Why I love kimchi so much
Updated: Jan 19, 2019
"Kimchi" is a very well-known Korean dish that are loved by a lot of people all over the world but when I was a little girl, that wasn't always the case.
First of all, it has a very strong smell due to it's strong spices and fermentation process. Believe it or not, there are possibly over 100 different kinds of kimchi. You can pretty much take any kind of vegetables and turn them into kimchi. Most common ones are baechu-kimchi (napa cabbage) and ggakdugi (cubed radish kimchi). They are definitely two of my favorites.
I have fond memories of my mother making huge amount of kimchi usually during the fall. A lot of the vegetables and ingredients used for kimchi, especially napa cabbages (main ingredient), were typically in season during the Fall. It was also a necessity to prepare abundance of kimchi before it got super cold in Korea. This way, everybody had enough kimchi to last their family through the cold Winter. My mother used to say "without kimchi, it feels like we have nothing to eat". For koreans, kimchi is not just eaten as a side dish. You're able to make all kinds of dishes with fermented kimchi such as kimchi soup, kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakes, kimchi potstickers and the list goes on and on.
Even though I love kimchi now especially knowing how healthy it is, that wasn't always the case. There was a time in my life, especially when I was a teenager, I had decided that I didn't like kimchi. You see when my family first moved to the United States back in 1976, nobody had even heard of Korea, let alone kimchi. At least that was the case in Richardson, Texas where I grew up. Throughout the high school, my siblings and I were among the very few Asians in the entire school. I remember my classmates asking me where I was from and typically asking "Are you Chinese or Japanese?" making it sound like if you're an Asian, you can only be either Chinese or Japanese. When I would tell them that I was from Korea, a typical response was "where is that? I've never heard of it".
Over time, I started associating who I was and where I came from to being a nobody. I felt like I didn't really belong anywhere and didn't feel accepted. Back then, people were referring to Korea as a developing third world country, and as a little girl, I started feeling ashamed about where I had come from and who I was. I remember how difficult it usually was for me to explain the difference in how I looked, the language I spoke, my background and even my Korean name, Yuni. I didn't want to look different, have a name that most people couldn't pronounce or come from a country that nobody knew about. I started withdrawing from my peers and from the world. I was ashamed of who I was and where I had come from.
When my friends would come over to our house occasionally, most of them would comment on the kimchi smell that would fill our house. It usually wasn't a positive comment, and it was painful to hear them. I was made to feel like my heritage and culture was somehow wrong so instead of celebrating who I was and where I had come from, I began to reject myself and my culture. Their comments and rejections on kimchi wasn't just a judgement on what I ate but on who I was. I stopped inviting friends over and started rejecting Korean food. I guess, at the time, I thought if I stopped eating korean food especially kimchi, I would somehow be accepted and be normal like the rest of my peers. By turning my back on my heritage and culture, I was desperately trying to fit in and be accepted.
Well, a lot has changed since I was a teenager living in Texas. Over the holidays, my stepsons and their wives came over to celebrate the holidays with us. One of the sons and his wife happen to love kimchi. After they got married, they lived in Hawaii for a few years where they had acquired a taste for kimchi. My father-in-law who is almost 90 years old tasted my mother's radish kimchi a year ago and started loving it as well. I have also been noticing that a lot of the restaurants nowadays are offering dishes that use kimchi as one of the ingredients. Kimchi has also been featured as one of the healthiest food in the world by the Health magazine.
Back when I was a little girl, I didn't want to be different. I wanted to fit in, be accepted and be like other kids. Now, I'm still different, but you know what? I love who I am and I love kimchi. Kimchi is one of my favorite things to eat now, and I make all kinds of things with them. Luckily, my girls love and appreciate kimchi and even my husband, who is not korean, loves it. Accepting kimchi is like accepting myself, and it took me a long time to get to where I am today. I so appreciate kimchi now but most of all, I appreciate myself and where I come from. I embrace the fact that I'm different. How boring would our world be if everybody looked the same, dressed the same, and ate the same things. Being different is what makes each of us so unique and makes the world more interesting place to live.
For my vegan baechu-kimchi recipe, click here.