In Korea, many people take one day out of the year to make their kimchi, a traditional fermented vegetable dish, for the entire year ahead. As kimchi is generally served with every meal, you can imagine the large-scale undertaking this ensues.
When I asked my co-teacher Jenny about her weekend plans, she told me that she had to help her mother-in-law make kimchi on Saturday. I peppered her with questions about the process until she realized that something so typical (read: boring) to her, sounded fascinating to the foreigner, and I was invited to partake. Mission accomplished!
Joining in at around 10:30 a.m., I was actually quite late to the process. The kimchi-making had begun two days earlier when the cabbage was salted. Then around 7 a.m., Jenny’s mother-in-law had started preparing ingredients. The basic mix she had prepared was thinly-sliced radish, red pepper paste, spices and onions. There may have been other things in there but Jenny wasn’t sure.
My job was to take a bunch of cabbage and spread the mixture into the leaves one leaf at a time. It took longer than you would thing to peel each leaf back and spread in the mixture. Then the kimchi was tightly packed in plastic containers that would be stored in the special kimchi refrigerator. In the past, kimchi was stored in large clay pots outside and sometimes stored in the ground. I think this is the reason people make their kimchi on one day in the fall, before the ground freezes. You can still see the kimchi pots in people’s yards and outside restaurants, but from what Jenny said it sounds like most people now use the kimchi fridges.
The first type of kimchi we made gets better the longer it has time to ferment. We made another kind with chopped cabbage that can be enjoyed right away. It included the same mixture and also had garlic, sesame seeds and a kind of lettuce added. I was given a container of this kimchi to take home and sample.