Kimjang is jjang!

If you are a fan of Korean food (or anything Korean), then you surely have heard about Kimchi – Korea’s representative food. Koreans consume an average of 40 pounds of it per person each year (yep, that’s how much they looove it). Kimchi is literally a part of their everyday lives that they feel “something is missing” if they don’t have it on the table. Natives even say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when getting their pictures taken.

Kimchi or gimchi (김치), is a traditional fermented Korean side dish (반찬) often made of cabbage with a variety of seasonings characterized by its spicy and distinct taste. In traditional preparations, kimchi was stored underground in jars to keep cool during the summer months and unfrozen during the winter months. Nowadays, there’s no need to make your own as packed kimchi are available everywhere in convenient stores.

Kimchi is considered as one of the world’s healthiest food. It contains a high concentration of dietary fiber, while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and carotene. The vegetables used in kimchi also contribute to its overall nutritional value. Kimchi is rich in vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron, and contains lactic acid bacteria, among those the typical species Lactobacillus kimchii. These good bacteria help 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.

There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi and the most common variations are baechu kimchi (배추김치, napa cabbage kimchi), baechu geotjeori (배추겉절이, unfermented napa cabbage kimchi), bossam kimchi (보쌈김치), baek kimchi (백김치, white kimchi), dongchimi (동치미, water-based kimchi), chonggak kimchi (총각김치, young radish kimchi), kkakdugi (깍두기, daikon kimchi), oisobagi (오이소박이, cucumber kimchi), and pa kimchi (파김치, green onion kimchi). Kimchi also is used in everything from soups to pancakes, and as a topping on pizza and burgers.

Now, how is kimchi made?

Traditional Kimjang, displayed in the National Folk Museum of Korea

Kimjang is the Korean tradition of making and sharing a lot of kimchi to last through the winter months. The Kimjang custom plays an important role in encouraging greater ties between Koreans and perfectly demonstrates the Korean art of living. It reaffirms Korean identity, emphasizes the importance of sharing and strengthening family ties, and is a reminder of the need to live in harmony with nature. On December 2013, UNESCO added Kimjang to the world’s intangible heritage list. This honor demonstrates the important role played by Kimjang in Korean cultural traditions.

Preparation of kimjang kimchi follows a yearly cycle. In spring, households procure shrimp, anchovy and other seafood for salting and fermenting. In summer, they buy sea salt for the brine. In late summer, red chili peppers are dried and ground into powder. Late autumn is Kimjang season, when communities collectively make and share large quantities of kimchi to ensure that every household has enough to sustain it through the long, harsh winter. This season is known as Ipdong (입동), the 19th division of the 24 solar divisions of the lunar calendar year. It represents the start of winter and this 2016, Ipdong will be on November 07.

Ingredients for napa cabbage kimchi or baechu kimchi – the most common variation in Korea

In the past, Korean families do their own Kimjang as most of them lived with a large number of family members, often with more than three generations under one roof. They would gather together, bring their own rubber gloves, and work all day long outside in the cold while sharing good food and good times with each other, making this activity worth looking forward to. However, the unique tradition has been slowly fading out, as the Korean culture becomes more globalized and the sizes of families have been reduced considerably. Many people opt to buy kimchi at markets rather than make it themselves during Kimjang. Such trends can be clearly seen in Seoul and other metropolitan areas.

Women gather in each other’s houses to help make kimchi in preparation for the winter season

Though it is really worrisome, there is still a silver lining as efforts are still being made today to preserve Kimjang. In an attempt to combat the increasing popularity of mass-produced kimchi, which is convenient for modern life, Seoul has created the world’s only kimchi museum, where tourists and local people can sample different types of it, and learn about the traditional Kimjang process. The city of Seoul also organizes an annual event to celebrate the addition of Kimjang to the UNESCO’s cultural heritage list in 2013. Thousands of people, including foreigners, gather at the Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall to make kimchi together, most of which is donated to charitable causes. It also features other cultural exhibitions for people to enjoy. This event in Seoul is just one of the countless Kimjang festivals that take place across the country every year. Many regional governments, social organizations, and businesses also sponsor Kimjang festivals in an effort to preserve the tradition.

Seoul Kimchi Festival, November 2015

I personally love the idea of this Korean custom and I would want to try doing Kimjang with my family. Doesn’t this tradition touch your heart? I really do hope that Koreans keep this tradition well for their next generations to take pride in and for the world to marvel at.

Written by Krew Member Miao Canlas

Photo credits: http://www.surakoreancuisine.com; http://www.mangovine.net; http://www.koreatimes.co.kr; http://www.chilloutkorea.com

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