Friday, January 21, 2011
Kimchi is a staple that accompanies every Korean meal. It is so indispensable that almost every Korean household owns an additional refrigerator exclusively for kimchi. If Europe has wine refrigerators, Korea has kimchi refrigerators. Made year round, kimchi includes an endless variety of seasonal ingredients. The most common spring kimchis are baechu kimchi (Napa cabbage) and pa kimchi (spring onion); in the summer, there are yeolmu kimchi (young raddish) and oi kimchi (cucumber); in the fall, gaji kimchi (eggplant) and kkaennip kimchi (sesame leaf); and in the winter, dongchimi (radish) and baek kimchi (Napa cabbage without red pepper). Baechu kimchi, which is the most common variety, is termed differently depending on how long it has been fermented: geotjeori with the least fermentation and mugeunji, with the most.
A traditional Korean meal consists primarily of vegetable dishes, and Korean people have developed a unique way of preserving the vegetables they need. By pickling vegetables with salt, jeotgal (fermented fish) and red pepper flakes, they could eat them fresh even during the harsh four-month winters. Highly nutritious, kimchi is not only rich in vitamins and minerals, but it also stimulates the appetite and energizes the body. A good source of fiber, kimchi also helps digestion and bowel regularity. Finally, it contains the healthy bacteria, lactobacilli, that develops during the fermentation process. Clinical tests on animals have shown kimchi’s beneficial effects against SARS and bird flu viruses and its ability to enhance immunity.
More than just a side dish, kimchi is an integral part of Korean culture and one that reflects the country’s regional characteristics. Each region has its own varieties made with locally-produced ingredients, fermented seafood, and seasonings. Each year, a kimchi festival is held where visitors can see and sample kimchis from various regions. The most common and beloved type, baechu kimchi is the basis of many other dishes: the kimchi bokkeumbap fried rice is a favorite dish among young people; tofu kimchi is a great accompaniment to alcoholic drinks; and the kimchijeon pancake and kimchimari guksu (noodles) are eaten as a light meal.