If you’re interested in Korean culture, there isn’t a much better starting point than kimchi. This spicy pickled cabbage is the obligatory accompaniment to any Korean dish. Koreans eat it every day without fail, and a trip to Korea without trying kimchi would be akin to coming to London without seeing a red bus.
The flavour is sour, spicy and tangy. It is apparently an acquired taste (a trait attributed to most if not all Korean food) and a real ‘Marmite’. There has been some less-than favourable press regarding our fave K-food of late, including this Guardian article entitled “What’s the Point of Kimchi?”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/23/kimchi-korea-rachel-cooke . Drawing on my own experience, and that of many, many friends, for those that “love it” however, it quickly becomes addictive and an every day necessity.
Here in London, kimchi isn’t hard to track down. It is available in every Korean restaurant, however unfortunately does not come free of charge with a meal as it would in Korea. A small portion of kimchi is usually priced between £2 and £3. With this in mind, it’s worth checking out special ‘bundle’ offers on the restaurants’ menus, as more often than not you’ll want to order more than one dish anyway.
Once you’ve been hit with kimchi fever, it will make logistical and financial sense to buy lunchbox-sized pots for your own fridge, rather than limiting yourself to expensive restaurant portions. These are available from Korean / East Asian supermarkets dotted around New Malden and central London, and will cost £3 or thereabouts. It’s all good stuff, but you can’t beat the home-made varieties available at Centre Point Store, Yokoso and Seoul Mate (see map at the top of the page) which trump the packaged type every time.
Dishes like kimchi bokkumbap (fried rice), kimchi chiggae (stew) and kimchi jeon (pancake-recipe below) take little time to cook and are hearty, warming and satisfying meals. For something less refined, a friend once recommended kimchi on toast with melted cheese- an unlikely but tantalising twist, perfect at home after any evening involving soju! On it’s own, kimchi is an authentic and healthy snack, to be enjoyed any time you so desire.
In terms of home-making the kimchi itself, this is not something I am qualified to recommend or not, as unfortunately is not something I’ve tried. It sounds like a lot of fun, and recipes / articles like this one from the New York Times tempt me to give it a bash: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/dining/16diy-recipes.html#view=kimchi
My issue is that even my middle-aged Korean friends would not dare to make their own, as they felt it would not be doing it justice! They would swear by their mothers’ and aunts’ recipes, and say that although they had dedicated time, effort and commitment to kimchi-making, the end result would never compare to that of their elders, so they were inclined to give up. Obviously one day, they will have to take over the kimchi-guru role themselves, but in the meantime, they are thoroughly happy to tuck into what has been lovingly prepared for them.
Random kimchi facts:
- Koreans believe kimchi to have health benefits including anti-ageing qualities and a booster to the immune system
- Kimchi has been taken to space and enjoyed by astronauts, due to its fermented quality
- In olden times, special huts were used to house kimchi as it fermented. These can still be found in rural or traditional areas such as Nami Island, Chuncheon
- Some prefer new or fresh, whilst others let it continue to ferment for months and even years, We love old, sour and flavourful kimchi!
- Depending on the season it is made in, the kimchi will be made slightly differently, and again vary in taste
Kimchi Soul’s recipe for kimchi jeon:
More kimchi recipes coming up soon!
We will continue to ponder the prospect of DIY kimchi. Updates to follow…