Kimchi is South Korea’s national dish, and is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and for snacking) every day of the week. Personally, I hate it with a passion!
Traditionally, kimchi is often allowed to ferment underground in jars for months. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as a main ingredients. During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War, its government requested American help to ensure that South Korean troops – reportedly “desperate” for it – could obtain it during battle. It has also been sent to space to feed Korean astronauts after a multi-million dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odour without affecting taste!
Apparently, South Koreans consume around 18kg of kimchi per person annually, and many credit their nation’s rapid economic growth in part to eating this sour and spicy dish. Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fiber, while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Most types of kimchi contain onions, garlic, and chilli peppers, all of which are salutary and contribute to its overall nutritional value. Kimchi is rich in vitamin A, calcium, and iron, and as such has been named as one of the top five healthiest foods in the entire world.
Kimchi can be made with white radishes and cucumbers. It is known to be a traditional side dish as is almost always served along with other side dishes (known as banchan) in most Korean family households and restaurants. Kimchi can be eaten alone or with white rice but it is also included in recipes of other traditional dishes, including porridges, soups, and rice cakes. Kimchi also flavours other famous Korean dishes such as kimchi stew, kimchi pancake, kimchi soup, and kimchi fried rice.
I am not a fan of kimchi, but you cannot underestimate just how often it gets put on your dinner table during mealtimes! Koreans simply love the stuff, and it is ingrained into their culture. I know I will never be an honorary Korean until I learn to like this acquired taste, but still, I would much rather have a plain pancake, rather than a kimchijeon, or a simple beef stew, rather than kimchi jjigae! When I got to Korean restaurants or casual dining places, I often see kimchi on the menu as a side or as part of banchan (small snacks), but I am always keen to avoid ordering it, even if I am trying to replicate an authentic Korean experience. Jajangmyeon and bulgogi will do me just fine, whereas beer and KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) is even better!