By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)
Already in October, the wind is high and the frost in the dawn,
All the vegetables in and out the wall being harvested,
Prepare for the upcoming winter with Kimchi made delicious,
Even if it's not a sumptuous dinner, but good enough to enjoy.
This is a piece of poem written by Kwon Geun (1352-1409), an administrative official in the early days of the Chosun dynasty titled "Making Kimchi. This poem emphasizing the importance of the Kimchi making in preparation for winterization makes us assume that Kimchi was already popular among the people in those days.
Making Kimchi with cabbage or white radish in preparation for a winter season when fresh vegetable is not available is really very essential for nutrition. It is not certain how and with what ingredients the Kimchi was made, but it is more than apparent that it was quite different from the Kimchi we find on our table these days.
It is an established theory that the Kimchi we eat these days first appeared about 300 years ago. It is said that they used the pepper which was first introduced to Korea in the 17th century to make a juice which was poured into a jar containing white radish cut square and age it, like the Nabak Kimchi of today. It was after the 18th century when the cabbage Kimchi made its first appearance on the table for the cabbage began to be produced around that time.
"We will make Kimchi with white radish and cabbage dug from the field./ We will wash them clean with water in the stream before the village and season them with salt to perfection./..../ Keep them buried deep in a shack under the chaff." This piece of poem tells us that by this time the Kimchi preparation had established itself as our custom already at that time.
Toward the beginning of winter with a cold wave blowing, it is customary for the minor people of the city in the past and present to be concerned about the winterization. Yet if the Kimchi preparation is done, these people would feel warm for the upcoming cold season. That's why people used to say that when they are done with the Kimchi preparation they are already about half done with the winterization.
There is a saying that when a woman became married and has done with the Kimchi preparations for thirty times, her life is finished. This job is as much related to the life of a woman. There was a time when people were concerned about what part of underground to keep the prepared Kimchi. At the present time, we have found a solution to this problem with the invention of the Kimchi refrigerator.
It has become a new lifestyle for us to enjoy eating long-stored Kimchi which was made possible with the Kimchi refrigerator. Once we use to make few tens of Kimchi heads at a time, but the quantity is now reduced to ten heads at the most, and with the coming of a nuclear family age, increasing number of households now no longer make Kimchi at home; they buy it.
In the past, people preserve cabbage in salt at home, but now the way the Kimchi is made had changed; people buy salted cabbage and prepare Kimchi. Thus, the Kimchi industry is fast growing daily as a new foodstuff business. Up until 1970s, you could see Kimchi trucks making delivery even during the curfew time in the Kimchi season, when you were punished for the violation of the curfew law that did not allow people out on the street.
However, the contents of culinary art on our table are changing with the advancement of the industrialization. It is not rice alone whose consumption is down. With the Westernization of our dietary life, a new generation who does not like Kimchi has begun to show up. With the development of farming technique growing fresh vegetables in a vinyl house, Kimchi is growing gradually reduced or getting distant a far. But the most Koreans still really appreciate the distinct taste of Napa cabbage Kimchi fully ripe in the underground store and the radish Kimchi with thin ice on top that could be found nowhere else.