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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'Tis the season to make kimchi

For the past month, chili peppers have added a splash of color to Seoul's staid urban landscape. Hanging from drying racks on roofs, lying on towels covering the sidewalk, filling huge vats in front of stores -- it's kimchi-making season!

Beginning in early August at the Lunar start of autumn, known as "Ipchu," Koreans begin preparing to make enough kimchi to last through winter. Although kimchi is made and eaten throughout the year -- no Korean meal is complete without this spicy vegetable dish -- gimjang (kimjang) kimchi is the winter speciality.

As winter approaches, autumn’s final harvesting consists of gathering the major ingredients for kimchi – Chinese cabbages and radishes. These ingredients to make gimjang kimchi are prepared by the housewives for their family members to eat during winter.

Although harvesting and production methods haven't changed much over the centuries -- the traditional massive clay jars of kimchi are all over Seoul -- old-fashioned storage methods are dying out, especially in the city.

Gimjang kimchi is best when stored in 0℃, with little to no temperature changes for best fermentation. Traditionally, there were designated earth holes in which gimjang kimchi jars were buried, and covered with straw mats for storage in the winter.

Obviously it's impractical for city-dwellers to store their kimchi underground so most people instead have kimchi refrigerators, in addition to a regular refrigerator.

So cute, right? My future home definitely needs a chocolate refrigerator!

Have you tried kimchi? Do you like it? My taste buds have adapted to kimchi over the past year, especially the radish and the younger cabbage variety, but sometimes it definitely turns me off.