Koreans like kimchi. There’s cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, radish kimchi; kimchi can be seasoned with apricot, fish, shrimp; there’s kimchi stew, kimchi pancake, kimchi burger, “Shinkimchi” (kimchi that has been fermented for a long time; it tastes saltier and its leaves are withery and soft).
I have my own fond memories of kimchi. After my first year of college in Minnesota, I visited my grandparents in Busan for the first time in a year. On my first mealtable, there were five different types of kimchi. I was immensely touched as I looked at the widely commercialized national symbol on my mealtable and realized, “Oh I am back in my motherland.”
But I’ve never experienced kimchi like this year. This was my first-ever autumn in the Korean countryside, which is where kimchi is born.
Every year around mid-November, Handemy Village hosts the Kimchi Festival. Handemy Village, where I currently work, is an agrotourist village which also boards 43 elementary and middle schoolers all-year-round. For Kimchi Fest, the students’ parents gather from all over South Korea to see their kids for the weekend and do some serious kimchi damage. This year, they did 1,500 lettuce with red rubber gloves.
The red sauce that we rub onto the cabbage has a sour stench. The ingredients of the sauce depend on the region; in Handemy, which is in the Chungbuk Province (middle of South Korea), the basic sauce is pre-made with ground chili, garlic, ginseng, salt and brined shrimp. During Kimchi Fest, gallons of this sauce is dumped onto the tables as workers rub cabbage after cabbage. The best part is, a lot of this kimchi goes straight to the cafeteria, where it is served for the hungry workers. And the rest is stored in the kimchi refrigerator.This year, the number of people making their own kimchi apparently decreased because of the increased price of cabbage. The price increase isn’t even close to the “national tragedy” two years ago, when the price of cabbage increased from $2.50 to $14; but still, I feel pretty lucky for the experience this year. Speaking of kimchi, the cafeteria lady in the photograph is Miss Witch (every Handemy staff has a cutesy nickname); what she is doing now is Kimchi. Yes, Koreans say “Kimchi” when they take pictures (often accompanied by the V-sign).
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