Kimjang: A Special Kimchi Making Event

Thursday, November 20, 2008

“Kimjang” is a kimchi making event where kimchi is made in preparation for winter. In the past, kimchi was the only vegetable that many families could eat during the coldest 3-4 months. As you probably know, kimchi is the ubiquitous food in Korean cuisine. It is served with every Korean meal and many Koreans won't consider a meal complete unless it has kimchi.

Kimchi is a very labor-intensive food to make so many neighbors would divide up the different parts of the kimchi making process and then make a huge batch for the entire village. This event, kimjang, was a way to survive the harsh winters, build ties with neighbors, and an important social event that embraced the idea of “pumasi”: the Korean spirit of helping each other.

These days few people make their own kimchi. Many people will order it from kimchi companies and then have it delivered. However, this is impossible for the less fortunate in Korea so every year many organizations will organize Kimjangs and donate the kimchi.

Paul Hussey and Sarah Jang of the Itaewon/Hannam Global Village Center organized a group of expatriates to go to the Yongsan District Office Kimjang festival. This year the organizers helped to make 50,000 heads of kimchi for charity. There were a group of about 30 expatriates from different parts of the world. There were French, American, Indian, Canadian, Japanese, and Chinese people that came to help make kimchi. This group joined the thousand or so Korean volunteers.

It was a cold morning on November 19th. The temperature was minus 7 degrees Celsius. Kimjang season starts when the temperature is around this temperature because the best kimchi matures at around 5 degrees Celsius.

At the festival everyone was asked to put on plastic smocks, cloth gloves, pink rubber gloves, and a hair net. Then we sat down before piles of red vegetables. It was freshly made kimchi sauce, which consisted of red pepper powder mixed with garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, slivers of turnip, and green onion.

We sat and tried to stay warm over cups of hot tea or with hand warmers until the salted heads of cabbage came. A Korean woman yelled something in Korean and everyone looked at her. She demonstrated that we were supposed to take a head of cabbage and open it up. Then we should take the red pepper mix and spread a little bit on each leaf. She took a big, handful and put it on the leaf. It was obviously too much. The woman said something else and then made an "X" sign with her hands and said, “anio.” She then took grabbed a much smaller amount of the kimchi sauce with her finger and thumb, placed, on the leaf. She then folded that leaf over and then did the same for the next. She then said, "OK" and gave us a thumb’s up.

So it was then our turn to do it. It was pretty easy, yet involving. The wilted leaves of the cabbage were easy to lift and to spread the mixture on. It took a bit of time because, evidently, it is very important that each leaf was covered with the red sauce. It seems that wasn't my job well enough, because the woman came over and grabbed my head of kimchi. She shook out most of the filling and then demonstrated how to do it correctly. Apparently, I was adding too much.
The part that we were participating in was only a small part of the entire operation. The event started about 2 days before because the 50,000 heads of cabbage had to have been salted so the turgid leaves would become limp. These heads of cabbage were then rinsed to remove the salt in makeshift streams. Elsewhere there were teams of people making the red kimchi sauce, slicing turnips, and cleaning and slicing green onions. It was a tremendous operation and all of it was going to charity. There was a party atmosphere and many Koreans were so grateful that so many expatriates came to help in their effort.

We each made about 10 heads of kimchi. As the boxes filled up, a volunteer would take them. They they were packaged and sent away. I hope the kimchi we made were delicious.

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