A restaurant is only as good as its kimchi.
The other day, I was out with one of my Korean friends for a nice dinner. When I asked her for recommendations, she pointed out a restaurant that has “the best kimchi on the block.” In my confusion I asked her what else she wanted to eat, because kimchi alone isn’t a meal. She explained to me that she didn’t want to go eat only kimchi, but rather that the restaurant was of good quality.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable condiment/side-dish. There are hundreds of kimchi varieties, but the basic premise is a vegetable food that is salted, blended, and fermented with various ingredientsat ambient temperature. Each kimchi variation has its own unique sweet, sour, salty, zingy, or bright taste. Kimchi and sauerkraut are very similar, however kimchi is less acidic and takes less time (around 3 days, rather than 20).
Why does kimchi quality (often) equal restaurant quality?
Kimchi takes a long time to make because you have to deal with a long fermentation process. Good kimchi also requires daily attention to make sure the cabbage or radish is properly submerged. If a restaurant doesn’t pay attention to its kimchi, then what other foods are they not paying attention to? Good food take time.
At first it was quite hard for me to discern the taste quality between different kimchi batches, but after living here for almost two months–and feeling quite disappointed when there is no kimchi to be seen at my meal table—I can easily tell if the restaurant makes their own precious side dish or if they just ship in a batch of frozen, pre-processed kimchi. There is a very distinct flavor and consistency difference between the two as with most foods, so it doesn’t take a refined palette to spot.
Kimchi is often an acquired taste for foreigners, just as spice level is. I am quite used to fermented cabbage with my parents loving sauerkraut (although I’m admittedly not a fan of sauerkraut, especially being around when family are processing it themselves!), so I quite enjoyed it from the start. But if you are not used to this type of pickled vegetables, never fear! All of my international classmates have grown to like it and look for it at every meal within a month. Just like a song, kimchi will grow on you!
So next time you ask for restaurant recommendations, be sure to ask how good the kimchi is!
Kimchi is not difficult to make, but it might be hard to find the necessary ingredients depending on where you live. Here you can find an easy recipe to make your own kimchi at home. If you have any tips or tricks to making your own kimchi, let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for good culinary advice!
오늘의 표현 (Today’s Expression):
김치는 보통 한국 식당에 반찬입니다.
kim-chi-neun bu-tong han-guk sik-dang-e ban-chan-im-ni-da.
Kimchi is usually a side dish at Korean restaurants.
한국 식당 (han-guk sik-dang) — Korean restaurant
음식 (eum-sik) — food
반찬 (ban-chan) — side dish
김치 (kim-chi) — kimchi
김치국부터 마시지 말라
kim-chi-guk-bu-teo ma-si-ji mal-la
Don’t drink the Kimchi soup first
Don’t get ahead of yourself when planning for the future. Just as you won’t drink all the broth of your kimchi soup before eating the other contents.