Kimchi–It’s What’s for Dinner (in Korea)

And for breakfast and lunch too. There’s little doubt that this dish is Korea’s most well-known food, but until four years ago I’d never heard of it. Kimchi is a fermented food, and is the most common side dish served in Korea.

Kimchi has many variations, but the one most people think of when they hear “kimchi” is the type made with napa cabbage. However, other types of kimchi are made from cucumber, radish (the Korean variety), and green onion. At least one type of kimchi is served as a side dish with every meal in a day, and often there’s more than one type served.

This food has been around a long time in Korea (and, no, that’s not a fermentation joke). The earliest references to kimchi is close to 3,000 years ago, but in those early days it was made with cabbage and beef stock only.

Once the red pepper was introduced to Korea, the ingredient was added to kimchi some time after 1500. Now the spicy red pepper flakes are closely connected to kimchi, although not all varieties are spicy. White kimchi is made with napa cabbage but without red pepper, and white radish kimchi is another popular variety that isn’t spicy. Kimchi also varies by region in Korea and by season.

But kimchi is versatile too and is used as more than just a side dish. It’s used in stews, such as kimchi jjigae, in pancakes, and as a pizza topping. And it’s extremely healthy. Health Magazine named kimchi one of the world’s healthiest foods because it’s  “loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its ‘healthy bacteria’ called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion.”

For many Westerners, kimchi is often an acquired taste. I know many former military employees who served in Korea who love it. I happen to love cucumber kimchi and like radish kimchi, but the traditional napa kimchi isn’t a favorite, although I can eat it. I’m trying to acquire the taste.

And, one more thing. Kimchi is such a part of the Korean culture that the word has another use too. Instead of using “say cheese” when they take pictures, Koreans often say “say kimchi.”

And if this post hasn’t provided you with enough information on kimchi, and you’re going to be in Seoul, the Pulmuone Kimchi Museum has exhibits on the history of kimchi, the different types available, how to make and store kimchi, and the nutritional benefits of the food. Here’s the address of the Korea Tourism page on this museum: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=268153.

(Some information was pulled from the Wikipedia page on kimchi and the Health Magazine site at http://eating.health.com/2008/02/01/worlds-healthiest-foods-kimchi-korea/).

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