if i ask you to name the first korean food that comes across your mind,
what would that be?
now, picture what a typical kimchi is like?
what’s the loudest colour that shouts its prescence?
red? any objections?
and, if you have tried it before, what’s the taste that you can recall?
hmmm… stinging spicy, no doubt? (unless you are well trained…)
i am not here to state the obvious, or to assert the stereotypes,
instead, rather than feeling unimpressed by kimchi, or rather,
impressed in a shocking, tongue-numbing way,
this trip has given me some other inspirations.
kimchi is red, hot and spicy, true,
but it is also honest.
when asked what is the most common dish in a korean meal,
one would most probably say:
rice, broth, and various dishes of kimchi.
kimchi is not meant to be taken lightly.
it is not just another generic term
like sushi for japanese and dim sum for cantonese.
in truth, none of the above culinary terms should be taken lightly.
for in such a succinct word says a lot of about the culture, tradition, and the people.
in that case, what does kimchi represent?
i am not going metaphysical, but here are some observations.
for practical reasons, kimchi was invented to help endure the harsh, cold winter
when no vegetables can grow, or be harvested.
to get their daily greens, koreans have preserved veggies,
and compromised the colours and tastes, slightly,
to this red, hot, spicy cousin.
kimchi comes in many forms, the most common ones being
bok choy (big chinese cabbages), white cabbages and daikon (white radishes).
there are also varieties made of grains, meat and seafood.
imagine dunking raw crabs into soya sauce, chili, garlic, and voila!
kimchi also resembles the kind, deft hands of mothers,
who would bear the winter cold, chilly water and the throbbing pain of red hot chili,
to make leaves and leaves of kimchi cabbages,
and come up the colourful, homely delishes.
when a daughter grows up, the mother is supposed to pass her all the kitchen skills.
to make her a good wife – one of the essentials is to learn how to make kimchi.
a korean meal is a splash of colours and spices;
it is also an honest, homely experience.
you are what you eat.
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Photo taken in a covered market near Jongro-3 ga, Seoul.