Kimchi Commandments (or, kimchi-making tips for dummies like me)

Making kimchi with my friends at the Korean Studies booth during the Academic Expo of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

As a Korean Studies student, making kimchi is bound to be a seemingly trivial but necessary activity. After all, how can you know the basics of Korean history and not know the basics of making kimchi, right? For a Korean Studies student, that is just…inconceivable. You have to have all bases covered.

So during the Academic Expo in my university, I volunteered (or rather, the teaching assistant volunteered me ᄒᄒᄒ) and another girl to lead the kimchi-making demonstration in our Korean Studies booth.

I already have a basic idea of how to make this, since I took a kimchi-making lesson a few months ago. Kimchi tutorials on Youtube played a part in this, too. But during the actual day of our kimchi-cooking demo, something akin to stage fright happened: we froze. Good thing our Korean 선생님 came to the rescue.

She gave us some tips on how to make proper kimchi the Korean way.

1) Salt matters.  I thought any kind of salt will do. So when I went to the supermarket to buy salt, I just bought whatever I could grab in a jiffy–refined salt. But it turns out that for kimchi, rock salt must be used. So remember this, buy rock salt, not refined salt! And salt your cabbages with the rough stuff!

Also, be generous with the salt. I was reluctant to put so much that I basically scrimped on this. But it turns out that the more, the merrier. Just remember to wash it off before putting the red pepper sauce.

2) The absence of anchovy paste does not make our taste buds grow fonder. I couldn’t find anchovy paste in the supermarket here in Bangkok, so I thought we’d just make kimchi without it. But I was wrong, so wrong! Our kimchi tasted bland without it. The absence of one ingredient does make a difference in taste.

3) Fish sauce won’t fail you…as long as you don’t douse your kimchi with it. Keep this in moderation and your kimchi will taste fine. We made the mistake of putting a lot of fish sauce, thinking it could replace anchovy paste, but we were wrong. Fish sauce should be in harmony with the other ingredients.

4) Chop the cabbage into small pieces if you want to make quick kimchi, but make kimchi the traditional way (using whole cabbage) if you want to demonstrate how authentically beautiful and old-fashioned kimchi is made. We tried to cut corners (like time) by chopping our cabbage into small pieces so that we can make it quickly. But our 선생님 wasn’t too happy with this when she saw this on demo day. As a Korean, she wanted to demonstrate how beautiful kimchi-making is (And it is!). I suppose this has to do with cultural pride. So here’s a lesson learned: Presentation and style is as important as doing the job…especially with Koreans! =)

So those are lessons I learned from making kimchi. I hope I can make more great kimchi soon!

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2 comments on “Kimchi Commandments (or, kimchi-making tips for dummies like me)

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