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.