Last Tuesday night, I brought a small package of kimchi to have with some noodles for dinner. The smell that wafted through the library required some explanation on my part, and as my colleague tried to find something to prop the door open to let in some breathable air, I realized that I needed to do a little more justice by Korean cuisine, and share what I know about kimchi.
Kimchi is, most commonly, a spicy dish made from fermented cabbage. Most Koreans eat it with every meal, and almost all consider it one of the healthiest foods in the world. Though sometimes quite stinky and not terribly visually appealing, it is amazing for your health, and invariably the first thing Koreans abroad will tell you they miss from home. In fact it’s quite high on the list of things I miss.
I lived in Korea for two years, teaching English as a foreign language. I lived in a city called Jeonju, which is famous in Korea for its food. It is the home city of a dish called BiBimBap. (“Bap” is Korean for “rice,” so it’s probably the most common word on a Korean menu: Impress your friends the next time you’re out for bulgogi with “Bap, chuseyo!” (“rice, please!”)).
There are a few brands of packaged kimchi that aren’t hard to find in grocery stores. When I lived in Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to live just around the corner from a Korean deli that served up homemade, fresh kimchi. I’ve always been a little worried that my ripe smelling grocery bag and I might get kicked off of the train if I tried to take it back to Connecticut with me. Not liking the packaged options and not being willing to drive to Brooklyn to do my grocery shopping, I decided it was time to try my hand at making my own kimchi at home. In searching for recipes, I came across several great books in our collection on Korean food and culture.
Oriental Gourmet by Khalid Aziz- This cookbook spans several different Asian countries, offering detailed and specific instructions for several quite exotic dishes while not being overwhelming or too complicated. It even has ChapJeh- chewy glass noodles with scallions and pork, essentially. I know that I can’t hope to make it taste like the ladies in the Tae Bong school cafeteria did, but I can’t wait to try.
Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford is an extremely thorough guide to eating, including instructions on how many hours after eating what particular foods one should drink certain temperatures of liquids. The kimchi recipe, though, is surprisingly short.
The Beauty of Korea by Jai-Sik Suh- This book was designed to make you believe that Korea is the best country in the world. This level of nationalism is not unusual in Korea. Many things have been vigorously glossed over, but the photographs are stunning.
Korea: a Walk Through the Land of Miracles– by Simon Winchester- (You may already love this author from one of his many other books: The Man Who Loved China, Alice Behind Wonderland, The Map That Changed the World. This honest and captivating book was passed around the group of English teachers in Jeonju and considered the best book on Korea written in English. Winchester follows the walking route that the first Europeans to set foot on the peninsula of Korea took in the 17th century.
Korea: its history and culture by Chris Wright – This book gives a simple and lovely overview of Korean culture and history.
Korea: travel guide– I would have loved to have had these colorful and easy-to-read maps and concise, yet intriguing descriptions of tourist attractions while I was there! This guide book also has a very good section on tea and food, including “ddok”- a sticky sweet rice cake.
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent- This novel is on the Intermediate School’s summer reading list. It’s the self-discovery story of a fourteen-year old Korean boy who was adopted by Italian parents.
Some of my favorite kimchi dishes are kimchi chigeh (essentially kimchi soup: quite spicy, and usually includes both tofu and pork); kimchi chon, or pochimgeh, which is what some people call a kimchi pancake or kimchi pizza. Kimchi is surprisingly versatile, once you get used to it. I have to admit that I haven’t made it to a kimchi taco truck myself, but I have no doubt that it deserves all the press it’s been getting in New York. I put some kimchi on a turkey sandwich once. I couldn’t convince anyone else to take a bite, but I thought it was quite good!
Of all these culinary experiences, though, my favorite will always be the lunch time that my second graders taught me how to stop making a fool of myself with my chopsticks, and use a piece of kimchi to wrap around the rice and eat it in one delicious bite. Try it! And, as I was told before each meal, translated as “have a delicious,” Mashagetisoyo!
from Health.com : “Why to try it: Kimchi (or kimchee) is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”
Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library. She is currently bashing a head of cabbage and a radish with a big stick and shopping for earthenware jars.