The November issue of Saveur has a great feature on kimchee, “Korea’s Miracle Food” by Mei Chin. Most people would probably grab the issue for the “Ultimate Turkey” spread, with “recipes, tips, and techniques for an unforgettable feast,” but I know at least 4 non-Koreans who would be racing to their closest newstand for the kimchee article/recipes.
My mom called me “the Caucasian” while I was growing up because I generally preferred to eat non-Korean meals. It wasn’t until after I went to college that I appreciated my mom’s cooking.
In fact, my appreciation for good home-cooked Korean food became even greater after moving to Boston, because what most people considered “good” wasn’t really even Korean food per se—more like Korean-adjacent (derived from Margaret Cho’s describing Jon Gosselin as “Asian Adjacent”). It’s a shame that a city with celebrity chefs like Ming Tsai and Todd English doesn’t have a decent Korean restaurant.
I’m always amused to meet kimchee fans, especially when they are non-Asian. I remember watching two of my non-Asian colleagues chowing down on the salty, spicy, sour, fermented napa cabbage without even glancing at the rice. And it wasn’t even good kimchee. One of my colleagues described it as “battery-acid, but really, really good—just can’t get enough of it.” He’d eat it by the barrelful if his wife wouldn’t divorce him for stinking up the house. (It doesn’t matter that they have 20 cats and God knows how many kitty litter boxes. What’s one little jar of kimchee to that, anyway?)
I have another friend, also non-Korean, who gets her fix on kimchee chigae (stew) in the morning (rice optional). I guess one could wake up and get warmed up quickly, but my stomach turns at the idea of eating something so pungent and spicy in the morning.
The other day, my sister-in-law and I were talking about the first time we made kimchee. I think there’s an unwritten rule that a kimchee-making virgin (one who has never made kimchee before) is guaranteed to make the best kimchee of his/her life. She told me that although she’s made kimchee a number of times, it has never been as good as the first time she made it.
I remember making my first gak-dugi kimchee with my grandmother who was visiting from Korea. I think it was the best kimchee I had ever tasted. Although my Korean is so-so, I do remember her complimenting my “sohn-gheerum” (hand juices) or “sohn-maht” (hand taste), which made it taste good. However, I think my first-time success was having her guide me through the steps. I have never tried making kimchee after that because I know it would be let-down. Who knows? Maybe after 7+ years of not making kimchee, I can get my kimchee-making v-card back.
I may have to try out those kimchee recipes from Saveur. Maybe at my mom’s house—she has a kimchee fridge which she bought the last time my grandmother was here. And I’m sure she has plenty of tips and tricks as well.