The Smell of Kimchi – my grandmother


kimchi jarsMy grandmother, Harmoni, walked in pendulum motion—left, right, left, right—in a pace that was soft and matched with time. As she walked next to me, I looked up to see the sun shine on her silvery gray hair and her dark skin that was patterned with deeply formed lines and brown spots. As we matched our walking rhythm, she began her tale once again about how I should have been born a boy. Her deep voice, interspersed with occasional laughter, accompanied our ritual walk to church on Wednesday evenings along the dirt ridden paths of Busan, Korea. As we walked back home in the cool summer evening, Harmoni reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bundle rolled up in her handkerchief. As she unwrapped it, I could smell from a distance the sweet sour smell of kimchi pancakes.
(read more in Asian Blues)

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The Making of Kimchi in Korea


Hot and Spicy – Sour and Pungent

korean food spread

Kimchi and other side dishes

After harvest time, large ripe cabbages are bought at the local markets and brought home to load in large mixing bowls to wash and soak in salt in preparation for pickled kimchi. The cabbages are removed and a paste of spices are layered between the salted cabbage leaves, made of ground red peppers, ginger, garlic, shrimp and fish sauce. They are then preserved in large glass jars on window sills or rooftops as the cabbages soak and season in the spices. The salt and hot peppers mixed with brine starts to pickle and turn sour, and the smell of fish and shrimp paste begins to ferment and exudes an aroma of sour pickled vegetables from the kitchen to the table.

Kimchi goes back to the Three Kingdoms period when people needed to  preserve vegetables for the long cold winters. During the Koryo Dynasty, various regions developed their own recipes with salt, garlic, and fermented fish paste. During the 16th century, red chili peppers were introduced to Korea from Japan and added; they quickly became popular as people began to experiment with new spices and vegetables. With peppers and cabbages that were easy to grow, they paired nicely with rice; kimchi also lasted during the long cold winter months without the need for refrigeration. All the ingredients came together in harmony over time, sour and pungent, hot and spicy, seasoned to perfection, yet not too overpowering. Kimchi soon developed into a staple comfort food for Koreans.