[This article was originally published in Zomppa, the International food magazine.]
Korean food is amazing and Korean Kimchi epitomises it! Based at Hong Kong, I have eaten Korean food quite a number of times and every time I order a Korean main course, I get to taste some kimchi for sure. For those who are wondering about what kimchi is, I’ll tell you that it is a spicy, fermented pickle made with vegetables alone or with a mixture of vegetables, seafood and meat. For a Korean, it means a lot more than being just an indispensable part of the meal. It is a part of the Korean culture and the pride of Korean cuisine! In fact, a Korean woman’s culinary skills are judged by the kinds of kimchis she can make!
Why should you eat kimchi?
You must be wondering about why I am emphasising on kimchi, when there are so many different types of pickles available all over the world. After all, the Indians are happy with a spoonful of tangy achaar, the Chinese savour humchoy and the Japanese love zukemono: all being different kinds of pickles. So why kimchi?
I will tell you why. Kimchi has been regarded as one of the best health foods all over the world. This is because it is low in calories and cholesterol and is rich in healthy micro-organisms, vitamins (A, C and B-complex), calcium and other minerals. In Korea, during the harsh winters when snowfall occurs continuously, kimchi offers a handy and good source of nutrition. The healthy micro-organisms and enzymes (produced as a result of fermentation) present in kimchi aid in metabolism and bowel movement. Research has proved that kimchi has anti-cancer properties as well!
Sometimes, salted shrimps, salted anchovies, baby octopuses, oysters or other seafood are also added to the kimchi. These additionally provide proteins, amino acids, fats and extra calcium.
Common ingredients and kinds of kimchi
Kimchi is a harmony of different kinds of ingredients with the right kind of fermentation. There are more than 100 kinds of kimchis. Korean Napa cabbage kimchi (paech’u kimchi) is the most popular kimchi. In all kinds of kimchis, red chilli peppers actually help in speeding up the fermentation. Korean cabbage (nappa), spring onions, Indian mustard leaves, slender cucumbers, white radish, wild lettuce, watercress, wild leeks, Asian brown mushrooms (p’yogo), salted and fermented fish (chotkal), garlic, ginger and red chilli peppers are the common ingredients. The methods of making the same may vary from one kimchi expert to the other.
Popular kimchis found in Hong Kong are cabbage and radish kimchis. If you happen to visit Korea, don’t forget to taste one of these kimchis:
- South-East Korean kimchis (hot): sesame leaf kimchi, soybean leaf kimchi and garlic stalk kimchi
- South-West Korean kimchis: kat kimchi (Indian lettuce leaf kimchi), yuja tongch’imi (special radish kimchi flavoured with citron)
- West Korean kimchis: kosu kimchi, squash kimchi
- Seoul: Royal chang kimchi, susam nabakchi (kimchi with ginseng)
- Central Korea: eggplant kimchi, spinach kimchi, pumpkin kimchi
- Eastern Korea: kkaktugi kimchi using salted fish
- Buddhist temple kimchis: these are mild kimchis and do not use animal products
Here is a popular Korean fried rice recipe using kimchi. It is delicious and mildly spicy. However, you can make it more spicy by increasing the amount of black pepper powder in this recipe.
Korean Kimchi: A Superb Health Food
- Rice, steamed: 1.5 cup
- Kimchi (I used a mixture of cabbage and radish kimchis): ¼ cup
- Beef or pork (cut into very small cubes): ½ cup
- Spring onion greens: ¼ cup
- Shallots (chopped): 2 tbsp
- Garlic (finely chopped): 3
- Toasted white sesame seeds: 1.5 tsp
- Soy sauce: 2 tbsp
- Black pepper powder: 1 tsp (or according to taste)
- Sesame oil: 1 tbsp
- Light oil: 5 tbsp
- Salt: ½ tsp
Marinate the pork with soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, chopped shallots, chopped spring onion greens and garlic for 30 min. Fry in 1.5 tbsp oil.
Finely chop the kimchi and squeeze extra juice. Reserve the juice for the final step. Fry this chopped kimchi in 1 tbsp oil.
Finally, fry the rice with the rest of the oil, adding the salt. Mix the fried kimchi, kimchi juice and the fried pork to this rice and stir well until dry.
Serve with chopped spring onion greens. You can add some fresh kimchi over the rice as well!