Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Give Thanks for Kimchi

Turkey didn't make the dinner line-up for me this past Thanksgiving. I celebrated the holiday in Korea, where cabbage rules November.

November is the traditional month to prepare kimchi, the cabbage and chili pepper-based condiment that accompanies every meal, even breakfast.

Kimchi ferments over months (or years). Traditionally, its ingredients go into clay pots that are buried in the ground. Today, many Koreans live in high-rise apartments, so pot-burying is out. Kimchi refrigerators are the solution.

My younger daughter, who lives in Ulsan, took me to Home Plus, a plus-sized store that could be the love child of Target and Walmart. There, we looked at kimchi refrigerators that dwarfed my fridge at home. In many Korean households, the kimchi fridge stands shoulder to shoulder with the regular model. That's a lot of kimchi.

High-rise dwellers can't grow their own cabbage, so they buy it in three-head sacks. I gaped at women pushing carts filled with sacks of cabbage. They, of course, have big kimchi refrigerators to fill.

On the outskirts of Ulsan, in addition to many family-owned garden plots, people have appropriated strips of roadside right-of-way to grow cabbage and other greens. The latter practice, though illegal, is tolerated, because who wants to deprive others of kimchi?

In the U.S., everyone makes dressing/pecan pie/cranberry sauce in his or her special way. In Ulsan, everyone adds personal tweaks to the basic kimchi recipe. While cabbage is the typical base, scallions, radishes, and cucumbers are used, too. The spice level ranges from mild to Help, I'm Burning Up!

Did I miss turkey and all the fixings this year? Yes, but I'd happily trade a gallon of my special cranberry/orange sauce for a half-liter of kimchi. Like travel, it gives life an edge.

What's your favorite condiment? I have a thing for salsa with a hint of chipotle.


Karen McFarland said...

Oh my goodness Pat. You're in Korea? You must be having a fabulous trip my friend. Cabbage, no matter how it's fixed, is not the same as turkey and stuffing. But those Koreans are smart cookies. Cabbage is one of the best veggies you can eat for its nutritional value. It's pretty hard to beat. But maybe it's too healthy. lol. Enjoy! :)

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Mmmmm, salsa... isn't that the fifth food group in Texas? Though I have to say, there are some things I wouldn't want to eat without good old ketchup! I tried kimchi ramen once and one bite was enough. But I imagine the real thing is quite different. Enjoy the rest of your time in Korea!

Coleen Patrick said...

How cool! I haven't tried Kimchi, but I like cabbage in many forms. :) I like most condiments, but guacamole is a fave for me.
Happy travels, Pat!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Karen,
I've been told kimchi has many health benefits. I hope that's true, since I ate plenty of it when in Korea. Karen, is there such a thing as "too healthy?" If so, I'm in trouble.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
The fifth food group in Texas is vast territory, occupied by salsa, barbecue, queso, and beer.

Every kimchi maker adds his or her own touches, so I'm confident you'd find a blend that appeals to you.

French fries + ketchup = perfection. I'm food of the red stuff, too.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Um, I'm FOND of the red stuff. Clearly I have food on the brain.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

H, Coleen,
If you like cabbage, you'll like kimchi.

Yikes, I forgot to include guacamole in Texas' fifth food group. Avocado is yum.