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Across the northern hemisphere, this is the time of year for harvest festivals. In Germany, Oktoberfest 2019 is in its final week. Two weeks ago, South Koreans celebrated Chuseok. I claim no expertise in Korean culture or cuisine but have a few colorful memories of Korean food.
Start with green and white cabbage. Cabbage is preserved by fermentation, both in Asian and in Europe. In Korea, instead of sauerkraut, a mild dish, you get kimchi. Driving through the hilly Korean countryside north of Seoul, I noticed very large plastic sheets laid out on the sides of the road, near farming houses. They were covered, covered with small bright red chili peppers, laid out to dry. These would form the fiery base of the spices that separate kimchi from sauerkraut. There are many other possible ingredients, but you can usually expect orange carrots, green and white scallions, and white radish, ginger, and garlic.
As there are many salsas, including all the family recipes, so there are many sorts of kimchi. There is even a Museum Kimchikan, celebrating the history of the food. Mostly, though, we think of whole-leaf kimchi. You will find this in every Korean restaurant, and several varieties in any market that includes a significant Korean food section. You can even make it yourself, but do pay close attention to the safety instructions! You must wear a long pair of rubber/latex gloves, of the sort sold for kitchen cleaning. Or you will pay for it with pain from the chili paste.
This time of year, the terraced rice fields have dried out, the tops of the rice gleaming a golden straw color. Because the Korean farmers work much smaller fields than agribusiness in America, the mechanical harvester is of a much smaller scale. In fact, the first word that came to my North American mind was “Zamboni!” The ice-resurfacing machine and the rice harvester are similar in outline and seem close in scale.
You definitely want rice as a base under the kimchi, if nothing else. Kimchi is not so much a “side” as an integral part of a meal. A South Korean (ROK) Army officer invited me to his home for dinner, during the break day in the middle of a large command post exercise. His wife laid out about ten smaller dishes in the middle of the family table. We added what we liked to our plates, on or alongside the rice. I remember yellow, orange, purple, green, white, and red. Along with soup and rice, these dishes, called banchan, were the meal.
Here is a recipe, with each step illustrated, for “traditional napa cabbage kimchi called tongbaechu-kimchi, a.k.a., baechu-kimchi or pogi-kimchi.” If that is a bit daunting, this video, by the same woman, walks you through “easy kimchi:”
Still a bit much for you, either in the prep time required or in the spicy heat? Here is a simple recipe for sauerkraut, much easier to make than kimchi.
A note on thanksgiving: The fall harvest festival is the common heritage of all Koreans. In what has been North Korea for nearly seven decades, the holiday appears to be called by an older name, “Han’gawi.” Appears, because there is virtually no information available. Plug “Han’gawi Holiday” or “Chuseuk North Korea” into your favorite search engine, even DuckDuckGo.com, and you will find colorful images of plenty … in South Korea. At most, I found a story or so of how the people in North Korea are now able to have a small celebration and were not starving at the time of the articles.
If the North Korean dictator was really interested in strength through popular legitimacy, there would be public celebrations prominently broadcast. So, think on Korea, north and south, and on Venezuela, before and after. As Americans prepare for tons of candy and the increasingly elaborate adult frivolity of Halloween, then press on towards our own massive Thanksgiving travel and feasting, it is worth remembering that these are the blessings of liberty, secured by those who would defend it. Yes, “천만에요 (cheonmaneyo) Korea,” and “bitte sehr, Germany;” you’re welcome, courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.