In spite I have been traveling,meeting people,observing life styles.... I have to admit that I am nowhere in the gastronomic world.This is exactly what I felt when I came to know about Kimchi first hand in Korea.How come I remained ignorant- though not fully- about a dish which is not only tasteful esp to an Indian like me but has been part of the life and history of a people,in two countries.When I got a chance to be in Seoul,South Korea recently, Kimchi attracted me along with its impressive electronic markets, industrial world or tourist attractions...
How it started...and a parallel in Kerala
Korea has long and harsh winter.Naturally people wanted to preserve some food to be used in that time.I can fully understand the logic behind this.Kerala, the state where I was born and brought up in India has long rainy days in a year- almost three months.During this period raising fresh vegetables is difficult. It was also hard to venture out to sea by fishermen for fish which has been the staple diet of Keralites from time immemorial. Old traditional households in Kerala used to make and preserve a variety of pickles-mostly vegetables such as raw mangoes- in big jars specially meant for the purpose made of ceramic for the rainy season. These days such practices of making it in own households are stopped since large factories produce them round the year.Such pickles are sent across the nation and world for the consumption of Indians in tons! And those big jars in different shapes and sizes have become antiques which are showcased in drawing rooms!But not in Korea.
Fermentation pots to Kimchi fridges
As early as 7th century Koreans developed a system of salting and fermenting vegetables mainly cabbages to be used in winter days. Eventually they started using big fermentation pots made of earthenware for the purpose which are buried in the ground.This was the process thorough out the history until recently.
By the turn of this century Koreans invented a refrigerator exclusive for the preservation of Kimchi!Very soon Kimchi refrigerator rose to the rank of the first most wanted household appliance in Korea since an average Korean eats 18 kg of Kimchi each year!.It is designed for storage,temperature control and fermentation process.No wonder popular brands such as Samsung and LG compete each other not only in sales but in R and D as well.
Factories making Kimchi have come up but an average Korean house prefer to make it their own than depending on these factory products.
Kimchi in space..
When a Korean astronaut named Yi So-yeon was launched into space on board Soyuz, a Russian shuttle in 2008,interestingly Kimchi also was sent with her.Definitely the act must have demanded a lot of research.In fact recently only I realized that officially NASA and other space agencies prefer spicy food in outer space for scientific reasons!
And Kimchi goes to overseas in war...
It is recorded in history that Kimchi was sent to Vietnam for the use of South Korean troops fighting along with US forces.And this arrangement was made upon a special request of Korean President to US President!
A research institute exclusive for Kimchi!
I have heard of a Hamburger University in US owned by McDonalds.Now I find that there is a World Kimchi Institute to do research on Kimchi in South Korea at Pusan!
Unlike Indian pickles Kimchi is considered to be a healthy food.Its high fiber low fat diet has not only kept obesity at bay but it seems contains antioxidants as well which make the dish an obsession in both Koreas- north and south.It is said they say"Kimchi" instead of "cheese" when getting pictures taken!!!