Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day Twenty-Three: Seoul Food

The last time I had kimchi was at a little Vietnamese deli, where everything was served in Styrofoam to-go boxes and everything came with kimchi. I poked at it, smelled it, tasted it, and then scooped my helping into my husband's box. The blight removed from my lunch, I then ate happily. After a while, the owner came over (it was a slow afternoon) and noticed that I was all out of kimchi; she offered me more. I almost shouted, "No!"--and got a "thank you" in there somewhere, too.

Tonight, my kimchi came out of a jar. Seoul kimchi. Which, I discovered, means that my kimchi (you can also spell it gimchi, kimchee, or kim chee) contains fermented shrimp and a particular blend of spices found in the kimchi of that area. I discovered also that my kimchi was high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and carotene. The oldest references to kimchi can be found 2600 to 3000 years ago, the first text reference being in the Chinese poetry book, Shi Jing. Knowing that, since I am currently taking a poetry workshop, I'm tempted to take a crack at writing a poem about kimchi. But I don't really know where I would start.

The thing that struck me most as I was preparing to eat my kimchi was that the bottle made sure to warn me: Open Slowly. Okay. So I did, fully expecting some sort of pressurized fermented vegetable to squirt out at me. It didn't. I smelled it, and it smelled much as I remember it, but without a certain acidic kick that I remember from my last kimchi experience. I put a little pile on my plate, alongside my white rice and some beef I'd marinated with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, etc. I tried a little kimchi on its own and it didn't choke me the way my last batch did. When I put it on a fork with some white rice, it was pretty good. The spicy, tangy, fermenty flavor was interesting but not one that my palate immediately rejected. I detected a slight essence of old feet in the background, but not enough to be off-putting.

This is a flavor I could get used to, I'm sure. I've gotten used to a lot of vinegary, spicy things in my lifetime that I would have spat out when I was younger. This is a little more complex, perhaps, but it is conquerable. I have half a jar left and a package of kimchi-flavored ramen, so there will be more fermented veg in my future.

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