I got told, at the last minute as usual, that my class before lunch on Friday would finish early. Actually, I got told while I was in the middle of teaching the class, but anyway. I’m used to such happenings by now.
The reason for this was so that lunch could be taken earlier, and the kitchen freed up for a very important event – making the kimchi supply for the next I-don’t-know-how-long. Several ajummas were imported into the school for this critical operation, and I hovered in delight around the kitchen door, peeping in occasionally to watch the proceedings. There were about 200 cabbages sitting around in baskets, surrounding a HUGE basin of the all-important sauce.
Kimchi-making is something that is done in homes all over Korea, with the skills and recipes passed down from the women of one generation to the next in each family. First, the sauce is prepared according to the family’s own ‘secret’ recipe. It basically involves large quantities of Korea’s flaming hot spicy red pepper paste, gochujang (a big favourite of mine – I rarely cook without it), along with various spices and chopped vegetables.
Next, the sauce is applied to the leaves. This is a long process when you’re dealing with hundreds of cabbages. The sauce must be layered on in between all of the leaves, one at a time.
Next, the kimchi is carefully and tightly packed into traditional kimchi pots like these for fermentation:
You see these pots in practically every garden or apartment balcony in Korea. The pots are often buried underneath the ground and left for the kimchi to ferment. Nowadays, however, the kimchi is often packed into plastic containers and stored in – I kid you not – a Kimchi Fridge. The Kimchi Fridge is apparently the most wanted household item on every Korean housewife’s list. I do not doubt this statistic in the slightest.
Kimchi can be eaten fresh, but the general theory is that the longer it’s been fermenting, the better it tastes (until a certain point, I presume, as it’s bound to become inedible sludge at some point). However, we got a special preview of the new kimchi batch on Friday, and it was the most amazing thing I have ever eaten. Truly. I may have the kimchi madness or something, because when I think about it rationally I know that there’s really no way it could actually have been nicer than slow-cooked lamb, or tender steaks with cream sauce, or similar delicacies, but I have gone past sense and reason where kimchi is concerned.
I eventually got shooed out of the kitchen by an unknown ajumma, who got quite agitated when the cooking lady let me try my hand at kimchi-making. I think the idea of a foreigner making kimchi was too much for her – although I felt better about my eviction when the school director received a stern telling-off a few minutes later, and had the cabbage she was working on taken off her. No one, it seems, can be trusted to make kimchi quite like the ajummas!
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