At a market on Jungangno Street in Gwangju a woman rubs cabbage leaves with kimchi marinade.
Whole Cabbage Kimchi
Koreans seem to strive to burn schnapps out of everything – even stones. That holds good also for kimchi – there's hardy any vegetable in Korea that is not «kimchi-ised» through fermentation. No wonder there are more kimchi recipes than Koreans on this planet.
One can find innumerable instructions and guides on the Internet and in cookbooks on how to prepare the widely known Tong Baechu Kimchi, kimchi made of whole Chinese cabbage – with every manual recommending a different method of preparation. The basic ingredients for Tong Baechu Kimchi are Chinese cabbage (Korean Baechu), spring onions and, quite often, radish (usually Daikon radish) – but carrots, mustard leaves, leeks, watercress, parsley, algae, etc also go into its preparation
The cabbage and other ingredients are at first marinated in brine, which can be of vastly different potencies, ranging from mild to very strong, after which they are spiced and fermented over a period of several days – a process that gives them their typical kimchi flavour and also ensures their long-term preservation. The basic spices are ginger, chilli (mostly in the form of the coarse Korean chilli powder, Gochugaru) and garlic. It also includes the addition of some form of fish and seafood: in the simplest case, fish sauce from the bottle (made of sardines or prawns); in more refined cases, salted prawns or sardines (Korean Jeotgal), fresh or preserved oysters (Korean Gul), salted yellow corvina (a popular Korean fish from the Sciaenidae family, the drummer, or umber fish).
Kimchi is served with almost every meal as a side dish (Banchan) and is usually eaten with white rice. On his journeys through Korea, Hektor Maille naturally got his money's worth of kimchi – and also took keen interest in learning how it is prepared.
The preparation of kimchi depends on a certain time management: salting of the cabbage takes about six hours, the initial fermentation at room temperature lasts for roughly 12 hours and the subsequent fermentation for about three days. Those who do not have so much time can opt for the quick alternative of making simple Baechu Geotjeori (fresh Chinese cabbage kimchi).
1 or 2 big Chinese cabbages of in total 1½ or 2 kg
salt (at least one cup)
1 not too big, white radish (Daikon radish) of 300 to 400 g
More salt (2 tablespoons, for the radish)
1 onion, finely chopped
100 g spring onions, of a thin kind as they are sold in Asia-Shops – chopped in pieces of 3 cm
100 g asian cive (Allium tuberosum) – chopped in pieces of 3 cm
1 piece (10 cm) of ginger (about 100 g), cleaned and finely chopped
6 to 8 tablespoons chili flakes (if available Korean Gochugaru)
1 whole bulb garlic, (about 10 pods), pressed
1 tablespoon sugar
3 heaped tablespoons pickled baby shrimps, finely chopped, with teir brine
The Pickling of the cabbage helps to remove water from its leaves. There are some very different ways to do it. We have chosen the following procedure.
Traditionally, kimchi is prepared in large quantities (with a minimum of 10 cabbages per preparation) and allowed to ferment in special ceramic containers, which are put out to stand on platforms in the backyard of the house. In western conditions, this is a hard act to follow. But instead of a ceramic container, which provides for the ideal cabbage density in Korean conditions, in western conditions one can use a plastic bag, from which to much of air can easily be removed.
More about the travel adventure of Secret Agent Hektor Maille:
First Publication: 1-12-2009
Modifications: 25-1-2011, 18-6-2011, 14-11-2011, 13-12-2011