While kimchi is commonly referred to as a fermented or pickled spicy cabbage served with most Korean meals, it is actually synonymous in referring to the innumerable varieties of any preserved or pickled table condiment. It is already established that kimchi has an earlier root than in Korea. There you will find a discussion detailing that it is actually of Chinese origin; although some argue that point. Despite that, it remains the national food of Korea today.
Anything from pickled oysters to dried fish and even sweet soybeans can be found pickled and on the Korean table. They are all called kimchi and although there are hundreds of varieties, these condiments often appear in large enough numbers to comprise a meal. Korean culture has spawned variations of kimchi, great leaps beyond traditional pickled cabbages found in China through basic techniques changing with the addition of more typical localized ingredients such as hot red chili peppers that were actually introduced towards the end of the Chosun Dynasty (1392 – 1910CE), and of course, great amounts of garlic. Kimchi plays such a vital role within the Korean lifestyle that typically, a good housewife is considered to have the ability to produce a dozen or more varieties of kimchi.
Ingredients and the cooking way
In general, there are two types of pickles in Korea, those that are fermented, most usually involving spicy chili pastes and the milder varieties pickled in water. Fermented kimchi is salted for a long period; this removes excess water from the vegetable. The spicy pastes give the final flavor that can comprise any variety of ingredient from fish roe to sweet pears. These are combined with the famed red pepper that eventually burns an addiction into most palates. Vegetables are coated with the paste and placed in a clay vessel, then usually buried underground to ferment over the winter. They are then consumed throughout the year. Korean families have marked days to prepare kimchi for the entire season. They adore doing so.
Water-based kimchi varieties are often salty and reticent of garlic or accented with rice vinegar producing a similar quenching bite related to the Western cucumber pickle. Like its fermented counterparts, a variety of ingredients from seaweed to ginger and all types of alliums (the garlic and onion family of foods) are used for flavor. Both methods take roughly two days to initially develop the flavors, but the fermented variety matures over time, usually weeks and sometime months. The longer the fermented pickle has to mature, the stronger it becomes in both smell and taste. If stored incorrectly or for too long, the result can be a tingling flavor and texture, which in most cases indicates spoilage, but is actually often favored and desired. Most Korean families have a special recipe or preference for at least one type of kimchi and the prized result is often incorporated into classic dishes as well as basic condiments.