obvious from existing history books that it has a long history.
An old document, Songhosaesolryuson, reads that an envoy of Sui China visited Koguryo (277 BCAD 668) and bought lettuce seeds which he named “Priceless Vegetable.” This gives the supposition that vegetables were cultivated in Koguryo, and that Koguryo people must have known how to prepare kimchi because they knew how to grow vegetables.
In winter, when it is unsuitable to cultivate vegetables due to the cold weather, it was by no means an easy job to have a supply of fresh vegetables as in summer. Through vigorous activities to transform nature into more helpful one for people and many years of experience, Koreans developed a method to obtain fresh vegetables in winter—it is just the custom of kimchi making.
Old documents, Sallim Kyongje and Kyuhap Chongso, show the high level of development of Korean kimchi in the 18th – 19th century.
Koreans regarded kimchi making for winter as an important task and exerted their efforts to prepare delicious kimchi. The kimchi-making season was different from place to place for the differences in local climate conditions. And yet they prepared kimchi around Riptong, one of the 24 seasonal divisions that falls on the first half of November, and it is reflected in old historical documents. Tongguksesigi, an old historical document, says that kimchi is pickled in a jar with radish, bok choy, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt and so on in early lunar October and that it was regarded as a great domestic task. Another historical document, Haedongjukji, reads that every family prepares kimchi with radish and bok choy around Riptong, that the job is called Kimjang, that people are busy preparing kimchi made of bok choy and radish seasoned with leaf mustard, ginger, onion and garlic and burying jars of kimchi in the ground. Those documents speak that the 19th century’s method of preparing kimchi of bok choy and radish mixed with many kinds of flavourings in the jar and burying the jar in the ground was the same as the one employed later. In this way the methods of preparing and storing kimchi became traditional ones of the nation.
Soft roughages of bok choy and radish, main materials of kimchi, prevent constipation, and other materials including fermented and raw fish supplement protein. While kimchi is fermenting, the protein of the fish is dissolved into amino acid and fishbone becomes the source of calcium supply after it is dissolved. The organic acid in the fermented kimchi stimulates the appetite. As it is of high nutritional value, kimchi is one of the world’s five health foods.
A foreign magazine introduced kimchi under the title “Best Health Food in the World” saying that the Korean kimchi, a kind of fermented food, is a low-fat health food with a rich amount of fibroid materials, vitamin A, vitamin B group and vitamin C, germs good for health, and that it digests well and is effective in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.
Last year, amidst the growing interest in kimchi around the world, the 10th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, held in Windhoek, Namibia, decided to put the kimchimaking custom of Korea in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
An article by Kim Il Ryong