Omnivore - Guest blogger: Kimchee quest

Learning kimchee, by trial and error

By Gene Lee

Kimchi… People either love or hate it. If you were born into it like I was, 99.99% of the time you love it. Koreans, especially older ones, are so fanatically addicted to this dish that they are probably the only race group that will immediately go looking for a Korean restaurant in their first hours on vacation in Rome. I am not kidding.

I am not quite as obsessed as the older generation but understand this craving. Over a decade ago I lived in Aspen, CO, which is hundreds of miles away from Denver - the closest city that I knew of (at the time) that had Korean restaurants. One month into being fortified in that little Hollywood ski town, the cravings for the hot Korean stews, various Banchan (small side dishes) vegetables, steaming bowl of rice and the addictive sour crunchiness of Baechu (cabbage) kimchi started scratching at my salivary glands. I could make the barbeque meats, substandard versions of the soups, and steam the Mahatma white rice that you see in every grocery store in America, but I could not make nor find kimchi anywhere.

Three months into my stay there my cravings for better Korean food, and especially the tangy and fiery flavors of kimchi, reached a fever pitch. That was that. I set out for Denver alone on a Saturday morning with a few scribbled restaurant listings from the cities’ Yellow Pages (the internet and wi-fi foothold really was not common in households at that time). When I got there, I found myself in a part of town akin to Atlanta’s Buford Highway. One long road with all sorts of ethnic eateries, peppered with a few Korean restaurants here and there. It even had the same sort of run-down look to it.

Needless to say, I got my fill that day and then some. Imagine if you’ve been lost in the desert for 3 days without food and water and you cross over a sand hill, and lo and behold there’s a Denny’s. Gorging ensued.

Even though I am closer to places that sell it pre-made in abundance, something always gnawed at me to be able to execute this recipe. Empty store-bought kimchi jars were overflowing in my condo reused as dry food storage, kitchen utensil holders or makeshift grease traps. And I was tired of having to drive 20-30 minutes out of my way on a bi-monthly basis just to buy it (even though it sure beats the 4 hour drive I had to make in Colorado).

Presently, I have made feeble to whole-hearted attempts at making my own version of Baechu kimchi. I have referenced multiple online and print recipes and sought advice from ex-pats and family friends all over. I was met with disaster in my first attempt, and miscalculated disappointments in later efforts. Eleven attempts, multiple hours, and a skinnier wallet later, I have finally made a batch that I personally deem worthy to eat. My recipe has been a hybrid of all written and verbal research that I have collected over the years combined with a sense of “trial and error” intuition that none of the online or cookbook recipes ever conveyed.

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