Kimjang: Kimchi-Making Experience 김장

Monday, November 22, 2021

'Tis the Season to Be Making Kimchi!

Kimchi in a container.

It's November and do you know what that means for Koreans? It's time to make a whole lot of kimchi(김치, gēm-chē) to store away to last us all winter long. This kimchi-making tradition is called kimjang (김장, gēm-jahng).

Unfortunately, I am the only one who regularly eats kimchi in my immediate family, so this kimchi-making tradition doesn't occur in my home. For me, it's more economical to just go to the Korean grocery store and buy a big container of kimchi which will last me months. Every once in a while, I like to make my own just so that I don't forget how to make this representative food of Korea. It is a laborious task to make kimchi and fine art to perfect it.

Kimjang is typically a family event where everyone in the family comes together to make kimchi. November 22 has been designated as Kimchi Day in Korea. It is said that this day is the perfect day to mix all the ingredients to make the perfect tasting kimchi. In Korea, many people will go back to their hometowns to participate in this tradition with their families and communities.

I remember as a child, gathering around this big tub with my brother and mom of brined cabbage smothered in spicy marinade. My mom would feed my brother and me the freshly made kimchi and ask us if the seasoning was right. Looking back at that time now, it was a fun family happening in our home. 

This past Saturday at the Korean School I teach at, students had the experience of making their own kimchi. The time-consuming part of brining the napa cabbage was done overnight and the cabbage was ready to be marinated.

Students lined up on either side of long tables with aluminum pans filled with marinade and brined cabbage. After suiting up in their kimchi-making gear (apron and food gloves), the students were hard at work making their own kimchi which they would later get to take home. 

Here are pictures of my three kids working hard to make their kimchi.

Kimjang (kimchi making experience)

Kimjang (kimchi making experience)

Kimjang (kimchi making experience)

It is times like this, I am extra grateful to have three children. I now have half of a big container full of fresh kimchi that will surely last me through this winter. 

History of Kimjang

The history of this process of making and preserving kimchi is said to have started as far back as when the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea existed (so we're looking as old as 57BCE)!

Hardships with harvesting in the winter months made preserving and fermenting of nutritious vegetables popular. Korea has an ideal climate for fermentation and over the many years, the different regions of Korea have developed techniques to ferment the best-tasting kimchis. 

This process of preserving and fermenting vegetables continued to live on and is now known worldwide. With its long history, it is no wonder that it was listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013.

Down below are pictures that were taken in 2015, when my family visited my father in Korea. We took a trip to Busan from Seoul making stops along the way. 

Laura and her son in front of onggi (earthenware pots).

This is a picture of my firstborn, Joowon and me. Not visible to the eye is also our twins, Caleb and Sophia, who were both in my belly at the time. I was very sick during our stay in Korea not knowing at the time that we were expecting two little ones. 

Here is a picture of my father and my son. 

We stopped by this small house-like restaurant to enjoy soft tofu (순두부, soon-du-bu). I remember this time very clearly because my father had told me a little history about some of the foods we were eating. Foods like kimchi and soondubu were not always red in color and were in fact white. Using red pepper powder and flakes for these dishes were relatively new considering Korea's very long history but became popular in the 19th and 20th century.

Onggi (Korean earthenware pots)

You may have wondered why I decided to share these random photos. But, there is a reason! If you look very closely at each of these pictures, you may notice these big pots like the photo above. These are earthenware made out of clay and sand and are called Onggi(옹기, ōng-gē). Onggis are clay containers that were used and still are being used to ferment foods. Some examples of foods that were/are placed in these earthenwares are kimchi, gochujang (red pepper paste), doengjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, and rice wine.

In today's times, most families store their fermented foods in a designated refrigerator that is kept at the right temperature for fermenting. 

Ingredients For Kimchi

Kimchi can come in a variety of different forms but the most common one you'll see is napa cabbage kimchi called bae-choo kimchi (배추김치). My particular favorite kimchis are those that are made with radishes or perilla leaves. Ggakdugi (깍두기, cubed radish kimchi) is kimchi that I make most often while perilla leaf kimchi (깻잎김치, ggaen-nēp) I make seasonally.

Radish kimchi in a bowl.

Here is a picture of freshly made ggakduki made at Korean School.

Some of the main ingredients that can be used to make kimchi are:

  • Napa cabbage
  • Radish
  • Scallions
  • Chives
  • Cucumbers
  • Onion
  • Carrot
  • Perilla leaves
  • Fruits

The sky is really the limit when it comes to the main ingredient and there are supposedly over 200 types of kimchi! 

Here is a list of ingredients needed (some are optional) to make the marinade. 

  • Red pepper powder
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Fish sauce
  • Salted shrimp
  • Salt
  • Sugar (apple or pear can be used in place of sugar for a healthier option)

My aunts have time and time again told me at family gatherings that the most important part in making kimchi is the brining. I will tell you from experience, this is 100% true. The brining step is so important for truly delicious kimchi. 

Kimchi (fermented cabbage)

Have you tried making kimchi before? Was it a success or a disaster? Let me know how your first experience in making kimchi was like in the comments below!

Happy Kimchi Day!



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