GOESAN, South Korea — The household van was loaded with a treasured cargo — 11 brown plastic containers crammed with 150 kilos of kimchi that Ha Si-nae, her husband and three daughters had made with their very own palms.
“We are all set until this time next year!” mentioned Ms. Ha, 40, wanting contentedly at the neat stack of containers. “Nothing makes a Korean family feel secure like a good stock of kimchi does.”
In Korea, the place folks like to say they “can’t live without kimchi,” November is kimchi-making season, or “kimjang.” And like the Ha household, many Koreans are attempting to maintain the centuries-old custom alive.
Kimjang was as soon as a ritual as timeless as the altering of the seasons. When the first frost got here, households would create stockpiles of kimchi, storing it in massive clay pots usually buried in the floor. These pots of kimchi sustained them by way of the lengthy winter and lean spring, when contemporary greens had been unavailable.
Both South and North Korea are so proud of the autumn ritual that they campaigned — individually, however efficiently — to put kimjang on UNESCO’s record of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.”
But in the age of foolproof meal kits and on-demand grocery supply, the custom is in decline.
“Whatever else they make well, those big businesses can’t make kimchi as good as the one your mom or mother-in-law made,” Ms. Ha mentioned.
Ms. Ha used to get kimchi from her mom, a typical apply amongst many youthful Koreans residing in massive cities. But when her mom turned too previous to make the dish — a laborious, time-consuming process — Ms. Ha and her husband tried to make it on their very own, utilizing recipes discovered on YouTube.
More usually than not, they failed.
Last yr, weary of industrial kimchi however unable to make their very own from scratch, Ms. Ha’s household started touring to a rural city to study.
Goesan, a mountainous county in central South Korea, is known for its scenic gorges, Zelkova timber and three meals — corn, chili pepper and cabbage. Those final two are amongst the most vital components for kimchi.
Han Sook-hee, 59, and different girls in White Horse village, in Goesan county, nonetheless make kimchi for themselves and for his or her youngsters, who’ve migrated to cities. In latest years, the girls began receiving requests for kimchi from their youngsters’s neighbors.
Four years in the past, a villager made a suggestion: Why not lead a kimjang workshop to give the village’s quickly ageing inhabitants further revenue throughout the agricultural low season and to assist those that need to study the artwork of making kimchi?
The pageant was an immediate hit.
“We provide the ingredients fixed and ready, and all the participating families have to do is mix them into kimchi,” Ms. Han mentioned. “We also try to recreate the merrymaking atmosphere of kimjang.”
In a customized comparable to an Amish barn raising, complete villages used to end up throughout kimjang, serving to one household make its kimchi earlier than transferring on to the subsequent. Hogs had been slaughtered and makgeolli — Korean rice wine — was consumed over songs and laughter.
During kimjang, households cleaned tons of of heads of cabbage and soaked them in massive tubs of salty water for a pair of days, turning them over twice a day. They slathered every cabbage leaf with a sauce made of chili pepper, garlic, ginger, scallion, radish, fermented fish and different components. The cabbages had been then stacked and patted down in jars. Lactic fermentation gave the kimchi its distinctive style and texture.
After the success of the White Horse workshop, the Goesan authorities started internet hosting a three-day “kimjang festival” final fall.
“The kimjang festival will serve as a bridge between urban families who wish to make their own kimchi and our farmers who want to sell cabbage and other kimchi ingredients,” mentioned Goesan’s mayor, Lee Cha-young.
The first pageant attracted 80,000 folks final yr, he mentioned. This yr, as a result of of the coronavirus, the county held a socially-distanced model inside its stadium.
Shin Tae-sook, 71, joined the pageant final yr as a result of she mentioned it made the work simpler. This yr, she introduced her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter along with her. Although she used the sauce the county offered, she added her household contact — a bucket of uncooked oysters.
“A Korean meal is not complete without kimchi; it makes you feel embarrassed when you have a guest and you don’t have kimchi on the table,” Ms. Shin mentioned. “Kimchi is a dish, but you can make other dishes out of it.”
She listed them off: “Kimchi soup, kimchi stew, kimchi pancake, kimchi anything,” she mentioned. “You can’t talk about Korean food without talking about kimchi.”
Woo Kyong-ho, a workshop organizer, mentioned that when he traveled overseas and didn’t have kimchi for just a few days, he suffered “kimchi withdrawal symptoms.” The meals is so intently related to Korean identification that when South Korea despatched its first astronaut to the International Space Station in 2008, kimchi was taken along on the mission.
When Koreans take group photographs, they are saying, “Kimchiiii,” as a substitute of “cheese.”
“Kimjang and kimchi brought a Korean community together,” mentioned Kim Jeong-hee, head of the Jinji Museum, which focuses on Korean culinary historical past.
Korean households don’t eat as a lot kimchi at house as their ancestors did. They eat out extra usually and have a lot of options to select from. They additionally purchase extra factory-made kimchi, 38 % of which is imported from China.
In 2018, 4 out of each 10 South Korean households mentioned that they had by no means made kimchi or knew how to, in accordance to the World Institute of Kimchi.
But kimchi stays the meals Korean households like to share. Recipes normally range from village to village, and from household to household, and are handed down by way of generations. A request for seconds is taken into account excessive reward and a supply of delight.
The autumn foliage was beginning to change colours in Goesan as the pageant received underway this yr. Roadside placards learn, “Come to Goesan and make kimchi!” Families arrived with plastic containers specifically designed for kimchi fridges, a typical equipment in lots of Korean houses. They paid $134 for 44 kilos of cleaned and salted cabbage and 16.5 kilos of kimchi marinade.
Standing round a desk, every household started mixing, all sporting elbow-length pink rubber gloves, whereas village meisters seemed on and supplied suggestions. Steamed pork and makgeolli had been accessible at no cost, although singing was banned for security causes associated to the coronavirus.
Ms. Han mentioned every village in Goesan had a secret ingredient or two. White Horse’s, she mentioned proudly, was the pumpkin and white forsythia extracts. Adding them, she mentioned, makes its kimchi “sweet, spicy and crisp.”