If kimchi isn’t a part of your life right now, please reconsider the choices you have made.
THE KIMCHI SLAP
In 2014, in the South Korean drama “Everybody Say Kimchi,” actress Lee Hyo-choon grabbed an entire napa cabbage kimchi from its packaging with her bare fist, reared back and unleashed the fully loaded kimchi across actor Won Ki-joon’s face. The satisfying smack and kimchi-juice spray became the perfect clip for a person to express their frustrations, Korean-style.
In later interviews, Won said the slap was hearty enough to get chile powder into his eyes, nose and ears and gave him a severe headache.
KIMCHI IN SPACE
In 2008, Yi So-yeon, the first South Korean in outer space, spent 11 days aboard the International Space Station. Teams of scientists spent millions of dollars and did years of research to develop a “space kimchi” that would accompany her.
Yi was able to host a dinner for the two Russian cosmonauts onboard with her — for Cosmonautics Day, April 12, the anniversary of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin. The spread included kimchi, rice, gochujang, jjigae (kimchi stew) and instant noodles. “Their reaction was particularly good for instant noodles, kimchi and chile paste,” Yi told the Korean news agency Yonhap.
During the Vietnam War, South Korean soldiers fighting beside American forces longed for kimchi. In a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, South Korean President Park Chung-hee asked for help to lift morale among his troops by supplying them with kimchi at a cost of around $3 million to $4 million annually.
In December 1967, the two presidents met in Canberra, Australia, where Johnson told Park the kimchi would be arriving in the new year and that “the bureaucracy in Washington gave him more hell about the kimchi than it did about the war in Vietnam.”
Developed by South Korea’s agriculture ministry in 2013, the “kimchi index” tracks the cost of 13 key kimchi ingredients as one measure of the nation’s overall economic health. The ingredients include cabbage, salt, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Last November for kimjang, the cost to prepare 20 heads of napa cabbage into kimchi for a family of four was 286,000 won, or around $245.
In 2013, UNESCO added kimjang, the traditional kimchi-making season in Korea, to its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items.
“The collective practice of kimjang reaffirms Korean identity and is an excellent opportunity for strengthening family cooperation,” the official UNESCO inscription reads. “Kimjang is also an important reminder for many Koreans that human communities need to live in harmony with nature.”
When kimchi isn’t readily available, Koreans can be quick to find kimchi substitutes.
At Costco food courts in South Korea, shoppers are known to mix ungodly amounts of raw onions with ketchup and mustard to accompany their hot dogs and baked bulgogi sandwiches.
Company data showed South Korean Costco customers consume 20 times more onions in food courts than Americans, the Los Angles Times reported in 2017.
As the super official, totally serious Urban Dictionary definition reads: “To properly execute the kimchi squat you must be able to touch your buttocks to your Achilles’ tendons while simultaneously keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground.”
During kimjang, kimchi-making season, it’s common to see groups huddled around tubs of ingredients, everyone deep into a kimchi squat. It isn’t a formal workout, but will definitely work you out if you’re not used to the position.
In Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, ethnic Koreans didn’t always have access to a ready supply of napa cabbage. They did, however, have plenty of carrots.
Koryo-saram, or Korean people, created morkovcha, a salad of julienned carrots mixed with salt, garlic, red pepper, ground coriander and vinegar.
“A Korean meal is not complete without kimchi; it makes you feel embarrassed when you have a guest and you don’t have kimchi on the table,” said Shin Tae-sook, 71, of Goesan county in South Korea. Shin has long made her own kimchi. Her family’s special touch: raw oysters.
“Kimchi is a dish, but you can make other dishes out of it,” she said, then listed them off: “Kimchi soup, kimchi stew, kimchi pancake, kimchi anything. You can’t talk about Korean food without talking about kimchi.”