Crazy about Kimchi

Photo from the Road: Jeonju Architecture
March 3, 2011
It’s not about the free couch
March 17, 2011

Crazy about Kimchi

For the Love of Kimchi

A selection of Kimchi at the Kimchi Museum in Seoul, South Korea

Sure the pay was decent, and the working conditions acceptable, but I have to admit, food was a major factor in my deciding to get take a short-term teaching contract in South Korea. I will be blunt—I love Korean food. It is right up there with (if not above) Mexican and Thai food.


Lots of fresh vegetables, seafood, meat, and grains make up the Korean diet. The backbone of this healthful diet is a little fermented side dish known as kimchi (often spelled gimchi). You’ll find it served at every meal. Yes, even breakfast.


Recently, kimchi has been picking up steam internationally as people begin to understand and appreciate the health benefits of fermented foods. You already know that German’s have sauerkraut, the Russian’s their salty cucumber, and the Japanese Tsukemono.


What exactly is kimchi anyway?


Although kimchi usually refers to the spicy cabbage mixture, it’s actually a generic term for any seasoned fermented vegetable dish. It could be cabbage, radish, turnip, or cucumber. It can be eaten fresh, ripe, or sour, and varies from bland to spicy. About 200 types of kimchi have documented from all parts of the Korean peninsula.


The basic ingredients are: cabbage, radish, green onion, garlic, ginger, red chili pepper, salt, and chotkal. Chotkal is salted and fermented shrimp or anchovies.


Why did Koreans start making kimchi?

Jars of fermented food at the Gwangju Folk Museum

Preserving food is the main reason for the existence of kimchi. Long before refrigeration, people needed a way to sustain themselves through the winter. What did the Koreans do? They buried a big pot in their backyard, threw a batch of kimchi in there, and helped themselves through the cold months. In the summer, they put the pot it in a well or stream; the goal being to keep the mixture a relatively constant cool temperature.


Kimchi is made, stored and matured in either glazed pottery or in small jars made in such a way that air can pass through allowing the fermented foods to breathe so they can be stored a long time without becoming sour or rotten.


The modern Koreans give credit to their ancestors, who ate the salted vegetables to aid the digestion of their grains to balance their diet.


Why are ferments good for you?

Nutritional information for 100g of cabbage kimchi


During the fermentation process a type of lactic acid bacteria called lactobacilli are greatly increased. Besides giving kimchi its unique taste, lactobacilli help do the following:


  • Clean the intestines helping to prevent cancer of the large intestine.
  • Act as an antibacterial to reduce harmful bacteria in your body.
  • Restrain cancer cells from generating.
  • Create B vitamins.

Other health benefits of kimchi:


  • Rich in Vitamin A and C, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and iron.
  • Antioxidants in kimchi are thought to delay aging and strengthen the immune system.
  • Controls weight due to its low caloric content and lots of dietary fiber. Stimulates metabolism.
  • Lowers LDL cholesterol level.

But does it taste good?

A tasting at the Kimchi Museum in Seoul, South Korea


That’s for you to decide. But my evolution for the love of kimchi went something like this: At first I just ate a taste with every meal because that’s what everybody else was doing. With each passing week, I began to take more and more and eventually I needed to have a generous portion with every meal.


More information

Visit the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul to learn more about the history and development of kimchi, types of kimchi, nutritional benefits, and get a chance to taste different varieties. The privately run museum is located in the COEX Mall at Samsung subway station on line 2. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed Mondays. Admission: 3,000 won.


For more information on making your own kimchi and other fermented foods, check out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz


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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Juno says:

    Really a good job! I don’t know how you did all this. It reminds me, one of my friends got all the ingredients from home (Finland) and made it the whole jar of Kimchi! I don’t know how that turned out but he was pretty happy about it. It looked like Kimchi. 🙂 Anyway, great post!

  2. Great tips but am still undecided i have to try it out then i will come back to whether Kimchi are as good as you say

  3. Stephen Bugno says:

    Thanks for adding that Sid. What are the fermented vegetables in India called and what region are they made?

  4. This sounds good, I am certainly keen to try this 🙂

    Even in India, there is a tradition of eating fermented vegetables (which look very similar to kimchi) with food (yes, sometimes even breakfast), especially in winters. I guess even food travels 🙂

  5. Suzy says:

    I haven’t had kimchi, but it sounds tasty. Even just the history of how it came to be makes it worth trying.

  6. Odysseus says:

    Hey, are you still in Korea? That’s where I’m based. (Well, not Jeju but Seoul.) Awesome place, isn’t it? Except for when it isn’t. 😉

  7. Stephen Bugno says:

    Kirk, Korean food is one of my favorite cuisines in the world. I definitely recommend you try some.

  8. Bluegreen Kirk says:

    I never even heard about Kimchi let alone taste it. But I hear the food in Korea tastes great! So I guess it would be at least worth a try.

  9. Aaah, Kimchi! I have only had it a couple times on a burger from a food truck, and I have to say that I surprisingly really, really liked it. You are spot on though about wanting to go to S. Korea for the food as we end up choosing our destinations based solely on the food half the time. Thanks for sharing!

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